REPORTS of sexting involving young people in Dorset more than doubled between 2016 and 2017.

Officers with Dorset Police are warning parents and youngsters of the consequences of sexting as part of a campaign.

The initiative aims to inform people under the age of 18 that "when you press send, you lose control".

Sexting involves the sending or receiving of sexual, naked or semi-naked images or videos. Often, the people in the images take the photos themselves.

It is illegal for anyone to take, send, receive or share these types of images of anyone under 18 - including selfies.

However, officers say they are concerned that young people are not criminalised where it is not appropriate.

As a result, police routinely carry out workshops through the Safe Schools and Communities Team to educate teenagers of the risks.

In 2017, there were 101 reports of sexting involving youths. The year before, the number of reports made to police was 38.

Superintendent Matt Lawler, head of the alliance prevention department, said: “Education and safeguarding is at the forefront of all we do with young people. We want to re-affirm to young people and parents that we are here to help when you need us.

“Technology has become ever more advanced and available. By educating young people about the law around sexting and the potential consequences of sending these types of images, we can help them to avoid making a decision they later regret.”

Dorset’s youth services operational manager Ian Ison said: “Our primary concern is to avoid criminalising young people where it is not appropriate and we hope that by educating young people about sexting we can prevent any harmful outcomes and keep young people safe.

“Young people need to remember; when you press send, you’re not just breaking the law, you lose control of that image, where it goes on the internet and who sees it.”

Dorset's police and crime commissioner Martyn Underhill said: “Growing up can be challenging and filled with various social pressures.

"Young people may think that sexting is harmless. Some may not even consider the consequences at all, but the reality is that sending indecent images can leave young people vulnerable to blackmail and even a criminal record.

“Teens must feel empowered and confident enough to make safer choices. In addition to increasing the resources available to our Safer Schools and Communities Team, I fully support this campaign which aims to ensure that the next generation is better informed of the dangers of sexting.”

Parents are urged to talk to their children about sexting, the law and potential dangers of sexting. If a parent discovers their child has been sexting, they should "stay calm and support the child" and speak to the younger's school.

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