Children as young as ten are being arrested on suspicion of rape amid fears that online pornography is twisting their view of sex and relationships.
The scale of sexual offences committed by primary school children was revealed in disturbing figures from police forces across the country.
Twenty-four forces arrested children under 13 for suspected rape in the past year while seven detained at least one ten year old.
The figures, obtained by the Daily Mail under a Freedom of Information request, highlight growing concerns at the influence of online pornography on impressionable young minds.
Yesterday NSPCC spokesman Jon Brown said there was ‘undoubtedly’ a link between children carrying out sexual assaults and easy access to online pornography, which gives them a ‘distorted picture of what sexual relationships should be about’.
John Carr, from the Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety, said: ‘There is already a widespread feeling that the internet is playing an unhealthy part in the early sexualisation of children and these revelations about the arrests of ten-year-olds for rape will add fuel to the flames.’
But the Mail has called for much stricter controls which would see an automatic pornography block, with users having to ‘opt in’ to view adult material.
The figures were uncovered in a survey of all 52 police forces across Britain. Of the 39 that responded, 31 forces had arrested children between the ages of ten and 13 on suspicion of rape in the past year. Seven said the youngest child arrested for rape was aged just ten while six said the youngest was 11, and 11 forces said the youngest suspect was 12.
Forces reported only the age of the youngest child they had arrested for the crime, meaning the actual number of very young children detained in each age group could be much higher.
According to the figures, 357 children aged 18 and under were found guilty of a range of sex crimes including rape, sexual assaults on other children, grooming, incest and taking or possessing indecent photographs of minors.
The NSPCC’s Mr Brown said pornography was a powerful influence on this generation of children. ‘Some young people do not have an understanding of consent – if they want something they will go out to get it, whatever the consequences,’ he said. ‘There is a definite link between this and watching hardcore porn. It is an issue of entitlement. If a child has watched a rape scene the same child might attempt to act that piece of behaviour out. The children talk about acting out what they have watched.’
One child abuse investigator said the easy availability of pornography was changing children’s behaviour.The civilian investigator, who works for a South East England force, said: ‘When we arrest juveniles for sex crimes we increasingly find they have accessed hardcore pornography. ‘This is often on their phones where they store videos and pictures to share with their friends. It is not something my colleagues would have dealt with ten years ago.’
In one case in Merseyside, a ten-year-old boy was involved in the suspected gang rape by three boys of a 12-year-old girl in a public park. Avon and Somerset police also arrested a ten-year-old ‘alleged to have forced a friend to perform a sex act on several occasions’. Police in Essex, Derbyshire, Durham, Gwent, and Strathclyde also arrested ten-year-olds on suspicion of rape in 2011.
The Daily Mail’s campaign for an ‘opt in’ system on internet pornography is supported by the Deputy Children’s Commissioner Sue Berelowitz. Earlier this year, Mrs Berelowitz told MPs that online porn is turning children into sex attackers. ‘They have watched things and then they’ve enacted them,’ she said. ‘It has definitely affected children’s thresholds of what they think is normal.’