‘Seek help if a loved one is viewing sexual images of under 18s’ urges helpline, as Covid sparks rise in calls

2 March 2021

Stop It Now! – the UK’s first confidential and anonymous helpline dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse by supporting adults concerned about their own sexual thoughts and behaviours towards children – is urging people to call if they know or suspect a loved one is viewing sexual images of under 18s online.

The charity’s appeal comes as new research, released today, finds that almost two thirds of UK adults wouldn’t seek help or advice where they knew or suspected their partner, parent or child was viewing sexual images or videos of under 18s online. Well over half (57%) say they wouldn’t know where to turn for support – for their loved one or themselves.

Online offending is likely to have increased during lockdown

A large proportion of callers to the helpline who have offended online say they had a heavy adult pornography habit before seeking out sexual images of under 18s. Reports from Pornhub demonstrate a substantial rise in individuals accessing legal, adult pornography online across the first Covid-19 lockdown in 2020. New data released today by Stop It Now! demonstrates increased usage of both its helpline and self-help website over this same period of first lockdown to the end of the year.

Over the course of 2020:

  • A total of 3,553 people in the UK contacted the helpline with concerns about online sexual behaviours towards children.
  • Over 1,000 people contacted the helpline, concerned about someone else’s online behaviour. With family and friends spending more time together during lockdown, signs of risky or illegal online behaviour may have become more apparent.
  • Of these, 42% were a current partner, 24% were a son or daughter and a further 27% were a close friend or another family member.
  • Nearly 92,000 users visited the Stop It Now! website for information and self-help for themselves, or someone else, to stop viewing illegal images of children.
  • Despite the pandemic, the Stop It Now! helpline had its busiest ever year in 2020, handling more than 12,500 contacts – up from 10,700 in 2019. Between June and August (2020), the helpline was contacted by 47% more people compared to the three months of the first lockdown.

Insights from the helpline’s team of operators and advisors, highlight that a large proportion of people contacting the Stop It Now! services, cite increased isolation, unemployment, stress, escalating mental health issues and relationship breakdowns, as factors that have contributed to their online offending.

Help to stop illegal behaviour

Established in 2002, the Stop It Now! helpline along with its Get Help self-help website are run by The Lucy Faithfull Foundation, the only UK-wide child protection charity dedicated solely to preventing child sexual abuse.

Stop It Now! campaigns to prevent the growing problem of online sexual offending against children. It highlights the harm to victims, the personal and legal consequences for those who do offend and also for their families, and directs individuals to its confidential and anonymous helpline and self-help website. Since 2002, more than 53,000 people have contacted the helpline for support with all aspects of child sexual abuse prevention offline and online, including more than 6,000 people in the last year.

Callers to the helpline concerned about their own behaviour 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. All calls remain confidential and anonymous, except where a child is at risk of harm or a crime has been committed and identifying details have been provided by the caller.

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.

Latest data from the National Crime Agency (NCA) estimates that at least 300,000 people in the UK pose a sexual threat to children, either through physical contact abuse or online abuse. Police forces around the UK are making around 700 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 and thoughts.

Donald Findlater, Director of the Stop It Now! helpline, said: “Tens of thousands of people in the UK are viewing sexual images and videos of children online. They aren’t all the stereotypical loners of popular imagination – they are our friends, family, neighbours and colleagues.

“Many move to viewing this illegal material after beginning with an adult pornography habit, somehow not noticing or perhaps caring that they are watching 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 managing that interest.

“Whoever they are, they need to know this behaviour 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. Friends and family need to know this too – so they notice worrying or illegal behaviour at an early stage and do something about it. They don’t have to deal with it alone – we can help.”

Jennifer, advisor on the Stop It Now! helpline, continues: “People who offend often aren’t who you would expect. Feelings of isolation, stress and general uncertainty, over the last year in particular, are often what leads to our callers’ escalating pornography habits, and in turn, illegal online behaviour.

“Obviously for most people these worries don’t lead to offending, but for some people they do. Recognising those triggers and warning signs, and reaching out for help, can mean that offending can be prevented. We listen and don’t judge, and will help the person on the other end of the line express their worries, as well as suggest practical things that will ultimately help keep children safe It may feel hard to stop, but it is possible, and it is easier to stop with confidential help than on your own.”

Sarah’s story –the partner of a former internet offender who called the helpline

“If I had recognised the signs that my husband was offending online, I might have been able to help him stop. Unfortunately, I had no idea what he was doing until the police knocked on our door early one morning. In that instant, my life changed irrevocably. When my husband was taken away for questioning, I didn’t know what to do; I felt frightened, ashamed, confused and angry – all at the same time. Above all, I felt utterly alone.

“Each member of my family has had to come to terms with what happened. Stop It Now! really helped me through this process by providing information, alongside both emotional and practical support. The helpline gave me the confidence to move forward. It is now five years on, and I have completely rebuilt my life.”

National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection, Chief Constable Simon Bailey, 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. It is not a victim less crime and it is vital that anyone with information comes forward and seeks help.

“Police are arresting more offenders than ever before and our tools to track down those responsible are better than ever. The consequences of being arrested are huge both for the perpetrator and their family and friends.

“Anyone who is having inappropriate thoughts about children, or anyone who believes a family member may be, should seek help from Stop It Now!, otherwise they should expect a visit from police officers.”

Talk to us if you’re worried about child sexual abuse

Our confidential 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. We speak to thousands of people every year, and help them take action to protect children and young people from sexual abuse and exploitation.

As well as our confidential helpline, you can get support from our experienced advisors through our live chat and secure messaging service.

Media enquiries

For further information, and to discuss interview opportunities with a spokesperson from Stop It Now! please contact: Michael Walsh (head of communications and engagement): 01372 847 169 / 07540 690 315 / mwalsh@lucyfaithfull.org.uk

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