Surge in calls to child sexual abuse prevention helpline since lockdown first eased
2 October 2020
There has been a dramatic increase in calls to a national child sexual abuse prevention helpline since lockdown measures first eased, a charity has reported today.
New data released today shows that between June and August the confidential Stop It Now! helpline was contacted by more than 2760 people across the UK with worries about child sexual abuse, an increase of 47% compared to the first three months of lockdown.
Unfortunately, because demand was so high during that period, the helpline missed 6,950 calls and more than 660 people called and never got through.
The helpline is now aiming to double capacity by recruiting more advisors to meet this sustained increase in demand.
Lockdown has increased the risk of harm to some children
At the start of lockdown, the helpline saw an 11% reduction in contact compared to the same time last year, as people dealt with extra pressures and a new way of living.
But July 2020 was the busiest ever month on the Stop It Now! helpline and it took calls and emails from more than 800 people across the UK.
Through the Stop It Now! helpline, anonymous messaging service and website, the public and professionals can get advice and support for their concerns about child sexual abuse and its prevention.
More than 530 adults worried about another adult’s behaviour contacted the helpline between June and August, an increase of 51% compared to the start of lockdown.
Calls from parents and carers worried about the behaviour of a child or young person increased even further – the helpline received double the amount of calls from this group (114) between June and August 2020 compared to March to May.
The rise in contact as lockdown restrictions eased is in line with warnings of an increased risk of child sexual abuse because of the coronavirus pandemic. And with coronavirus restrictions returning, there are concerns these issues will continue.
Charities and police have been extremely concerned about the increased risk to children during the unprecedented time of near-global lockdown. As families spent more time at home, away from schools, medical staff and social workers, and with young people spending more time unsupervised offline and online, the risks are very real.
What are the risks and how can we reduce them?
Around 9 in 10 children who are sexually abused know the perpetrator, and most child sexual abuse takes place within the family home. As well as this, around one third of child sexual abuse is carried out by children and young people themselves. The true extent of the impact of lockdown on the scale of child sexual abuse will not be known for some time.
Many organisations have increased their efforts to make sure parents and carers know what they can do to keep children safe.
- Stop It Now! has made an information pack for parents, carers and professionals to help prevent harmful sexual behaviour by other children or young people
- Parents Protect, a sister project of the Stop It Now! helpline, has prevention information and support to help prevent abuse by adults as well as for what to do if abuse is suspected
- the National Crime Agency’s education website Thinkuknow has regularly updated resources and advice for children, parents and teachers about staying safe online.
Stop It Now! is today also promoting a new film to raise awareness of child sexual abuse and the support the helpline offers to parents and carers. While the helpline is still open its advisors have had to adapt to changes brought by coronavirus restrictions – many are working from home, and follow on face-to-face support has been limited.
The Stop It Now! helpline opened in 2002 and is run by The Lucy Faithfull Foundation, the only UK-wide child protection charity dedicated solely to preventing child sexual abuse. Since then, more than 51,000 people have contacted the helpline for support with all aspects of child sexual abuse prevention offline and online, including nearly 6,000 people in the last year.
Donald Findlater, director of the Stop It Now! helpline, said:
“This year has been like no other since the Stop It Now! helpline launched in 2002, and call numbers have never been higher. Covid-19 is causing huge changes to all our lives, and increasing the risk of harm to some children.
“We’re getting more and more calls from parents and grandparents concerned about the sexual behaviour of their children or about the risk to them, online and offline. These are difficult issues to deal with, but families have a key role to play in protecting their children from harm, and in noticing concerning behaviours so they can respond quickly and wisely.
“With backgrounds in health, counselling, education, social work and psychology, our experienced advisors are on hand to give confidential advice and support to help parents and carers decide on next steps to keep their children safe.
“Demand for the helpline continues to grow, so we are recruiting more advisors to double our capacity. We’ve also just introduced a live online chat service, because we know that some people prefer to get advice, help or support by that way rather than over the phone.
“We aren’t trying to create a drama out of a crisis, but trying to avert one, by ensuring children are as safe as possible. Parents are the first line of defence for their children and deserve all the support they can get.”
Emma, the parent of a young person who got into trouble online, said:
“I never expected that my son would have been looking at illegal images when he was 16 and how easily available they were – when he was arrested it shocked us all. The Stop It Now! helpline supported us both, but I wish I’d known how to prevent it from happening in the first place, rather than have to pick up the pieces after his arrest.
“As a parent it’s hard to think about what our children might be doing wrong, online or offline. I wish I’d known more about what to look for and what to do about it – we need to do better at educating ourselves and our children to help them stay safe. Hopefully this can help other families avoid what we’ve been through.”
Jennifer, Stop It Now! helpline advisor, said:
“Parents often worry that they’re wasting our time when they call, but that’s never the case. We listen and don’t judge, and will help the person at the other end of the line express their worries, and we’ll suggest practical things that they can do to help keep children safe.
“It’s so much better to talk about a concern, rather than ignore it and hope for the best.”
For further information, and to discuss interview opportunities with a spokesperson from Stop It Now! please contact: Michael Walsh (Media and communications manager): 01372 847 169 / 07540 690 315 / by email
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.