Host of agencies support month-long campaign to tackle online child sexual abuse across Devon and Cornwall

12 March 2024

Throughout March, we will be collaborating with a host of organisations across the South West region on a local campaign to deter online child sexual abuse across Devon and Cornwall.

In light of the vast scale of the problem of people viewing sexual images of children online, this campaign aims to raise awareness that viewing sexual images of under-18s is illegal, causes huge harm to children, and that there are serious consequences for the viewer including potential arrest, imprisonment and job loss. But there is confidential help available to stop via Stop It Now.

1 in 10 children

“Frontline workers and researchers, both at home and overseas, recognise that child sexual abuse has reached epidemic proportions, with over 1 in ten children experiencing sexual abuse,” said Donald Findlater, Director of Stop It Now.

The campaign follows news that 217,889 people from across the UK visited the Stop It Now Get Help online self-help resources or contacted the Stop It Now helpline from across the country last year. 13,296 of these people concerned about their own or a family member’s online sexual behaviour towards children were from Devon and Cornwall. We also aim to raise awareness of the scale and nature of online child sexual abuse in the local area, which includes viewing sexual images of under-18s and online sexual grooming.

Prevention starts at home and in our local communities

“This is as much a tragedy in Devon and Cornwall as it is elsewhere. But it is also preventable, and most prevention needs to start at home and in our local communities,” Donald said.

We will be communicating our messages through webinars for all multi-agency partners and also use print, broadcast and social media to reach the general public. The campaign will signpost anyone in Devon and Cornwall with concerns about their online behaviour to the anonymous and confidential Stop It Now helpline to prevent child sexual abuse – before it happens.

Committed local partners

“This March campaign in Devon and Cornwall brings a focus to online child sexual abuse – viewing and sharing sexual images of under-18s and sexual grooming of children. And we are thrilled to have the active support of so many local agencies committed to preventing child sexual abuse across the county,” remarked Donald, who has decades of experience working to prevent child sexual abuse.

This is part of our online child sexual abuse deterrence campaign which recently gained more than 180 pieces of coverage in the national media shining a light on the issue of online child sexual abuse, including images generated by artificial intelligence.

There is help to stop

“Those viewing sexual images of under 18s online need to know that such behaviour is illegal and causes great harm. There are grave consequences once your behaviour is detected by police. But there is help to stop and to stay stopped. Contact Stop It Now on 0808 1000 900 or visit www.stopitnow.org.uk for anonymous advice and support,” concluded Donald.

What are some of our partners saying about the campaign?

Steve Parker, Devon and Cornwall Police Temporary Assistant Chief Constable, said: “We are very pleased to support the work of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation in not only highlighting online child sexual abuse, but providing a mechanism by which it can be tackled, through the Stop It Now helpline.

What anyone who views sexual images of children needs to understand is that lasting harm has been caused to those children in creating those images.  Watching them drives demand and so perpetuates and encourages further harm and abuse. Viewing sexual images of children is of course illegal, and anyone doing it should also understand that if caught and charged this will have a devastating effect on them, their family and their friends.

“While the numbers of people contacting the Stop It Now helpline with concerns about their own or someone else’s sexual thoughts or behaviour towards children may sound horrendous, what it does mean is that people are realising the harm caused by this and are reaching out for help. We encourage anyone who has concerns to report them, and get on a path of help and support to end this most horrific of crimes. Literally, to Stop It Now.”

Sadly, the numbers of child victims who we know about are only the tip of the iceberg – only 1 in8 sexually abused children come to the attention of anyone at the time of the abuse.

We need to do more in terms of the recognition of and responses to child sexual abuse, as well as to its prevention. We are determined to create a culture which enables children to speak and to be heard. We are committed to supporting the March campaign and to signposting anyone with concerns about their own or someone else’s sexual thoughts or behaviour to the Stop It Now confidential helpline.

The collective silence around child sexual abuse has to stop, – the only people benefitting from this silence are the perpetrators.”

Cllr Carol Mould, Portfolio Holder – Community Safety, Cornwall Council, said: “Cornwall is committed to working collaboratively with partners to protect children from sexual abuse. The trauma of this abuse is significant – it impacts children’s health and wellbeing, families and communities.

Without the right support, we know that trauma can have lasting impacts into adulthood. Practitioners across multiple agencies can identify children at risk and ensure that they are safeguarded. It is important that we take a proactive, preventative approach and do all we can to reach those at risk of harming children.”

Penny Smith, Interim Chief Nurse, NHS Devon Integrated Care Board, said: “NHS Devon is committed to working collaboratively with partners to protect children from sexual abuse. The trauma of sexual abuse is significant, it impacts upon children’s health and wellbeing, upon families and upon our communities.

Without the right support, we know that trauma can have lasting impacts into adulthood.  We recognise the opportunities that health practitioners have to identify children at risk and ensure that they are safeguarded. It is important that we also take a proactive, preventative approach and do all we can to reach those at risk of harming children.

If you are concerned about your own thoughts or that of someone close to you, there is confidential, professional help available to address this before a child is harmed.”

Louise Arscott, Head of Devon and Torbay Probation, said: “We know that many people can benefit from being aware of the help available to them should they be having worrying sexual thoughts about children – so we can prevent offending before it starts.

If you are at risk of offending, get in touch with the helpline before you harm someone and before you come to the attention of the criminal justice system.

In our day-to-day work, we encourage people who have already been through court, to use the Stop It Now helpline to support them once they have completed their sentence.”

Shelley Shaw, Development and Impact Manager at Together for Childhood Plymouth, said: “New and emerging technology is creating more opportunities for children to be sexually abused which is why we continue to support the Stop It Now campaign.

Whilst the recent Online Safety Act is designed to make tech companies more accountable and responsible for the content placed on their platforms there is also an increasing need to help people who are concerned about their own thoughts and behaviours and to give them access to support to prevent them from offending.

“The success of the previous two Stop It Now campaigns in Plymouth have shown that people do access confidential help and advice when they know about it.

We hope that this latest campaign aimed at prevention will help more people across Devon and Cornwall.”

Find out more

Read our blog to find out more about our work to deter online child sexual abuse.

If you’d like to discuss our deterrence campaign, please contact comms@stopitnow.org.uk. If you’d like to discuss our research, please contact research@lucyfaithfull.org.uk.

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