As part of Channel 4 News's Generation Sex series, Donald Findlater of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation looks at how to help teenagers stay safe, and on the right side of the law, online.

What happens if teenagers get in trouble for inappropriate use of the internet? (Getty)


My child has got into trouble through their use of the internet. What should I do?

If your child has got into trouble through their use of the internet there is help available. The Stop it Now! helpline is a first port of call for parents and carers in situations like this. The helpline is confidential and experienced operators offer advice, information and support. Call 0808 1000 900 or visit www.stopitnow.org.uk.

Do children sexually abuse other children?

It is estimated that 30 to 40 per cent of people who sexually abuse are under the age of 18. While society has become more aware of the risk of sexual abuse that some adults present to children, very few people realise that other children and young people can sometimes present a risk.

This is an especially difficult issue to deal with, partly because it is hard to think of children doing such things, but also because it is not always easy to tell the difference between normal sexual exploration and abusive behaviour. Children, particularly in the younger age groups, may engage in such behaviour with no knowledge that it is wrong or abusive. For this reason, it is more accurate to talk about harmful sexual behaviour rather than abuse.

Read more: Generation sex - teenagers fall foul of the law

What is harmful sexual behaviour?

Harmful sexual behaviour by children and young people ranges from experimentation that unintentionally goes too far, through to serious sexual assault. It sometimes involves children as young as four or five, although most of those who sexually harm others are adolescents. Usually, but not always, the child or young person causing the harm is older than the victim. Often victims are uncomfortable or confused about what is happening and may feel that they are willingly involved, but not understand that the behaviour is harmful.

It is important to recognise that our children are likely to engage in some forms of sexual exploration with similar age children. However, any child or young person who engages in sex play with a much younger or more vulnerable child, or who uses force, tricks or bribery to involve someone in sexual activity, is a cause for concern.

What about pornography?

As well as the activities described above, we also have to be aware of the serious and growing problem of children and young people downloading sexual images on the internet. We do not know what effect looking at such material may have on their sexual and emotional development, but repeated viewing of adult or child pornography is certainly a cause for concern.

In addition, downloading child pornography is a criminal offence. Young people who look at this material should be made aware that it is a crime and may need help with their behaviour. It is important that we keep a careful eye on the websites our children are visiting and restrict access as necessary. Further information is available on www.stopitnow.org.uk and www.parentsprotect.co.uk.

What is 'sexting'?

"Sexting" generally refers to the sending of sexually explicit images via text, email, MSN or through social networking sites. For example, this could be a picture of a young person exposing themselves or in a state of undress.

There could be many reasons why young people would want to take these sorts of pictures of themselves and send them to someone else. It could be that two young people who are in a relationship want to prove their love or commitment to each other; it could be that someone is looking to start a relationship with someone else or it could be that they find it exciting or want to show off.

Sexual images of people under 18 are classed as "child pornography" and are illegal to have or to distribute. While sexting may be seen as acceptable or fun to young people, it is important that both we and they know that it could result in immediate consequences within the school environment or more serious ones with the police.

Why do some children sexually harm others?

The reasons why children sexually harm others are complicated and not always obvious. Some of them have been emotionally, sexually or physically abused themselves, while others may have witnessed physical or emotional violence at home. For some children it may be a passing phase, but the harm they cause to other children can be serious and some will go on to abuse children into adulthood if they do not receive help. For this reason it is vital to seek advice and help as soon as possible.

What is the Inform Young People Programme?

Inform Young People is an educative programme for young people (16-21) in trouble with police, school or college for inappropriate use of technology and the internet such as sexting or the possession or distribution of indecent images of children as well as risk-taking behaviours online, accessing adult pornography.

Why do we need Inform Young People?

The police have said they would rather not criminalise young people for some of these internet related offences, yet they need education and help to address and modify their behaviour. Young people and their parents and teachers calling our helpline have highlighted the need for help and discussions with police identified their concern at there being no appropriate service available.

Our programme (on average, one assessment and five intervention sessions per family) provides information, advice and support tailored to the needs of each young person and their family, to prevent a reoccurrence or escalation of the concerning behaviour.

More information/help/advice 
www.stopitnow.org.uk
is a useful website for anyone with concerns about child sexual abuse. The Stop it Now! campaign operates a confidential freephone helpline for any adult with concerns about child sexual abuse. This includes those worried about the behaviour of another adult towards a child or children, those worried about their own thoughts or behaviour towards children and those concerned about the sexual behaviour of a child or young person (0808 1000 900 or help@stopitnow.org.uk).

www.parentsprotect.co.uk
is a child sexual abuse prevention and awareness website which helps adults do the best they can to protect children from sexual abuse. The site is a useful resource of information and guidance and features a 30-minute learning programme. It also has a useful internet safety section.

www.lucyfaithfull.org.uk
is the website of The Lucy Faithfull Foundation, the only UK-wide child protection charity committed solely to reducing the risk of children being sexually abused. Established in 1992 and named after its founder, the Lucy Faithfull Foundation's vision is of a society where children are free from sexual abuse and exploitation.

Its mission is to prevent abuse from happening by working in partnership with voluntary and statutory sector professionals as well as the general public. Specialist staff work with all those affected by abuse including adult male and female sexual abusers; young people with inappropriate sexual behaviours; victims of abuse and other family members. Drawing on expert knowledge the foundation offers a broad range of services for professionals and members of the public.

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