One in four teenagers sent explicit material to somebody. Sharing by mobile phone or online is commonplace to the point where it is considered “mundane,” an expert report said.
ChildLine and the Internet Watch Foundation have formed a partnership to ensure young people know where to turn to get online images removed.
Peter Liver, a director at ChildLine, said few young people are calling the charity because of fear of being judged or reported to the authorities.
“Most common contacts to Childline are when the issue has escalated beyond their control,” he said.
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) has found that in some cases children are not only made to exchange sexual images or videos of themselves, but also forced by offenders to perform other acts live on webcams including writing degrading statements on their body and cutting themselves.
A total of 60% of young people questioned in ChildLine’s survey said they had been asked for a sexual image or video and the organisation said this demonstrated concerning prevalence and immense pressure to participate.
Forty per cent created an image or video of themselves, with around a quarter of all those questioned sending an image or video to someone else.
More than half received sexual material, most from a partner but a third from astranger.
While most said the image went to a boyfriend or girlfriend, a third sent it to someone they met online but did not know in real life, and 15% gave it to a total stranger.
Susie Hargreaves, chief executive of the IWF, which provides a hotline for the public and IT experts to report criminal online content confidentially, noted a marked rise in self-generated sexual content featuring young people. A snapshot study over two days found more than 12,000 images and videos.
“More recently we see images and videos being gathered together and sold for commercial gain,” she added.
ChildLine has developed an app for young people designed to relieve the pressure to send an explicit image.
The software, Zipit, offers witty pictures to send instead, advice on how to engage in safe chat and what to do if the user feels threatened.
Mr Liver added: “With the constant rise in smart technology being made available to young people, the self-generating and sharing of sexually explicit images is not a fad that will go away.”