CHARLOTTE was feeling lonely and low after being bullied at school.
The 15-year-old found it easier to make new friends online, so when she got a request via BlackBerry messenger from a girl she didn’t know, she didn’t see any harm in building up a new friendship.
But after a couple of days, the friendly chit-chat took a sinister turn when Charlotte was asked to send a naked photo of herself.
The Nottingham schoolgirl says: “I wasn’t very confident so I just sent her one without thinking about it.”
Charlotte, who has since been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism, was asked for more pictures.
“When I said ‘no’ she threatened to put the one she had on Facebook. I didn’t hear anything for a couple of days but then I heard that she’d set up a group under my name with the naked picture of me on.
“I got lots of messages from people saying they’d seen it and most of the messages were really nasty. A lot of them said things like ‘You’re a slag’ and because I heard it so much I believed it,” she says.
The photo was taken down a couple of days later, but the ‘girl’ had also sent it to a relative and news of it reached her mum Janet, who reported it to the police.
The sexual exploitation investigation unit started an inquiry after taking a statement from Charlotte. The Facebook page was traced back to a man who had been preying on other young girls.
The bullying became so bad that Charlotte’s family moved to another area. But they think the predator also tried to contact her again – this time on a mobile phone messaging app.
Not long after that a man called Liam added her on Facebook. “We started talking a lot and the conversation was really friendly,” she said.
“He was saying that I should call him and go and meet him. He turned the conversation sexual and then started saying that I should have phone sex with him. I didn’t and I’m glad because the police later told me it was the same man who had tricked me before.”
Charlotte was referred to the NSPCC for help to protect herself from online grooming through its Protect and Respect programme. The charity also talked to her parents about social media and how to stay safe online.
The perpetrator in Charlotte’s case was a man from London. He pleaded guilty to distributing explicit images of a minor and was sentenced this week to a one-year suspended jail sentence. He was also placed on the Sex Offenders’ Register for five years.
Names have been changed.
THE NSPCC’s new Flaw in the Law campaign, launched today, fri calls for it to be illegal for an adult to send online sexual messages to a child.
It follows a 168 per cent rise in the number of youngsters counselled about online sexual abuse by ChildLine last year.
The Nottingham base spoke to 208 children.
The public are being urged to back the campaign by signing an online petition.
Sandra McNair, NSPCC Midlands regional head of services for children and families, said: “No adult should be deliberately sending sexual messages to children, but incredibly it is not always illegal.” “Existing laws are a hotch-potch and sex offenders can, and do, exploit the loopholes.
“The rise of online communication means that children are increasingly being exposed to sexual messages from adults, on social networks or through messaging apps, but in many cases the police are powerless to act.
“Currently, old laws are being stretched to fit new paedophile behaviour. The Serious Crime Bill now being debated in Parliament is a unique opportunity to tailor the law to better protect children from sexual abuse.”
Under current law cases of sexual communication are rarely prosecuted unless the abuse has escalated.
To sign the petition go to http://bit.ly/flawinthelaw
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