THIRTEEN Dorset children as young as 12 have been questioned over rape allegations.

Figures obtained by the Echo show that 33 youngsters aged up to 15 have been spoken to by police since 2011 on suspicion of a number of sexual offences.

One child, aged 13, was charged and a further five received a caution, warning or reprimand.

The ‘shocking’ figures have prompted calls for parents to be more vigilant as children as young as seven are being exposed to explicit images online, having a ‘major impact’ on their behaviour.

It follows NSPCC research released yesterday, which shows that across the UK, 8,000 under-18s have been accused of sexual offences in the last two years.

The charity says easy access to explicit material on the internet is ‘warping’ young people’s views of what is normal.

Sharon Copsey, NSPCC head of service for the South West said: “It’s deeply concerning that thousands of children are reported as committing sexual offences including serious assaults and rape.

“Prevention has to be the key and that is recognising the warning signs early and taking swift action.

“We know that for many older children pornography is now part of life.

“Easy access to hard core, degrading and often violent videos on the internet is warping young people’s views of what is normal or acceptable behaviour.

“It is also feeding into ‘sexting’ where teenagers are creating and distributing their own videos and images that are illegal and have led to prison sentences.

“And for very young children, such as those of primary school age or younger, we have to question the environment in which they are growing up that has led to them behaving in this way.

“It could be that they have seen sexual activity that they are just too young to understand and are copying what they’ve seen.”

Children under 10 cannot be prosecuted in England and Wales because they are below the age of criminality.

The NSPCC says most victims knew their alleged abuser, with some of the most common crimes being teenage boys abusing female acquaintances.

Whilst they found in their investigation that most abusers were male, there was a small proportion of female abusers as well as both male and female victims.

But whilst these acts are deeply concerning, this behaviour can be turned around if caught early, experts say.

“These children are not beyond help,” said Sharon.

“If we act quickly and children receive therapy such as that provided by the NSPCC’s ‘Turn the Page’ service we can stop them becoming adult sex offenders.

“And, most importantly, their victims need support to overcome what has happened to them.

“Sexual offences, whether committed by another child or an adult, can have lifelong consequences.”

Simple rule for the young

Parents can help keep younger children safe by teaching them the ‘Underwear Rule’ which is a simple, effective and age-appropriate way of telling children what behaviour is and isn’t acceptable. Parents simply tell their children that the area covered by their underwear should never be touched by anyone else.

And older children should be taught about consent and ensuring they know they can speak out if anything makes them uncomfortable.

Any adult worried about a child or in need of help and advice can contact the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000.

Children and young people can contact ChildLine on 0800 1111.

Facts & figures

The number of children questioned over allegations of sexual offences:

Exposure: 7 (three aged 13, two aged 14, two aged 15)

Rape: 13 (one aged 12, three aged 13, three aged 14, five aged 15)

Sexual activity:7 (two aged 13, three aged 14, five aged 15)

Sexual assault: 6 (one aged 14, five aged 15)

Outcomes: Charged: 1 (aged 13)

Caution/ reprimand/ warning: 5 (two aged 13, two aged 14, one aged 15).

County is in line with UK

Peter Bradley, director of services at Kidscape, said: “These local figures are shocking but not surprising.

“Without doubt Dorset statistics will be in line with other counties and contributes to the 8,000 under-18s who were accused of sexual offences against other children in the last two years.

“We now live in an age where children are exposed to hard core, violent pornography from a very early age. Kidscape has spoken to children as young as seven who have seen adult websites, games and have been sent naked images on their phones. It is very disturbing.

“Little research has been done on the impact of children viewing such images but it does not need years of empirical studies to tell us this is having a major impact on some children’s sexual behaviour.

“It is astounding to know that up to two thirds of contact sexual abuse on children is committed by other young people.

“Parents, schools and politicians all have an important role to play in ensuring children are not losing their childhoods.

“Kidscape believes we need to educate and inform children and young people about these dangers and help give children the skills necessary to avoid being a perpetrator or victim of sexual harm.”