Working together to keep children in Plymouth safe from abuse

7 February 2022

In partnership with Together for Childhood, we launched a hard-hitting campaign this month to halt and reverse the rise in the number of people involved in child sexual abuse, both online and offline. It urges those acting on this abusive behaviour to stop and asks all adults to be alert to the warning signs in others and take action.

Estimates suggest tens of thousands of people in the UK are viewing sexual images of children online, and the problem may have got worse during lockdowns.

Working together to prevent child sexual abuse

The Stop It Now! campaign aims to educate those offending, or at risk of doing so, about the harm caused by their behaviour and the consequences for those arrested. It also informs those at risk of offending, either online or offline, of the confidential help available to stop their illegal behaviour. This confidential help is available for friends and families, too.

The deterrence campaign, launched in Plymouth, features a series of short video clips which will be shared across the city’s social media networks as well as targeted advertising which aim to get people – particularly men – to consider their own sexual thoughts and behaviours.

The campaign is part of the city’s Safer Streets 3 funding – a package of measures to address violence against women and girls. A key theme of the Safer Streets project is to try to tackle the behaviour of people who may sexually harm.

Together for Childhood

The campaign in Plymouth is being backed by Together for Childhood – a partnership of 45 organisations that work to prevent child sexual abuse using an approach that ensures not only children are supported but that the workforce, parents, carers and people who may sexually harm understand how they can play their part in preventing this type of abuse.

Workforce training has been organised across the city and the partnership is encouraging employers to support the campaign by helping staff feel more confident to routinely share the information on help available.

Family and friends of adults or young people who are offending online or offline, or are at risk of doing so, can also get support from the Stop It Now! helpline. The helpline is also available for professionals who are worried about the sexual thoughts or behaviour of others, as well as any adult with a concern about child sexual abuse and its prevention.

Confidential help and support to stop

The campaign promotes the Stop It Now! confidential helpline (0808 1000 900) and website where people can understand more about harmful sexual thoughts and behaviour, both online and offline, and get the support they need to tackle illegal behaviour. Last year, over 3,100 people from Devon sought help from the confidential helpline or by visiting the self-help website in 2021 to address their concerns around child sexual abuse and its prevention.

The helpline is run by a team of experienced advisors who talk callers through their concerns and provide practical and non-judgemental advice and agree on the next steps the caller will take. Helpline advisors also explore with callers the possibility of any direct risk to children, including in the caller’s own family, to ensure these children are protected. Calls are free for UK callers and confidential unless identifying information is given and a child is at risk of harm or a crime has been committed.

Donald Findlater, director of the Stop It Now! helpline, said: “Across the UK, including in Plymouth and the rest of Devon and Cornwall, there is a growing problem of people viewing and sharing sexual images of under 18s online. It is vital we all understand that viewing and sharing this material is illegal, that many of the images are of children being abused, and that those looking at or sharing them are causing harm and risk arrest, prosecution and being put on the sex offenders’ register.

“Most of the people looking at this illegal content aren’t the stereotypes that the public would expect – they are our friends, family, neighbours and colleagues. Some of them are just children themselves, but that doesn’t stop the behaviour from being illegal. Many of these individuals start out with an increasing adult legal pornography habit, but then begin looking for riskier and extreme material.

“The Stop It Now! helpline and website provide anonymous and confidential support and advice to help stop this behaviour. We also support friends and family worried about a loved one’s behaviour online, so that they can get the support they need at an early stage. No-one has to deal with it alone – we can help, just as we have helped tens of thousands of people in this position over recent years”

Jennifer, advisor on the Stop It Now! helpline, said: “We often hear from callers about their feelings of isolation, stress and anxiety, particularly over the last couple of years. For most people, these feelings don’t lead to offending, but for some, they can be triggers to beginning to act illegally online.

Recognising those triggers and warning signs, in yourself and those around you, and reaching out for help, can mean that offending can be stopped. We listen and don’t judge, and we help callers to express their worries and suggest practical actions to help keep children safe. It may feel hard to stop, but it is possible and we are here to help you”.

Partner support

John Wiseman, coordinator for Circles South West said: “This is really difficult territory for many of us and we would all prefer to think that sexual abuse does not happen. We have support for children who have been sexually abused in our city, but unfortunately, the reality is that sexual abuse of children is increasing. If we want to stop this then we have to make sure people who have these inappropriate thoughts, feelings and behaviours are helped to stop.”

Superintendent Jennifer Bristow from Devon & Cornwall Police said: “Child sexual abuse and exploitation has a terrible impact on victims and their families. It is important to understand that every image features a victim or victims experiencing sexual assault or abuse.

“We are working hard to keep children safe from abuse and exploitation and we ask that any person who is struggling with inappropriate thoughts towards children reach out to the Stop It Now! helpline for support.

In 2021, 431 cases of indecent images of children were investigated by specialist detectives in an online investigation team.  The impact of this type of crime can be traumatic and life-changing, not only for the victims but also for the families and loved ones of perpetrators. So, if this issue affects you, please seek help.”


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 act to protect children and young people from sexual abuse and exploitation. We can also arrange for you to speak to someone in Welsh if you would prefer.

If you’re not ready to speak to someone yet, you can get support from our experienced advisors through our live chat and secure messaging service.

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