'Don't brand youngsters as criminals for sexting'.
Byline: Hayden Smith firstname.lastname@example.org
CRIME recording rules should be adapted so children are not routinely criminalised for "sexting", a group of MPs and peers claim.
According to a report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children (APPGC), youngsters who send explicit images of themselves to their peers over social media or messaging services, risk getting a criminal record or having their details added to police databases, thanks to weaknesses in the rules governing how police must log cases.
The study said police and headteachers have raised concerns that children and young people are being issued with out-of-court disposals "simply for exhibiting behaviours associated with growing up or 'experimental' behaviour, such as sexting".
Although they are generally used in minor cases where a full prosecution is not deemed necessary, out-of-court disposals can be placed on an individual's record and disclosed in background checks carried out by some potential employers.
The APPGC said this risks "criminalising the young person and potentially limiting their future educational and career options".
It said: "Within current crime recording standards, there is an expectation that every crime will have an outcome.
"There are concerns that these standards mean that police officers are only able to record the incident as having 'no further action' or to record an outcome that results in the young person having a long-term criminal record or being placed inappropriately on a crime database."
Earlier this year a 14-year-old boy was added to a police database after he sent a naked image of himself to a female classmate on picture messaging app Snapchat. The incident came to the attention of police and was recorded as a crime of making and distributing an indecent image. The teenager was later told it was added to his file on the police national database.
Baroness Massey, who co-chairs the group, said the rules that dictate how police record their response mean "many young people end up with a criminal record for trivial offences".
She added: "We know, for example, that teenagers are being added to police databases for sexting with their peers.
"In cases such as these, police should have the discretion to refer the child to another agency for support - their school, social services or counselling, for example - without it forming a permanent part of the record held against the name and undermining their future."
The group called on the Home Office to review rules on recording crime and give police the option of logging cases in a new category which would allow "lowlevel crime-related behaviour" to be addressed by a welfare agency without forming part of the child's record or being disclosed in a criminal history check.
<BA group of MPs and peers is concerned children could end up with criminal records for 'sexting'