Digital dangers

Richard Denton joined Bedfordshire Police in 2009 and became the force’s strategic lead for schools and education establishments in 2011. Among many other safety and crime prevention messages, he has spoken to more than 68,000 pupils across Bedfordshire about the risks associated with cybercrime. As schools break up for their summer holidays, he talks about the changes he’s noticed for young people alongside the rapid growth and use of technology.

My morning has been spent supporting a 14-year-old girl who has disclosed to a tRichard Dentoneacher that she has sent an indecent image of herself to a boy she thought she could trust.

The boy decided to forward it onto a few friends and within a few hours the image was being shared among students, even those from a number of other schools.

Someone had even taken the picture and added the girl’s full name, her mobile phone number and home address, and placed the image online.

I am now in the process of ensuring that the student is fully safeguarded with colleagues from the force, while looking at how we can get control of the image and decide on the best course of action for anyone who has shared the image. After all, criminal offences have been committed –though this is a challenge in itself as the majority of recipients are young people, too.

For us, this type of incident is not uncommon and over the last couple of years we have seen the ages of young people affected by so-called ‘sexting’ and ‘revenge porn’ drop dramatically.

Sadly, the online world has made grooming a child much easier.

Before the internet, adults who held an unhealthy interest in children had to physically go somewhere where young people were to exploit this, but there was always the chance that other adults would spot their concerning behaviour and report it.

In a digital world, offenders think they can access children directly in their own homes without any adult being aware. This chilling practice is exactly what Bedfordshire Police and partners are working hard to combat in the county, using ground-breaking technology and investigation protocols.

Having recently spent a sunny afternoon with my young godson and goddaughter, it makes me wonder what technology will be like for them in the future, and worry about the new risks they may have to face as they grow up.

The work we undertake can be extremely challenging and frustrating, but also rewarding, especially when you know that you have steered a young person away from making the wrong choices or positively challenged someone’s perceptions of police.

It is also really satisfying to receive an email from an appreciative parent or teacher explaining that my intervention has prevented a young person from being a victim of crime.

It is not just online crime that I have to deal with in my work with young people. The phone has just gone and a school is reporting that one of their students told staff he found a gun in the park last night and decided to leave it under his bed.

And so the non-stop world of Bedfordshire Police continues.

Once intimate photographs are sent digitally, they cannot be retrieved or permanently deleted.

Bedfordshire Police would urge anyone to think twice before sending such images, and would also remind those aged under 18 that sharing indecent images of children is also criminal offence which carries a severe sentence.

The Criminal Justice and Courts Act prohibits the disclosure of private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress, commonly referred to as ‘revenge porn’.

If you or someone you know is being threatened with or is subject to revenge porn offences, call Bedfordshire Police on 101.


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