Boys as young as 11 and 12 are sending sexually explicit messages to girls via social media, a Tory MP has warned.
Claire Perry, MP for Devizes, said “sexting”, which included young boys sending images of their genitalia to girls, was increasingly commonplace in schools.
The problem cuts across the social divide, she said during a debate in the Commons about the need to end violence against women, telling MPs she had heard of a serious case of sexual abuse at a leading independent school.
Mrs Perry said that in the case of 13-year-old Chevonea Kendall-Bryan, the abuse had tragic consequences after the youngster apparently jumped to her death in despair at being filmed performing a sex act on a boy.
The MP, who has campaigned for better protections online, said while Britain was now “leading the world” when it came to making sure internet services providers introduced filters to stop youngsters accessing pornography, the NSPCC warned of children turning to social media to share user-generated content.
Facebook was one site, MPs heard, where images could be shared and then instantly deleted.
Mrs Perry said: “I don’t mean to scaremonger but it seems to me that we are conducting a long-term experiment with our children, particularly our girls and young women, in exposing them in such a free way to the sorts of violent, degrading, and often very sexualised content in the online world.
“This is a huge, growing and endemic problem.
“We have no idea how big the problem is.
“The NSPCC published some research last year that was quantitative which suggested it was ‘almost the norm’ in schools now for children to receive and exchange this sort of information.
“Boys as young as 11 and 12 are sending highly inappropriate photographs of their genitalia around the networks via social media.”
The MP added: “Fundamentally, this is a behavioural point and what we have to look at is education.
“There is no technology right now that can protect our children against this sort of thing.”
Tory Sarah Wollaston, MP for Totnes, hit out at fellow MPs who read newspapers which “objectify women”, telling the Commons it was “offensive”.
Dr Wollaston said: “There’s nothing new about sexual violence but what has changed is the normalisation and acceptance of sexual violence within our society.”
She used the newspapers read by fellow MPs as an example of how society had been increasingly sexualised.
She told the Commons 80% of boys aged 15-17 were regularly accessing hardcore pornography.
“To my mind that constitutes a normalisation, if it’s being accessed by 80% of young men,” she said.
There was also “the extent to which we see sexting, and the extent to which this is going unchallenged”.
Turning to the reading matter in the Commons, she said: “To give another example, you may say this is a milder version of it, but when I go into the tea room in the House of Commons and I see colleagues having newspapers that I would take as (having) images that objectify women, I find that offensive.
“I find it a normalisation that across the country young girls are sitting in households where they see this as a normal portrayal of women and a sexualisation of women.”
Jane Ellison, Tory MP for Battersea, said: “I’ve come away a little bit jaundiced as a result of my experience on female genital mutilation (FGM), about the ability to change things solely with education - simply because in the 25 years FGM has been illegal in this country, there have been virtually no referrals through the education system and actually it is quite difficult to get people to talk about it in education.
“We have to do it through a multi-agency approach and also massive cultural education.
“My note of caution is let us not give the message to the people listening so intently to this debate that we think it is the only answer - because we know there is so much more to it.
“(Education is) not a silver bullet and there are many things we need to do.”