North West Police, including Cumbria Constabulary have joined with the charity, Stop It Now, to tackle sexual exploitation.
Donald Findlater, Director of the Stop It Now! helpline, said: “Mostly, the tens of thousands of people in the UK viewing sexual images of children online don’t conform to the stereotypes, they are our friends, family, neighbours and colleagues.
“Many of the people contacting our helpline started out simply looking on mainstream adult pornography sites, but over time they found they needed different or more extreme content.
“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.
“Everyone needs to know that looking at sexual images and videos of under 18s 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.”
The number of people in the north west and Wales seeking help to stop viewing sexual images of under 18s has more than doubled during 2021.
During the past 12 months, more than 24,000 people across the North West and Wales have sought help via Stop it Now, a national child sexual exploitation prevention helpline who help people manage their sexual thoughts and behaviour towards children and young people.
There were particularly steep increases in Cumbria, Cheshire and Lancashire which saw increases of more than 150 percent in the number of people seeking help from the charity over the twelve month period.
Detective Inspector Andy Myers, Cumbria Constabulary’s Cyber & Digital Crime Unit, said: “The protection of children from online sexual abuse and exploitation, and the prosecution of those individuals responsible are key priorities.
“Our Cyber and Digital Crime Unit, working alongside key partner agencies, continue to proactively target and prosecute these individuals.
“If you view, possess, make or distribute indecent images of children we will do everything we can to prosecute you.
“We have a duty to protect children from harm and we do all we can to prevent and deter offences before they occur.
“Not only will offending have an impact on the child but it will also have a damaging impact on offender relationships with family and friends.
“It also is clearly damaging for their professional careers and furthermore by viewing, making or distributing such illegal images can create further demand online for images and videos of children being abused.
“I’d advise anyone who is concerned that they are having thoughts about viewing such images online to contact Stop it Now to get help before you commit an offence or offend further.
Stop it Now are dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse. They also work with families and victims that have been affected by sexual abuse.”
Today, March 18, on national ‘Child Sexual Exploitation’ day, the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit, together with the six North West police forces in Cheshire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Merseyside and North Wales are supporting Stop it Now’s campaign by launching a two-week social media campaign to raise public awareness of the growing problem of people viewing and sharing sexually explicit images of under 18s online.
The campaign also educates those offending about the harm caused to children in the images who are re-victimised each time their image is viewed online.
During the two week period, police forces will also be highlighting the work they are doing to tackle the issue and 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.
The helpline is the UK’s first confidential and anonymous helpline that specifically supports people who are worried about their own or someone else’s sexual thoughts, feelings and behaviour towards children.
In 2021, Stop it Now reported a significant increase in the number of people seeking help to stop viewing sexual images of under 18s.
In the North West, 18,036 people sought help via the confidential helpline or by visiting the self-help website in 2021 to address concerns about their own, or a friend and/or family member’s online behaviours.
This is a 106 percent increase on the previous year; a monumental soar during the charity’s 20th anniversary year.
In Wales, 6,196 people sought help which is also a significant 116 percent increase on the previous year.
Insights carried out by Stop it Now show that a large proportion of people contacting the charity have cited increased isolation, unemployment, mental health issues, relationship breakdowns and escalating porn habits, as key factors that have contributed to their online offending.