Children using mobiles to send sexually explicit images

TECHNOLOGICALLY savvy children across Ireland can and almost certainly are using their mobile phones to “sext” sexually explicit images of themselves to others without the images being traceable.

Research in Britain has shown more than a third of secondary school children have been sent messages containing sexual content.

The survey, by Beatbullying, found images featuring both boys and girls exposing themselves or involved in sexual acts were being circulated by email, text, bluetooth or added to social networking sites.

However, while the distribution of sexual images of a child either voluntarily or otherwise is illegal, there have been no detections or prosecutions of distributors through mobile phone technology here.

Hotline.ie provides an anonymous facility for the public to report suspected illegal content encountered on the internet.

It also accepts reports of illegal indecent images which are sent through mobile phones.

However, its ability to act is severely hampered as mobile phone operators have no entitlement to monitor the content of mobile phone messages.

Therefore, the only way any sexual images received on or sent from a mobile phone belonging to a child can be detected is by someone scanning the contents of the phone’s message boxes.

Secondly, unless the message is sent through one of the main Irish networks, O2, Vodafone, Meteor or 3, Hotline is powerless to trace the originator of the message.

And according to Paul Durrant of Hotline, many children know that and will use untraceable technology such as bluetooth to send any material they do not want traced. Bluetooth uses radio frequency to transmit the images.

To date, Hotline has not received any complaints regarding material sent through mobile phones. However, it has an agreement in place with mobile phone operators which will enable it act if and when something is reported to it.

There is also an Irish Cellular Industry Association code of practice, under which the main mobile phone operators agree to receive reports of malicious or offensive communications and act upon them, contacting the gardaí where necessary.

They will also facilitate parents who want to access their child’s mobile phone records to see who they have been texting or receiving information from.

The mobile phone operators also offer parents the opportunity to restrict websites which children can access through their mobile phones.

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