A children's helpline in Australia revealed that the number of children phoning in to receive counseling for dealing with 'sexting' or sending sexually explicit images through mobile phones or the internet is on the rise.
As State Parliament reviews Victoria's so-called "sexting" laws, figures from Kids Helpline reveal that children as young as 10 are increasingly turning to the free counselling service in a bid to cope.
The group said that between January and March this year, about 500 counselling sessions were offered to children and teenagers who called the service with "sexting-related concerns".
Experts admit the snapshot is not definitive, without enough longitudinal data, many agree it is hard to know exactly how prevalent sexting has become.
But John Dalgleish, strategy and research manager of BoysTown, which runs Kids Helpline, said: "What we do know is that it is occurring and for some young people it is having a very significant impact on their emotional wellbeing. We need to look at better ways of diverting them from that behaviour, and educating and supporting them in relation to the risks involved."
The latest snapshot comes as State Parliament's Law Reform Committee reviews the laws that cover sexting in Victoria. The review was sparked after The Sunday Age revealed last year that teenagers caught with raunchy images of girls had been charged with child pornography offences and placed on the sex offender register, which can mean grave consequences for the rest of their lives.
Commonwealth law is designed to target adults who sexually exploit children, but it also technically applies to interactions between young people, including those who send explicit digital images.
In a submission to the inquiry, the government's child safety commissioner, Bernie Geary, said existing laws ought to be changed.
Dalgleish agreed, saying that children who took images of themselves needed better education, not legal sanctions, which should only apply to people who disseminated images or coerced or blackmailed their victims into supplying images, the report added.