Children at increased risk of sexual abuse during lockdown - warning from police and charity

  • 08 June 2020

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Children at increased risk of sexual abuse during lockdown - warning from police and charity

Police Service NI and a child protection charity are today (Monday) warning that the current lockdown is likely to lead to an increased risk of child sexual abuse in Northern Ireland, and are urging the public to know how to play their part in keeping children safe.

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 increasing 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 1,460 people from Northern Ireland contacted the Stop It Now! helpline and self-help website in 2019 to address their risky and illegal behaviour.

“However when online offending takes place police will take robust action against those involved in suspected criminal behaviour. In 2019/20 detectives in the Police Service NI’s Child Protection Team carried out 87 searches and made 47 arrests in relation to this devastating crime, with 121 searches and 79 arrests in 2018/19 and 158 searches and 87 arrests in 2017/18.”

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.

However, if a crime has taken place call 101 or 999 if there is an immediate risk to life. Or report your concerns anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Detective Chief Superintendent McNally added: “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: “Covid-19 and the lockdown are having a huge impact on all of us, whether we catch it or not. As parents and friends we need to talk about the problems it causes that we’d rather not think about - and right now, the risk of child sexual abuse is increasing.

“There is much we can all do to protect children. I would ask all parents and carers to think about what steps they are taking to supervise their children and grandchildren to help them stay safe online, to check online for the latest advice and information, and to ask for help if they’re ever unsure.

“I would also ask those individuals viewing increasing quantities of adult pornography – how are they ensuring they don’t step over a line and start viewing sexual images of under 18s? Because this is the route the majority of viewers of sexual material involving children have taken. Viewers of this illegal material may make excuses to themselves, but the material is against the law, children are harmed in its creation and viewing, and there are grave consequences facing those who are arrested.

“But confidential help is available to stop and stay stopped. Last year over 1400 people from Northern Ireland sought help from Stop It Now! to deal with this problem in their lives. This year it will be even more. So, if you are concerned about your own online behaviour or that of a loved one, please take action and call the Stop It Now! helpline for confidential advice.”

Case Study

Ben is in his mid-30s and was arrested after viewing indecent images of children online.
He said: “When I was arrested, the officer gave me information about the Stop It Now! helpline – I called every day for two weeks. They helped me understand what I’d done and how to change. It’s taken a long time, but I’m trying to move on in a positive way.

“The Stop It Now! helpline was a life-saver following my arrest, and I received excellent support from the team at The Lucy Faithfull Foundation. I only wish I had heard about the anonymous helpline before my arrest.”

Keeping People Safe