The NSPCC are calling for social media sites to acknowledge that many of their users are under the age of 18, in order to do more to safeguard their child users.
The comments come as new research by the children's charity found that around half of the UK's 11 and 12-year-old regularly use social media, and of these, a quarter said they had been upset by something on it.
A quarter of children aged between 11 and 12 who use social media have been upset by something on it over the past year, new research from the NSPCC has revealed.
A poll of more than 1,000 youngsters also found that a fifth of children who had been upset by an online incident such as trolling, bullying or being sent inappropriate sexual messages, experienced this every day or almost every day.
Justice Minister Damian Green admitted more work was needed to help children be supported through the court process. Responding to the NSPCC report that highlighted failures in adequate care of young and vulnerable witnesses at criminal proceedings, he said:
There are a range of measures available to help reduce the anxiety of attending court, including giving evidence behind a screen or the use of a registered intermediary, which has increased significantly over recent years. We are also trialling pre-recorded evidence for young and vulnerable witnesses.
We recognise that more work needs to be done.
I have ordered an investigation into how we might reduce the distress caused to victims from cross examination from multiple defence barristers without compromising the fundamental right to a fair trial.
A senior policy analyst for the NSPCC says young witnesses can be questioned by barristers in an "aggressive way" when giving evidence in court in sexual abuse cases.
Lisa McCrindle told the BBC:
The courts are concentrating on the point of law, which is correct, but it means there is often little or no communication between the courts and the child.
Here is a breakdown of the key points of the NSPCC's findings:
- Currently just two per cent of child witnesses in criminal court cases receive guidance on criminal proceedings from registered advisers, the NSPCC findings reported, and yet at least half said they were unable to understand some of the questions they had been asked.
- The research showed that more than 50 per cent of child witnesses reported symptoms of stress ahead of a trial, including panic attacks, self-harm and difficulty sleeping.
Children giving evidence in court in sexual abuse cases need to be given more support, with many suffering from stress ahead of a trial, the NSPCC has said.
The children's charity warned some cases are collapsing because not enough is done to help vulnerable witnesses, it has been reported.
Fewer than a quarter of the 23,000 child sex offences recorded in England and Wales last year resulted in prosecution, according to the NSPCC.
Chief executive Peter Wanless told the BBC news website: "These children have to publicly relive the most traumatic, upsetting and humiliating experience of their lives in order to try and get justice."
The number of calls made to a charity helpline reporting sex abuse this summer has been "significantly higher" than last year, the head of NSPCC helpline said today.
John Cameron said that the Jimmy Savile scandal is "changing the way in which people react to abuse".
"There appears to be a clear shift and the public now seem better equipped and more confident to report their concerns.
"The Savile scandal has shocked the nation but has also increased public awareness of how difficult it is for children to speak out and how crucial it is for adults to report any suspicions or concerns they have straight away."
The fallout of the Jimmy Savile abuse scandal has seen the number of calls made to a charity helpline reporting sex abuse nearly double compared with last year.
Staff at the NSPCC received 594 calls to its helpline in June and July this year to report sexual abuse, compared with 323 in the same period last year.
The NSPCC said the death of 17-year-old Daniel Perry appears to be "the first time we have really seen extortion happening, via the internet, of a young person".
NSPCC policy analyst Claire Lilley continued: "Children and young people love the internet to learn, explore and connect with people like them all over the world.
"But it's about teaching them that not everyone is who they say they are and teaching them how to respect one another in terms of their behaviour online."
If you are in distress and need some support, the Samaritans are available 24 hours a day on 08457 90 90 90 or click here for their website. For those in the Republic of Ireland 1850 60 90 90.
NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless says its new Talk PANTS campaign aims to give children the confidence to report abuse to a trusted adult.
He told Daybreak that many media stories about abuse were "the consequence of children feeling uncertain or unsure" about whether something had happened.