More people are seeking help to stop viewing sexual images of children, report shows

By Richard Jenkins
Tuesday, 1st March 2022, 10:24 am
Updated Tuesday, 1st March 2022, 10:32 am

The Stop It Now! helpline, 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, reports a record increase in the number of people seeking help to stop viewing sexual images of under 18s.

New data shows 165,225 people sought help via a 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 107% increase on the previous year; a monumental soar during the charity’s 20th anniversary year. 

Insights show that a large proportion of people contacting Stop It Now! cite increased isolation, unemployment, mental health issues, relationship breakdowns and escalating porn habits, as key factors that have contributed to their online offending. 

An increased issue during the pandemic

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Data shows that porn consumption increased during the pandemic, with Brits viewing more adult content than ever before. Following a collaboration that began a year ago with MindGeek - owners of the popular adult pornography site, Pornhub - over 2,714 people visited the Stop It Now! ‘Get Help’ website after receiving a warning about attempts to find sexual images of under 18s online.

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.

Preventing a growing problem

Stop It Now! campaigns to prevent the growing problem of online sexual offending against children. It highlights the harm to victims, the personal and legal consequences for offenders and their families, and directs individuals to its confidential and anonymous helpline and self-help website. Since 2002, the Stop It Now! helpline has supported over 60,000 people to tackle their or a loved one’s concerning online behaviours, in turn protecting thousands of children across the country. 

Andy, a former offender in his 50s based in South East, who sought help via the Stop It Now! Helpline, says: “As a 52-year-old man when my marriage ended I thought my life had ended too. I had always had an issue with pornography from an early age and found it easy to slip into a fantasy world online. It wasn't long before I had gone from regular stuff to illegal, all the time ignoring the warnings and offers of help to stop. 

“It wasn't until I had been arrested and served a prison sentence that I realised that I could not deal with my issues alone and I finally reached out to the Stop It Now! helpline and found that there were people out there that would listen and not judge me. 

“Over months I talked to people who could really help me and give me a real insight into why I had offended and my behaviour. After working with them I felt for the first time for years I was in control of my addiction. I’m lucky to have the support of my siblings, who are helping me keep on the right track, but I deeply regret what I did and the harm it caused to children. 

“I just wish that I’d had the courage to pick up the phone and call in those dark days. Things could be so different for me now, I would still have contact with my children, old friends and my life would be different in so many ways.”

National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection, Deputy Chief Constable Ian Critchley, said:
“Behind each of these images is a real child who is being abused and every view only creates more demand for these appalling offences. This is not a victimless crime and it is vital that anyone worried about what they are doing online comes forward and seeks help."

If you’re worried about your own or someone else’s online sexual behaviour towards children, Stop It Now! can give you advice and help to stop offending.

You can stay anonymous and don’t have to give your real name, location or any contact details. Call the confidential helpline on 0808 1000 900 or get help online: stopitnow.org.uk/helpline