Belfast Telegraph

Schools 'must teach children' about dangers of sexting

By David Hughes

Schools should do more to teach children about the dangers of sharing sexual content online, a think tank report has said.

The scale of the problem means police and other law enforcement agencies should focus on those carrying out the abuse and making images rather than low-level offenders, the report suggested.

Artificial intelligence (AI) technology could also play a key role in tackling the problem of child sexual abuse images (CSAI), the paper by cross-party think tank Demos said.

In its report, which drew on evidence from experts including industry watchdog the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), Demos highlighted the growing problem of youngsters "sexting" - producing their own illegal material. One-fifth of reported images in 2015 were "self-generated", around 16% of young people aged 11-16 reported sending sexual images in the UK, and one in six people reported to the police for indecent images were minors, according to research referenced in the report.

The Demos document said the issues should be part of the personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) curriculum in schools.

"The pitfalls of sharing content online, including sexual content, should form part of the syllabus," the report said. "As the amount of self-produced illegal content continues to increase, stopping this at its source is the only sensible response.

"Education is needed to support potential victims and perpetrators of sextortion and peer-on-peer abuse, a growing problem."

Children's charity NSPCC has estimated that up to 590,000 men in the UK may have viewed CSAI and the Demos report said the scale of the problem meant police should target "sophisticated" offenders at the top of the criminal pyramid.

"This is not being 'soft on paedophiles', but rather a sensible way of targeting limited resources," the report said.

The use of AI and "deep learning" has potential in spotting CSAI before it can be shared, and identifying victims, but the pace of technological change meant it required continued investment.

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