Over 500 Cumbrian children were the victims of sexual exploitation last year and many of those will have been caught up in the dangers of ‘sexting’.

Shockingly children in our region - some under the age of 10 - have been sending and receiving sexually explicit photos, videos and messages.

Now Cumbria Police is launching a ground-breaking initiative to tackle the problem of young people being encouraged to send indecent images of themselves via social media.

The force has teamed up with students from Carlisle College and a Cumbrian YouTube star in the run up to National Child Sexual Exploitation Awareness Day this Saturday.

Together they have launched a Snapchat account (cumbriacops) with media students at the college doing a ‘takeover’ of the account for the week.

Throughout the week, they will be telling the fictional story of a girl who agrees to send her boyfriend a naked photo of herself, and how this results in her being sexually exploited.

The story will be directed, produced, and acted by the students. Following the week of snaps, the full story will be edited together, and released on social media.

Brad Mattinson, aged 17, from Temple Sowerby, will play the lead male role. Brad has a YouTube channel with over 58,000 followers, with some videos having over a million views. His Twitter account has over 60,000 followers.

An Instagram account (cumbriacops) will also be launched this week, with a ‘behind the scenes’ look at the Snapchat story on the Instagram Stories section.

On Thursday officers be on Facebook between 5-7pm, for parents who are concerned about their children’s online activities to ask questions and get advice.

How you can help your children be safe online:

  • For more information or advice about child sexual exploitation visit Cumbria Police’s website

  • Watch out for signs that children you know may be victims of exploitation. These can range from losing contact with friends their own age and associating with older age groups to excessive and secretive use of the internet and mobile phones.

  • Try and stay up to date with what apps your children are using and set boundaries.

  • If you are worried that someone you know may be a victim of sexual exploitation please call Cumbria Police on 101, or Crimestoppers anonymously, on 0800 555 111.

  • If you have a concern about a child you can also please contact the Cumbria Safeguarding Hub on 0333 240 1727.

  • If you are a young person and are upset or worried by an image you have sent or received, you can call ChildLine and talk to someone in confidence on 0800 1111.

  • If you know of an image of you or a friend is on a social networking site you will need to contact the service provider (e.g. Facebook) to get it removed.

  • More advice can be found at www.vodafone.com/parents or www.thinkyouknow.co.uk.