Hundreds of children as young as six have been deemed suspects in sexting offences, a police force has revealed.
The Met Police has warned of the risks of sharing sexual photos and videos of and by under-18s, with reports to police on the rise.
A total of 353 children aged between six and 13 were considered suspects between January 2017 and August 2019.
Det Supt Zena Marshall said the force was looking to “educate” children rather than criminalise them.
The Met said youngsters were vulnerable to intimate images of them being distributed without their consent, while many are unaware they are breaking the law by taking, sharing or possessing explicit pictures.
“We know that many young people do not realise that creating or sharing explicit images of an under-18 is against the law, even if the person doing it are children themselves,” Det Supt Marshall said.
Eleanor, 18, who has used a pseudonym to protect her identity, said she was left feeling “embarrassed” and “awful about myself” after finding out private pictures she sent to her boyfriend had ended up in the hands of strangers.
She was aged 14 when she sent him so-called “nudes” on Snapchat – an app on which images typically disappear after a few seconds – while she was away on holiday.
But, unknown to her, the boy had downloaded an app allowing him to save the images without the sender realising, and he shared them six months after they had broken up.
“All of a sudden, none of my friends would talk to me and boys that he was friends with were calling me a slag and I was actually physically hurt in school. I was pushed around, had my hair pulled,” she said.
Her boyfriend and two others who were arrested were eventually released with no further action.
Scotland Yard said the force did not look to prosecute children and can deal with offences in other ways, such as a youth caution, a recommendation for a talk with a schools officer, or a referral to social services.