Number seeking help to stop viewing sexual images of children in the north west increases by more than two thirds

10 March 2020

Stop It Now!, the UK’s first confidential helpline that supports people who are worried about their own sexual thoughts, feelings and behaviour towards children, today reports a steep rise in the number of people seeking help to stop viewing sexual images of under 18s – either for themselves or someone close to them.

New data reveals that in 2019 a total of 9,002 people from the North West contacted the Stop It Now! helpline and self-help website to address these issues1. This represents a 67% increase from 2018, which saw 5,380 make contact with the charity.

Through the Stop It Now! confidential helpline and website people can understand what triggers their illegal behaviour and get support to stop for good. Run by an experienced team of trained advisors, callers to the helpline agree actions they will take to stop their illegal online behaviour in both the short and long term. Helpline advisors also explore with callers – both those offending and their adult family members – the possibility of any direct risks to children, including in the caller’s own family, to ensure these children are protected. Calls remain confidential and anonymous, unless identifying details are given and a child is at risk of harm or a crime has been committed.

Successful campaigning in the North West

The surge in people contacting the Stop It Now! helpline follows the charity’s recent successful campaigning efforts, including with police forces across the North West in 2018. The campaign aims to tackle online viewing of sexual images of under 18s by highlighting the consequences, including loss of job and family life, being imprisoned and registered as a sex offender, while pointing to help for people to change their illegal behaviour.

Building on their efforts, the charity is promoting two new online films based on the concept of ‘The Fear’ to raise awareness of the issue of online offending, and encourage people who view sexual abuse images of under 18s online, or are at risk of doing so, to seek help.

Based on insights shared by people who have previously offended, both films play upon the building anxiety and fear of being exposed as a viewer of sexual images of under 18s. They show men being caught by a loved one, and a close friend unexpectedly walking in on them as they are viewing on their devices. The tension builds and it is made clear that both men know that what they are doing is wrong.

Adult family and friends of people who are, or are at risk of, offending online or offline can also get support from the Stop It Now! helpline, whether they are worried about another adult or a child or young person with worrying sexual behaviour.

The Stop It Now! helpline is run by The Lucy Faithfull Foundation, the only UK-wide child protection charity dedicated solely to preventing child sexual abuse. Since its launch in 2002, more than 46,000 people have contacted the helpline for support with all aspects of child sexual abuse prevention offline and online, including more than 5,000 people in the last year.

Recent independent evaluation of Stop It Now! found that after receiving advice, callers who are currently offending take steps to control their behaviour and stop. For some this means completely ceasing all use of the internet or all pornography; for others it involves installing controls and filters on devices. Some seek support from their partners or family members to help manage their behaviour in the future.

Viewing and sharing indecent images of children online is a major problem in the UK and globally. In 2018 the National Crime Agency estimated that 80,000 people in the UK posed a sexual threat to children online2. Police forces around the UK are making around 520 arrests each month relating to illegal online behaviour. Many of these arrested people go on to contact Stop It Now! to start dealing with their offending behaviour.

Stop It Now! has also relaunched its self-help website for people worried about their own online viewing behaviour, or about someone else’s. Since 2015, more than 188,000 people in the UK have used the site.

“We hope to help thousands more”

Donald Findlater, Director of the Stop It Now! helpline, said: Tens of thousands of men in the UK are viewing and sharing sexual images of under 18s – these men are our friends, family, neighbours and colleagues. Most are adults, but a significant proportion are teenagers. Many of these men started viewing this illegal material as part of their adult pornography habit, somehow not noticing or perhaps caring that these were images of children being abused. 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 containing that interest.

“Whoever they are, they need to know this behaviour is illegal, it is not a victimless crime and viewing the images creates demand for more. Serious consequences await those involved in this behaviour, but our helpline and website give anonymous, and confidential support and advice to stop and stay stopped. Friends, family and colleagues need to know this too – so they notice and do something.

“The Stop It Now! helpline has worked with thousands of these men and the people around them over recent years – we help everyone be part of the solution to this problem. We hope to help thousands more in 2020.”

Detective Chief Superintendent Emily Higham from the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit said: “It’s our continued priority and duty to protect children from sexual exploitation and from those who seek to do them harm, including those who access and share indecent images of children online.

“Tackling this horrendous crime is our priority and a national priority, together with our partners we are using all available resources to arrest more offenders, safeguard more children and where possible, prevent offending in the first place.

“Anyone who is concerned about the online habits of someone they know should seek help from Stop It Now. Their confidential child sexual abuse prevention helpline gives anonymous, effective support for those worried about their own or someone else’s online sexual behaviour.”

David’s story – a former internet offender who called the helpline

David was in his early 30s and was travelling a lot due to his job. He was using adult chat sites and was sent indecent images of children by someone that he was speaking to online. He was arrested and given the number of the Stop It Now! helpline by an investigating officer. He phoned the next evening and called every day for two weeks. After being on bail for a year and a half, he served a prison sentence.

After his release, he said: “I’ve lost friends and my life has changed in so many ways. My electronics are monitored and I’m limited in what jobs I can do. But I’m relatively lucky that my family stuck by me and I’ve had support that means I won’t offend in future.

“The Stop It Now! helpline was invaluable when I was in a dark place. Working with them through their helpline, website and also face-to-face helped me understand the consequences of what I’d done, but also helped me work out what I needed to change to make sure I don’t reoffend. I’d urge anyone worried about what they’re doing to get help before it’s too late.”

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