The number of children possessing and sharing sexual images of themselves and others has risen by a huge 131% since 2014-15.
Police chiefs have warned of the “worrying upward trend” with 6200 incidents reported this year.
Representatives from police, education, charities and local and national government are meeting at a conference in London to discuss how best to collectively safeguard children.
“A third all of child sexual abuse is committed by young people themselves – tackling and preventing it is a significant challenge for both schools and the police. Parents, carers and schools have a crucial role to play in talking to children about what a healthy relationship looks like, their boundaries, consent and the ramifications of sharing sexual imagery,” said Simon Bailey, National Police Chiefs Council Lead for Child Protection.
Children as young as 10 are reporting cases and boys are as likely as girls to be recorded as suspects or perpetrators for sexting offences but girls are more likely to be recorded as victims; suggesting that boys are more likely to share images without consent.
Analysis shows that the number of children facing charges in these cases has more than halved and the new outcome 21 is most commonly used, which enables forces to deal with sexting offences without criminalising children.
Outcome 21 can only be used in cases where there is no evidence of exploitation or malicious intent, and is endorsed by advice from the College of Policing to help officers respond to sexting offences proportionately.
David Tucker, College of Policing lead from Crime and Criminal Justice, said: “Today’s statistics indicate policing’s commitment to recording all cases as crimes and focusing on safeguarding children and young people.
“A year ago the College produced advice to support forces in responding in a measured and proportionate way to all reports of children and young people producing or sharing sexual imagery or ‘sexting’.
“It is clear that where children and young people are being exploited, forced or coerced into sharing or generating indecent imagery of themselves and/or others, the offenders should be prosecuted.
“Our advice takes into consideration that some young people send each other these types of images not realising they are breaking the law. In these circumstances the advice is to consider the long-term impact, and avoid stigmatising or unnecessarily criminalising young people. Police powers, including prosecution, should be used only when necessary and in a proportionate way,” he concluded.