By Rachael Grealish
Over the last 12 months Cumbria Police have received nearly 200 reports of crimes involving an indecent image of a child – a ‘stark rise’ in the area.
In a bid to fight these crimes the police is using ‘Child Exploitation Awareness Day’ to highlight the risks around indecent image sharing.
This area of crime has seen a stark rise in reports to Cumbria Police this year, from vulnerable young people, who have shared an indecent image of themselves.
The force has been working with the NSPCC, teachers and young people, to create a youth-focused information package: asking young people to create a ‘personal plan’ that they feel confident initiating, should they be asked to share an indecent image.
The reports identify that many of the children (anyone under the age of 18) sending these types of images are becoming victim to further crimes of sextortion, coercion, exploitation and abuse.
One of the main areas of concern for the police, is young people sharing images with other young people in their schools or social groups.
DCI James Yallop, the Constabulary’s lead for Vulnerability, working with the force’s Child Centred Policing Team, have developed this specifically, youth-focused information package.
DCI Yallop said: “This information package is the first of its kind for Cumbria Constabulary. This type of crime is an increasing area of concern for us.
“I would like to thank everyone who has supported this work. Those involved have worked hard on the messaging, carefully considering its tone and content.
“Some young people may not think about the consequences of sending a naked image, but after you press send, you are no longer in control of that personal picture. Sadly this can then be used in so many negative ways. Unfortunately, we are receiving increasing reports from young victims living this reality.
“It is hoped that, having spent time researching the tone, imagery and delivery of the package, it will resonate well with young people; getting them to think and create a plan ready for that stress moment if they were to be asked to send a naked picture.
“The package gets the viewer to think about a wide range of questions and highlights a few positive ways to diffuse such a situation. If a young person feels confident with any of these suggestions, they can add them to their plan. Suggestions include diffusing the situation with humour or blocking the person.
“The objective of this work is to get young people thinking about this situation before it occurs: so they have a positive plan and feel empowered to action it. Not acting impulsively.
“As importantly, the content also covers seeking support and accessing more information. Becoming victim to this type of crime has the potential to negatively impact a person’s mental health and wellbeing and we want them to know there is immediate support available should they need it.
“I would urge all parents and carers to discuss this topic with children who are independently accessing the internet and get them to put a plan in place”.
“My main message to anyone asked to send a naked picture of themselves is don’t – Take control and say no.”
The development has also been supported by Cockermouth School.
The school has provided feedback on the tone of the content and will now be delivering a pilot of the package to their students.
Mr Steve Milledge, Safeguarding Lead and Assistant Headteacher of Cockermouth School said: “When we became aware of this project, we were compelled to be involved. Anything we can do to educate students and equip them with tools to help protect themselves is a priority.
“This type of activity and crime is a cause of concern for us, students and parents alike.
“We have been supporting the constabulary on finalising their package, to ensure it is absolutely suitable for delivery to secondary school children and older students.
“We are now looking forward to trialling different ways to effectively deliver it to our students, including presenting it in lessons, and working with parents.
“Our students will be providing feedback on the packages’ content and how engaging and effective it was at raising their awareness to the dangers of sharing naked images.
“We will also be implementing a student-led focus group, to provide in-depth, qualitative feedback to the police.
“I am excited for us to be involved in this important and positive project. I can see how, if we get this package right for our young people, it has the potential to make a real difference to changing the culture and mindset of those contemplating sharing indecent images of themselves in Cumbria”.
The package has also been scrutinised by the NSPCC who are working with the Constabulary on the It’s Not Ok campaign.
The It’s Not Ok campaign is run by the Cumbria Safeguarding Children Partnership (CSCP) in partnership with the NSPCC. The twelve-month long campaign is focused on areas of crime and awareness raising, tackling child exploitation in the county; it recently covered the issues around online image sharing.
The artwork for the package was created by a talented, local artist, and depicts a teenager making an impulsive decision to share a naked picture of themselves with a peer.
The situation is based on real-life scenarios reported to the Constabulary.
The outcome in the artwork is that the victim is bullied and ridiculed by peers. Whilst this isn’t the only danger of sharing such an image, it was highlighted to the constabulary’s Child Centred Policing team, as the most worrying to many local young people.
Once the pilot of the package has been completed, feedback from the students will be gathered and any identified changes made. The final package is set to be sent to Cumbrian schools and colleges. It will also be accessible to partner agencies and the general public.