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Children victims of revenge porn

Children as young as 11 have been victims of revenge pornography, with their perpetrators often evading justice due to loopholes in the law, new figures show.

Campaigners and politicians have called for tough legislation to be introduced to tackle those who share naked images and videos without the victim's consent.

Figures uncovered by the Press Association show that schoolgirls are among those targeted, while adults have been blackmailed into having sex with their tormentor after indecent - and previously private - images were posted on the internet.

The matter has been brought into sharp focus after celebrities including pop stars Rihanna and Tulisa Contostavlos fell victim to the cruel craze.

But police are largely powerless to stop those responsible until new laws - due to pass through the Lords next month - are introduced to make revenge porn a crime.

There were 149 allegations of crimes involving revenge pornography during the last two-and-a-half years, according to the eight police forces in England and Wales with data on it. The figures, believed to be the first into its prevalence, show the vast majority of victims are women - with only six incidents resulting in any sort of police caution or charge.

Laura Higgins, manager of the UK Safer Internet Centre helpline, welcomed the figures but said she feared the full scale of the problem remained hidden.

She said: "I feel this is just the tip of the iceberg. Plenty of people, particularly young people, won't want to go down the police route or even speak about them at all, so many incidents are going unnoticed.

"Our research shows that for every site we find, there are potentially dozens with those images on which the victim has no idea about.

"We are living in an age where technology is a part of our everyday lives, and children are becoming sexualised at a younger age.

"But we must do what we can to tackle bullying, harassment and sharing explicit content without permission."

A total of 43 police forces were asked for details of reported incidents of revenge pornography between January 1 2012 and July 1 2014.

Of the eight forces to hold data, 35 incidents occurred in 2012, jumping to 58 in 2013.

While many police forces were unable to provide full details into the alleged offending, figures suggested the majority of victims were young women.

Sarah Green from the End Violence Against Women Coalition described the figures as "alarming". She said: " The ability to abuse through technology is growing fast and its impact is very real, which is why politicians and the police must get to grips with it.

"If we are serious about cracking down on this we have to think long-term and talk to young people while they are at school about respect, equality and consent in relationships. Compulsory sex and relationships education is the best way of doing this.

"Leading politicians are listening and responding to the growing chorus of support for this which is very welcome."

Three female teenagers - the youngest 11 and the oldest 19 - were victims of revenge pornography in Manchester, police said.

In two cases the victims were ex-partners of the offender, and involved threats that further images would be published.

According to police in Cambridge, one schoolboy circulated naked photos of a fellow pupil on Facebook and to other friends in the playground, while another boy made threats to place images of a pupil's older sister on social networking sites.

In another case a taxi driver blackmailed a passengers into having sex after discovering naked images of her.

A man is also said to have been threatened into having gay sex through fear a woman would post naked photos of him on Facebook.

Two 15-year-olds were among 28 victims in Leicestershire, police said. Convictions fell under the Malicious Communications Act.

In one case, an ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend found sexual pictures of the victim and uploaded them to Facebook with derogatory comments. Another woman uploaded an indecent video of her former partner to YouTube with the sole purpose of causing embarrassment, police said.

Thames Valley Police said there were 60 incidents reported during the time frame. There were 15 in 2012, 31 in 2013 and 14 in the first four months of this year - indicating a year-on-year increase in reports of revenge pornography. The youngest alleged victim was a 13-year-old girl, with her perpetrator claiming to have explicit pictures to post on Facebook. She was one of 17 teenage victims in the force area.

Police in Cheshire said a man was cautioned after finding images of his estranged wife in an "undressed state". The woman denied they were pornographic, to which the offender is said to have replied: "I'll show you that they are, I'll let your family make their mind up." The images were subsequently send to family member.

Incidents were also reported to forces in the West Midlands, Devon and Cornwall, and Merseyside.

Former culture secretary Maria Miller said the data showed revenge porn was more widespread than previously thought.

The Tory MP, who raised the issue at Prime Minister's Questions, said: "Police are finding it difficult to know how to react when incidents are reported. All of this points to the need for a clarification of the law, and also to make sure its clear revenge porn and the posting of it is a criminal offence.

"This is not a victimless crime - it is a sexual act against another individual.

"Good schools are already having to tackle this issue, because they are already dealing with sexting. They have to support youngsters where images are going into the public domain."

Earlier this year the Prime Minister backed proposals to make revenge porn illegal, acknowledging it ''clearly has criminal intent''.

A Facebook spokesman said: "Facebook has a strict policy against the sharing of pornographic content. We encourage people to use our reporting tools to highlight anything they find unacceptable - if it breaks our rules it will be removed."

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