The Police Service of Northern Ireland and a child protection charity are today (Tuesday 2nd March) appealing to people to seek help if a loved one is viewing sexual images of children and young people under 18.

It follows research which shows that almost two thirds of UK adults say they wouldn’t seek help or advice, where they knew or suspected their partner, parent or child was viewing sexual images or videos of under 18s online. Over half (57%) say they wouldn’t know where to turn for support, for their loved one or themselves.

In response, Police Service NI is promoting Stop It Now! UK and Ireland’s campaign as incidents of viewing indecent images of children and online grooming are on the increase due to pandemic restrictions.

The two organisations are urging greater awareness of the law and consequences of offending and are appealing to everyone to do what they can to protect children, including those people who present the risk to them.

Head of the Police Service NI’s Public Protection Branch, Detective Chief Superintendent Anthony McNally, said: “Police and Stop It Now! UK and Ireland believe that children are at an increased risk during this global pandemic due to a number of coinciding factors. These include:

-Children and young people are spending less time at school and more time at home and online.

-Many parents have limited time to supervise their children’s online lives and may not understand the possible dangers.

-People who pose a danger to children are also likely to be spending more time online, viewing and sharing sexual images of under 18s or engaging children in sexual conversations and behaviour.

“Figures released today show that 28 people from Northern Ireland worried about their own, or someone else’s, online behaviour, contacted the Stop It Now! helpline and 1318 users to the self-help website in 2020 to address their risky and illegal behaviour.”

Through the Stop It Now! confidential helpline and website people can understand what triggers their illegal behaviour and get support to stop for good. The confidential helpline and website also provide support and advice to parents and professionals concerned about child sexual abuse.

The anonymous and confidential helpline on 0808 1000 900 is run by an experienced team of trained advisors and callers to it agree actions they will take to stop their illegal online behaviour in both the short and long term. Helpline advisors also explore with callers – both those offending and their adult family members – the possibility of any direct risks to children, including in the caller’s own family, to ensure these children are protected. Calls remain confidential and anonymous, unless identifying details are given and a child is in danger or a crime has been committed. In such circumstances the information is shared with appropriate agencies.

The Stop It Now! Website provides self-help information to people worried about their own online offending and also to their families or friends. Stop It Now! also provides support and advice to parents and professionals concerned about child sexual abuse and its prevention. Its Parents Protect website includes information on how to keep children safe online and offline.

Detective Chief Superintendent McNally added: “When online offending takes place police will take robust action against those involved in suspected criminal behaviour. In 2020/21 detectives in the Police Service NI’s Child Protection Team carried out 110 searches and made 35 arrests in relation to this devastating crime.

“During these unprecedented times of the COVID-19 pandemic people are spending more time at home, which can create potentially risk inducing situations.

“As a Police Service, we want to protect children who are at risk of sexual abuse. The Stop It Now! campaign not only provides support and advice to concerned parents and professionals, it also provides direct intervention and help for those who are thinking about abusing children. The advice provided on the website and also through the helpline assists potential offenders to understand their triggers and reach out to professionals to help them stop from carrying out any abuse.

“Child sexual abuse is a priority for police as it is one of the most horrendous crimes against some of the most vulnerable members of our community who deserve to be protected and not abused.

“If potential offenders can be aware of their triggers and seek help through either the Stop It Now! Helpline or website to cease their offending for good then more children will have been prevented from becoming victims of sexual abuse and spared the pain and emotional and physical suffering. The website also provides parents, concerned members of the public and professionals with support and advice on how to protect children.

“However, if a child is the victim of sexual abuse call 999 and police will take action to protect the youngster and arrest the perpetrator. Children deserve to grow up free from fear and abuse.”

Donald Findlater, Director of the Stop It Now! helpline, said: “Tens of thousands of people in the UK are viewing sexual images and videos of children online. They aren’t all the stereotypical loners of popular imagination – they are our friends, family, neighbours and colleagues.

“Many move to viewing this illegal material after beginning with an adult pornography habit, somehow not noticing or perhaps caring that they are watching children being abused. 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.

“Whoever they are, they need to know this behaviour 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. Friends and family need to know this too - so they notice worrying or illegal behaviour at an early stage and do something about it. They don’t have to deal with it alone – we can help.”

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