THE NSPCC is today launching its Flaw in the Law campaign to make it a crime for an adult to send a child a sexual message.

It comes after it was revealed that the number of children counselled by ChildLine about online sexual abuse increased by 168 per cent last year – averaging seven counselling sessions a day to the free, 24-hour helpline.

A national YouGov poll, which included more than 200 people from the South West, found that nearly three out of four adults believe it is already illegal for someone over 18 to send a sexual message to a child under 16 – when in fact no such specific offence exists.

Over eight out of ten people polled by YouGov said they would support a change in the law and the NSPCC is now urging the public to back its campaign by signing an online petition.

Sharon Copsey, regional head of service for the South West, said: “No adult should be deliberately sending sexual messages to children, but incredibly it is not always illegal. Existing laws are a hotch-potch and sex offenders can and do exploit the loopholes.

“The rise of online communication means that children are increasingly being exposed to sexual messages from adults, on social networks or through messaging apps, but in many cases the police are powerless to act.

“Currently, old laws are being stretched to fit new paedophile behaviour. The Serious Crime Bill now being debated in Parliament is a unique opportunity to tailor the law to better protect children from sexual abuse. And we need the public to get behind our Flaw in the Law campaign.”

There have been reported convictions of adults in Scotland for communicating sexually with children under the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009. However, the NSPCC believes that under the current law in England, Wales and Northern Ireland it is unlikely that similar cases would have led to a criminal prosecution, unless the abuse had escalated.

Donna Oakes, children’s services practitioner at the NSPCC children’s centre in Old Town, said: “Within the work that we do at the centre, we do see a lot of people who have experienced sexting, and a lot of young girls do come to us after they’ve been asked to send images of themselves to adults. It’s brought up such a lot that it could actually be seen as a normal part of growing up, but it’s not and young people aren’t aware of the abusive nature.

“It is very upsetting for young people. A change in the law would help young children and young people be more aware of it.”

People can find out more about the NSPCC campaign and sign the petition at www.nspcc. and join the debate on social media at #FlawedLaw A spokesman for Wiltshire Police welcomed the campaign.

He said: “Wiltshire Police would welcome any change to the law that further protects children from exposure to sexual abuse and sexual grooming, although we recognise that this would require changes to current legislation.”

Anyone looking for advice about keeping children safe online, or concerned about the safety and welfare of a child, can contact the NSPCC’s 24-hour helpline on 0808 800 5000 or email Children worried about online safety or any other problem can call the free, 24-hour helpline on 0800 1111 or get help online at