Number of people seeking support about online child sexual abuse triples since the first lockdown

7 March 2023

The Stop It Now! helpline, the UK’s only anonymous helpline that supports people worried about their own or someone else’s sexual thoughts or behaviour towards children, is urging men to be careful of their pornography viewing habits, as insights show that developing an interest in more extreme porn is a common pathway into online offending against children.

This warning comes as new consumer research, shows nearly a third (31%) of men aged 35 and under struggle to determine the legality of sexual content online – a worrying finding as nearly half (49%) agree that watching too much pornography can lead to watching more extreme or illegal content online. To add further context, as men are nine times more likely to view pornography than women, it makes them more at risk of encountering illegal content online.

According to the latest data from Stop It Now! 276,414 people sought advice or support via its online self-help or confidential helpline in 2022. This is a 67% increase on the previous year and treble the number of people during the pandemic in 2020. Figures from The National Crime Agency also estimate there are between 550,000 and 850,000 people who pose a sexual abuse risk to children.

The consumer research also showed that 70% of respondents would encourage a friend or family member to seek help if they believed they were looking at sexual images/videos of children. Around a quarter of people who call the Stop It Now! helpline do so because they are concerned about another adult’s sexual behaviour involving children.

Child sexual abuse prevention expert and Director of Stop It Now! UK & Ireland, Donald Findlater, says:

‘’The way people use pornography today is unrecognisable from 20-years ago. The days of top-shelf magazines have been replaced by sophisticated methods that can show people things online they weren’t looking for or usually interested in. This can mean people then search for and need more extreme videos to be satisfied, with some individuals then looking for under-age material and offending as a result.

“Lots of people who view legal adult pornography might be surprised by what we’re saying, and they might think that anyone viewing sexual images of under-18s must be a paedophile, but our experience over many years tells a different story. A story where people find themselves in dark places that they never expected to be, doing things they never expected to do.

“Our message to anyone on that path, or already offending, is that these pictures and videos cause huge harm to the children in them. And watching them has massive consequences for the viewer, including possible arrest, jail, job loss and family breakdown. But it isn’t too late to stop. The thousands of men who call us after being arrested tell us they wish they’d made a change and stopped sooner. Many felt they were in a cycle they couldn’t break and we helped them find a way out – to stop and to stay stopped.

“We hope this information will serve as a wakeup call and that anyone worried about their own, or someone else’s, behaviour will contact us for advice and support.”

With recent reports showing a tenfold increase in the number of sexual images of children online since lockdown, Stop It Now! warns that this illegal content can be found all too easily.

Warnings given to users attempting to search online for illegal images, through collaborations with MindGeek (owners of the popular adult pornography site, Pornhub) and other tech companies, bring thousands of people to Stop It Now! online self-help.

Dr Alexandra Bailey, senior practitioner with The Lucy Faithfull Foundation, registered forensic psychologist and a lecturer at Goldsmiths says:

‘’The nature of the internet means that it’s easier than ever to find more extreme types of pornography. For some people, this means pushing the boundaries into offending and viewing sexual images of children.

“People who offend online come from all backgrounds and walks of life and don’t conform to stereotypes. This means that everyone needs to know the risks and what to do if you’re worried about your own or someone else’s online behaviour.

“Prevention is at the heart of our anonymous helpline’s approach to child protection; we will help the person on the other end of the line express their concerns, and suggest practical support that will ultimately help keep children safe. It may feel hard to stop this behaviour once started, but it is possible; and it is easier to stop with confidential help than on your own.”

Deputy Chief Constable Ian Critchley, National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for Child Protection and Abuse Investigations says:

“The fight against online child sexual abuse will never stop and these most recent figures outlining the rise in people seeking help serves to highlight the focus and priority that all of society must place on preventing these awful crimes. Viewing sexual images of children online is never victimless. These are crimes which destroy and devastate lives, including the lives of the children and families of people arrested. We are seeing more and more the devastation left behind when a family member is arrested for this kind of offending.

“Our message to offenders is this: we will find you. We have invested in our people and capabilities to track down offenders. More specialist officers are in place, performing incredibly tough jobs day after day to try and catch the offenders seeking to groom children online, and stopping them meeting children to commit sexual abuse. We are dealing with more than 900 people a month. If you think we can’t find you – you’re wrong. But help and support to stop is available. 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.”

Find out more

Our anonymous child sexual abuse prevention helpline (0808 1000 900) is available for anyone with concerns about child sexual abuse. Callers do not need to give identifying information, so can remain anonymous. If you’re not ready to speak to someone yet, you can get support from our experienced advisors through our live chat and secure email service.

We also have anonymous online self-help for people worried about their own online sexual behaviour towards children and support if you’re worried about another adult’s online behaviour.

Media enquiries

For further information, and to discuss interview opportunities with a spokesperson from Stop It Now! please contact:

  • Joseph Costello, press and communications manager: 01372 671 943 or via email
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