At the end of last week Sussex Police announced it was joining police forces across the South East in supporting a leading child protection charity around the launch of a campaign to tackle the growing demand for sexual images of children online.
The regional campaign represents a multi-agency approach to tackling the growing demand for sexually explicit images of children. It will bring together robust law enforcement work with work already being undertaken by UK child protection charity, The Lucy Faithfull Foundation.
The charity works to prevent people from viewing such illegal material in the first place; and to get them to stop if they have already started. Through the Stop It Now! deterrence campaign, confidential helpline (0808 1000 900) and their website, it helps people address their online behaviour and stop looking at these harmful and illegal images. The Stop It Now! helpline recently received a £600,000 funding boost from the Home Office.
Viewing and sharing indecent images of children online is a serious and growing problem. In 2013 the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) estimated that as many as 50,000 individuals in the UK were involved in downloading or sharing sexual images of children. Police estimate that the number of offenders has grown since then. In 2018 the National Crime Agency estimated the figure to be 80,000.
Police have been working extensively to detect and prosecute people downloading and sharing sexual images of children online. The four forces involved in this new campaign have specialist teams who are actively targeting those who are viewing, sharing and making indecent images of children. The campaign launched on Thursday will use 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 police activity across the South East to 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.
The number of people already seeking help from Stop It Now! is significant. In 2018, 383 people from the South East called the Stop It Now! helpline to seek help in relation to illegal online sexual behaviour and the online self-help resources had 4,393 users from the South East. This represents a 69 per cent increase in contact to the campaign from the South East since 2016.
Viewing and sharing indecent images of children online is a serious and growing problem.
The work follows similar activity undertaken in other parts of the UK by The Lucy Faithfull Foundation’s Stop It Now! campaign. When run in partnership with police forces in the North West, a similar campaign resulted in a threefold increase in the number of people from the region seeking help to address their online behaviour, or that of another. It is intended that the campaign being launched today will have a similar effect in the South East by directing more people towards help to stop looking at harmful images.
Donald Findlater, Director of the Stop It Now! helpline, said: “Too many people, especially men across all age groups, seem to think it is okay to view sexual images of under 18s online. It is not. Not only is it illegal, it also causes great harm to the children in the images. Preventing the viewing of these images protects children.
“Alongside the police arresting more and more offenders, The Lucy Faithfull Foundation has been working to help online offenders to stop their illegal behaviour and to stay stopped, whether they’ve been arrested or not. Every offender who stops, stops harming children.
“Our specialist staff have helped thousands over recent years. We’ve also helped thousands more family members come to terms with the fact that someone they know and love has engaged in this behaviour, getting them help to tackle the problem.”
Detective Chief Inspector Richard Bates of the Sussex Police Public Protection Command said: “We are fully supporting the Stop It Now! campaign because we are talking here about images depicting serious child abuse and the circulation of the images around the Internet perpetuates and encourages that abuse.
“The experienced investigators in our specialist Paedophile Online Investigation Team (POLIT) target suspects on an intelligence-led basis every day and we will robustly identify and bring to justice such people wherever possible.
“The Stop It Now! campaign is an important reminder that there are ways in which people can get help to address their behaviour before my team come knocking at the door.”
- Advice for anyone experiencing child abuse is available on the force website.
- If you want to report any suspected offences in relation to indecent images of children you can also contact Sussex Police online or by calling 101.
- The force website also provides advice for potential offenders and links to the Lucy Faithfull Foundation.