A 12-year-old girl who was pressured into sending a topless photo to a paedophile has reportedly been told she could face a child sex charge.
Child exploitation officers warned the schoolgirl she could end up with a criminal record after her mother learned she was being groomed online and contacted police.
The paedophile who coerced the girl into sending the picture has not yet been found, the The Sunday Mirror reported.
The culprit was said to have using an anonymous Instagram account to bombard the girl with explicit messages and requests for pictures.
She initially refused but later caved in to the pressure and sent an image from her iPad, before ending the conversation as the demands grew more obscene.
Her mother later discovered the messages and contacted the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre, part of the National Crime Agency (NCA), which advised her to report them to the police.
Police officers interviewed the girl, who lives in the south of England, and took the iPad for examination.
A CEOP officer later contacted the girl's mother and warned her daughter could face a criminal record.
Creating or sharing explicit images of a child is illegal, even if the person doing so is a young person sending a picture of themselves.
"I couldn’t believe it," she told the The Sunday Mirror. "How can the victim end up with a criminal record? She’s a young, innocent girl who has made a big, big mistake."
She added: "She’s the victim. She was coerced into sending it. There’s a paedophile out there yet they’re talking about criminalising a little girl. She’s scared, upset, worrying about what is going to happen and I’m questioning if I did the right thing in reporting it.
“My child is a victim of grooming but now she might be branded a criminal. If this is happening it could put other parents off reporting abuse. How many people actually knew this was the law?”
The girl is now waiting to learn if she will face charges as the police investigation goes on.
A spokesman for the NCA it always "puts victim care and safeguarding of children and young persons first and foremost."
They added: “In this instance we understand the child sent an image of herself to another person. If a young person is found creating or sharing images, the police must record a crime, in line with Home Office Counting Rules, and investigate.
“They have discretion not to take formal action if it isn’t in the public interest to do so. Police are encouraged to take a common sense approach that does not criminalise children unnecessarily.”