A POLICE investigation has been launched after explicit images of Fylde coast teenagers were posted online for millions to see.
A group – boasting to ‘expose’ Blackpool girls – was set up on social networking website Facebook.
It featured a series of pictures of youngsters, some still children, showing them in various states of undress.
Facebook officials removed the pages from the website but not before girls were personally tagged in pictures, drawing them to the attention of hundreds of online friends, in some cases family members, and torrents of abuse.
Around 20 images were posted on the site of girls from across the Fylde coast with more than 1,000 people “liking” the page.
Young men and boys were encouraged to post images which had been sent to them to “name and shame” girls.
One Facebook user, from Thornton, contacted the police after she was alerted to the page by a relative.
The 22-year-old said: “It ran on the premise of asking people to send explicit photos of girls which they would post to ‘name and shame’ them – many who I suspect were under the age of 18.
“The abusive language and bullying targeted at the girls and other people who were reporting the page was horrifying.
“I’ve seen a lot of horrific things but nothing like this. Mostly I saw topless girls but there were a few more explicit.”
The shocking Facebook group first appeared earlier this week, as fears were being raised nationally over young people’s safety online.
A second page was created the next day and later taken down.
One 18-year-old girl posted: “I think half the girls in Blackpool have been harshly humiliated – can’t trust anyone these days.”
Another teenager, from Poulton, added: “They’re sent for attention. It’s probably more the boys pressuring the girls and they feel like they have to do it to stay with a boyfriend.”
Fears were also raised over the safety of girls shown in the images, with one Facebook user worrying of the ramifications to girls’ mental health.
They posted: “You’re not considering the girls feelings. What if one of them kills themselves?”
A Facebook spokesman told The Gazette: “The original page has been removed because it breached the terms as set out in our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.
“Facebook is highly self-regulating, and users can and do report content they find questionable or offensive.
“We encourage our users to continue to use our tools to report objectionable content so we can investigate reports and take action.”
The fashion for “sexting – sending sexually explicit text messages – was said to be “an epidemic” by one Blackpool therapist.
Steve Pope, a senior therapist at SPA Rehabilitation Centre in Bispham, which specialises in sexual mental health issues, said: “They see nudity everywhere and peer pressure is massive. It’s almost like it’s exploratory, they’re offering their body out and want approval.
“But they’re held to ransom.”
Mr Pope spoke of one 13-year-old girl on the Fylde coast having a breakdown after images she sent to a boyfriend were put up in a school classroom.
Lancashire Police said a full investigation into the site was now underway.
Det Insp Tony Baxter said: “We are aware of this site and are continuing to monitor social networking sites. Any offences will be thoroughly investigated.
“Clearly people need to be careful if they are texting indecent images, once the image is out there it is impossible to stop.”
The police are urging anyone with information relating to offences to speak to them.
Det Insp Baxter added: “It is a criminal offence to send of possess any indecent images of a child.”
Anyone with information about the site can contact Blackpool Police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.