The number of people in the north west and Wales seeking help to stop viewing sexual images of under 18s has more than doubled during 2021.
During the past 12 months, more than 24,000 people across the North West and Wales have sought help via Stop it Now – a national child sexual exploitation prevention helpline who help people manage their sexual thoughts and behaviour towards children and young people.
There were particularly steep increases in Cumbria, Cheshire and Lancashire which saw increases of more than 150% in the number of people seeking help from the charity over the twelve month period.
Today, on national ‘Child Sexual Exploitation’ day, the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit, together with the six North West police forces in Cheshire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Merseyside and North Wales are supporting Stop it Now’s campaign by launching a two-week social media campaign to raise public awareness of the growing problem of people viewing and sharing sexually explicit images of under 18s online. The campaign also educates those offending about the harm caused to children in the images who are re-victimised each time their image is viewed online.
During the two week period, police forces will also be highlighting the work they are doing to tackle the issue and drive home the consequences of their behaviour to offenders – including arrest, possible imprisonment, break up of family and being put on the Sex Offenders Register.
The helpline is the UK’s first confidential and anonymous helpline that specifically supports people who are worried about their own or someone else’s sexual thoughts, feelings and behaviour towards children.
In 2021, Stop it Now reported a significant increase in the number of people seeking help to stop viewing sexual images of under 18s. In the North West, 18,036 people sought help via the confidential helpline or by visiting the self-help website in 2021 to address concerns about their own, or a friend and/or family member’s online behaviours. This is a 106% increase on the previous year; a monumental soar during the charity’s 20th anniversary year.
In Wales, 6,196 people sought help which is also a significant 116% increase on the previous year.
Insights carried out by Stop it Now show that a large proportion of people contacting the charity have cited increased isolation, unemployment, mental health issues, relationship breakdowns and escalating porn habits, as key factors that have contributed to their online offending.
National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection, Deputy Chief Constable Ian Critchley, said:
“Behind each of these images is a real child who is being abused and every view only creates more demand for these appalling offences. This is not a victimless crime and it is vital that anyone worried about what they are doing online comes forward and seeks help.
“In the year ending March 2021 there were more than 9,000 arrests and voluntary attendances for online offences, and we safeguarded and protected over 12,000 children. The tools we use to track down those responsible are better than ever, and will continue to develop in response to new technology. We are committed to targeting the perpetrators of these crimes and bringing them to justice. If you think you can’t be found – you’re wrong. Just like the harm to victims, the consequences of offending can last a lifetime– you could lose your job, your family, and will be imprisoned and registered as a sex offender.
“Anyone worried about their own or a loved one’s online behaviour should seek support from the Stop It Now! helpline. You can stop your behaviour before it’s too late – or we will do our utmost to stop you.”
Chief Inspector Andy Buckthorpe, from the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit, said:
“The problem of viewing indecent images of children online has grown exponentially in recent years, especially during the pandemic where people have been at home for a significant amount of time. Technological advancements, increased accessibility, and the presumption of anonymity have all led to more and more people viewing and sharing illegal images.
“Every time a sexual image of a child is viewed, that child is re-victimised and further demand is created. It is vital, therefore, that we work closely with partners and use all available resources to protect children and, wherever possible, prevent offending.
“We have a duty to protect children from harm and to deter individuals from committing these types of horrific offences and we continue to seek to identify and convict those who engage in this behaviour. This campaign aims to educate and stop individuals from continuing to offend – or from offending in the first place.
“Enforcement activity remains a high priority for police locally, regionally and nationally. And being arrested comes with life-changing consequences for offenders and their families. To those engaged in this behaviour, I would say consider your actions now and seek help to stop. If not, you should expect to face serious consequences.”
Detective Inspector Andy Myers, Cumbria Constabulary’s Cyber & Digital Crime Unit, said:
“The protection of children from online sexual abuse and exploitation, and the prosecution of those individuals responsible are key priorities. Our Cyber and Digital Crime Unit, working alongside key partner agencies, continue to proactively target and prosecute these individuals. If you view, possess, make or distribute indecent images of children we will do everything we can to prosecute you. We have a duty to protect children from harm and we do all we can to prevent and deter offences before they occur.
“Not only will offending have an impact on the child but it will also have a damaging impact on offender relationships with family and friends. It also is clearly damaging for their professional careers and furthermore by viewing, making or distributing such illegal images can create further demand online for images and videos of children being abused.
“I’d advise anyone who is concerned that they are having thoughts about viewing such images online to contact Stop it Now to get help before you commit an offence or offend further.
“Stop it Now are dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse. They also work with families and victims that have been affected by sexual abuse.”
Donald Findlater, Director of the Stop It Now! helpline, said:
“Mostly, the tens of thousands of people in the UK viewing sexual images of children online don’t conform to the stereotypes – they are our friends, family, neighbours and colleagues.
“Many of the people contacting our helpline started out simply looking on mainstream adult pornography sites, but over time they found they needed different or more extreme content. Some don’t know the law and need it spelling out. A few are struggling with a long-standing sexual interest in children and think that looking at ‘only pictures’ is a way of managing that interest.
“Everyone needs to know that looking at sexual images and videos of under 18s is illegal; that children are harmed by it; that serious consequences await those involved in it; but that our helpline and website give anonymous, and confidential support and advice to stop and stay stopped.”
Cumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Peter McCall, said:
“Many of us would like to think our children would not be targeted by criminals online looking to sexually exploit them but it unfortunately does happen.
“The police do everything within their power to bring those who exploit children for sexual images to justice, but it can be difficult when cyber criminals can target victims from anywhere in the world.
“Child sexual exploitation can have devastating effects on victims, victim’s families and the families of the perpetrators, as can any cyber-crime.
“This is why I funded the Cyber and Digital Crime Unit in Cumbria Constabulary – a unit dedicated to focusing on all crimes that can take place on the internet and prevent and arrest where possible.
“No one wants their child, or any family member, to become a victim which is why I would urge anyone to read up on preventative methods that can help protect the whole family from being targeted.
“Get Safe Online provides lots of information about online safety to help everyone stay safe while on the internet and can be found on www.getsafeonline.org.
“If you are concerned that someone is trying to exploit your child online please report it to the police.”