Number of people in the North West seeking help to stop looking at sexual images of children doubles in just six months. Increase prompted by major public awareness campaign across the region
The number of people in the North-West seeking help to stop looking at sexual images of children online has more than doubled in just six months.
In the six months between July 2017 and January 2018 1,747 people from the North West contacted Stop it Now! (Stop it Now! is a child sexual abuse prevention project run by child protection charity The Lucy Faithfull Foundation), seeking help for either their own online sexual behaviour, or for that of someone they knew. In the following six month period that figure had leapt to 3,549, a rise of 103%. People seeking help and support were able to access it via specialist self-help online resources on the Stop it Now! Get Help website or via the confidential and anonymous Stop it Now! Helpline (0808 1000 900).
There were particularly steep increases in Lancashire, Cheshire and Cumbria which saw increases of 146%, 193% and 186% respectively in the number of people seeking help from Stop it Now! over the six month period. (A full count- by-county breakdown of data is available in Notes to Editor.)
The dramatic rise in the number of people seeking help from Stop it Now! follows a major public awareness raising campaign launched by Stop it Now! in January this year.
The campaign was supported by the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit (NW ROCU) and police forces in Lancashire, Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Cheshire, Cumbria and North Wales.
The campaign used traditional media, social media, posters and other public relations activities to:
- raise public awareness of the growing problem of people viewing and sharing sexually explicit images of under 18s online
- educate those offending about the harm caused to children in the images who are re-victimised each time their image is viewed online
- highlight the increase in police activity across the North West tackle the issue
- drive home the consequences of their behaviour to offenders – including arrest, possible imprisonment, break up of family and being put on the Sex Offenders Register
- make people aware that there is help available to stop such behaviour via the Stop it Now! Helpline and the Stop it Now! Get Help website.
The NW ROCU and the six police forces communicated these key campaign messages via their social media channels to large numbers of people in the North West. And police forces also worked to engage local partners such as local authorities to further amplify the campaign and its messages via their own social media channels. A major conference, co-ordinated by the NW ROCU, was also held in Leigh near Wigan in April. The conference brought together police, social workers, local authorities and other frontline child safeguarding professionals to discuss strategies for further deterrence and prevention work in the North West.
Assistant Chief Constable Alan Barr, North West Regional Lead for Serious and Organised Crime, said:
“The problem of viewing indecent images of children online has grown exponentially in recent years. Technological advancements, increased accessibility, and the presumption of anonymity have all led to more and more people viewing and sharing illegal images.
“Every time a sexual image of a child is viewed, that child is re-victimised and further demand is created. It is vital, therefore, that we work closely with partners and use all available resources to protect children and, wherever possible, prevent offending.
“We have a duty to protect children from harm and to deter individuals from committing these types of horrific offences and we continue to seek to identify and convict those who engage in this behaviour. But as the results of this campaign show, we can also educate and stop individuals from continuing to offend – or from offending in the first place.
“Enforcement activity remains a high priority for police locally, regionally and nationally. And being arrested comes with life-changing consequences for offenders and their families. To those engaged in this behaviour, I would say consider your actions now and seek help to stop. If not, you should expect to face serious consequences.”
Lancashire Constabulary’s Assistant Chief Constable Jo Edwards said: “As a police service we have a duty to protect children from harm and deter individuals from committing these types of horrific offences.
“As such, we remain committed to identifying and convicting those individuals who wish to share indecent images and engage with children online for sexual gratification.
“However, we also recognise the need to educate and stop individuals from continuing to offend, or prevent individuals from offending in the first place.
“Our partnership with the Lucy Faithful Foundation and this wider regional partnership plays a key role in this and we are delighted to see that early indications show this work is paying dividends with an increase in people seeking out information and support. This means that potentially we have been able to safeguard more children at risk of exploitation or prevented someone from offending.
“We will continue to support the work of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation and I would encourage anyone who is worried about their online viewing habits, or that of family members or friends, to take a look at the online resources available from the Foundation and seek help.”
Reflecting on the success of police co-operation with Stop it Now! in the North West so far, Director of the Stop it Now! Helpline, Donald Findlater, said:
“We are delighted with the success of the campaign so far, with nearly 600 people from the North-West seeking help with online sexual behaviour towards children every month. Mostly these will be men seeking help to manage their own behaviour in viewing sexual images of children. But a growing number of other adults – wives, partners and parents – are getting in contact because of concerns about the online sexual behaviour of someone they love.
“But there are thousands more people in the North-West continuing to view sexual images of children online. Just as there are thousands more wives, partners and parents who are, or who should be worried about the online behaviour of someone they love.
“Some of these those engaged in this behaviour will be reading these words now. All of them need to be clear that sexual images of children are illegal, that children are harmed when they are made, and also each time they are viewed. Those who come to the attention of the police for such online offending put at risk everything they take for granted or have worked hard to achieve – family, friends, work, their liberty. The Stop it Now! Helpline offers them a confidential place to get help so their illegal online behaviour stops and stays stopped. Getting help takes just a phone call.”