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27 November 2015, 06:00
Young people are at risk of being exploited or criminalised as a result of a rise in ''sexting'', a new report has warned.
The Scottish Government, together with police and councils, has been urged to develop a strategy to tackle the practice, described as common amongst Scottish youngsters.
The recommendation was contained in a joint report by the Care Inspectorate and HM Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland, which reviewed the arrangements for managing sex offenders.
Earlier this year it was revealed that a 14-year-old boy had been added to the police database in England after sending an explicit image to a girl of the same age over the picture and video sharing app Snapchat.
The joint report said: ''During our review we established that the posting of self-generated indecent images on social media networks by young people (sexting), was common practice across the country.
''This trend is supported by research that indicates that 44% of British girls aged 13-17 have sent indecent images of themselves and that sexting is now considered a way of life by some young people.''
The report noted the conclusion of the National Crime Agency's Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre that the majority were freely produced by young people without coercion or exploitation.
It added: ''However, many young people may not recognise that they are being coerced or exploited due the anonymity provided by the internet.
``The scale of the problem could increase the vulnerability of young people at risk of exploitation and potentially result in them becoming subject of criminal justice processes including offender management.''
The report said there were 4,787 registered sex offenders in Scotland by March 31 this year compared with 4,256 the year before, with the rise partially attributed to an increase in convictions for internet offending.
The number of people convicted of internet-related sexual offences increased by 109% between 2012-13 and 2014-15.
``Practitioners expressed concern at the growing number of internet offenders and the challenge this posed in terms of management and risk assessment,'' the report said.
It called on the Scottish Government and partners to provide additional guidance to staff to help them assess the risk that those convicted of internet crimes may pose of re-offending.
A review should also be carried out of the equipment, training and guidance needed to help staff monitor the use of social media devices by registered sex offenders.
Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes MSP said: ''It's a huge concern that this report has highlighted that sexting has become a common phenomenon across the country.
''Many young people may not realise the risks they face by sharing intimate images of themselves online. Many are also not aware when they are being exploited or coerced into doing something they wouldn't normally do.
''I hope the Scottish Government and partners in local authorities and Police Scotland take forward the report's recommendation to develop a strategy addressing these risks.''
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: ''Scotland's system of monitoring sex offenders is among the most robust anywhere in the world and involve use of a range of measures, including surveillance, electronic tagging, curfews and banning offenders from certain areas or from contacting certain people.
''Today's report shows that, while there are areas we can build on, Mappa is effective and makes an important contribution to keeping people and communities safe. Our approach is working but we are not complacent. Our top priority is keeping the public safe and we remain committed to the continual improvement of the management of offenders.''