The number of people in Cheshire seeking help to stop looking at sexual images of children online has more than doubled in just six months.
In the six months between July 2017 and January 2018, 1,747 people from the North West contacted Stop it Now! seeking help for either their own online sexual behaviour or for someone they knew.
In the following six-month period that figure had leapt to 3,549, a rise of 103%.
There was a particular increase in Cheshire which saw increases of 193% over the last six months.
Stop it Now! is a child sexual abuse prevention project run by child protection charity The Lucy Faithfull Foundation.
People seeking help were able to access support through specialist self-help online resources on the Stop it Now! Get Help website or via the confidential and anonymous Stop it Now! Helpline.
Donald Findlater, Director of the Stop it Now! Helpline, said: “We are delighted with the success of the campaign so far, with nearly 600 people from the North-West seeking help with online sexual behaviour towards children every month.
“Mostly these will be men seeking help to manage their own behaviour in viewing sexual images of children.
“A growing number of wifes, partners and parents are getting in contact because of concerns about the online sexual behaviour of someone they love.
“But there are thousands more people continuing to view sexual images of children online.
“Some of those engaged in this behaviour need to be clear that sexual images of children are illegal, that children are harmed when they are made, and also each time they are viewed.
“Those who come to the attention of the police for online offending put at risk everything they take for granted or have worked hard to achieve.
“The Stop it Now! Helpline offers them a confidential place to get help so their illegal online behaviour stops and stays stopped. Getting help takes just a phone call.”
The rise in the number of people seeking help follows a major public awareness raising campaign launched by Stop it Now! in January this year.
The campaign was supported by the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit (NW ROCU) and police forces in Lancashire, Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Cheshire, Cumbria and North Wales.
The campaign used 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 increase in police activity to tackle the issue.
• explain the consequences of their behaviour 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 via the Stop it Now! Helpline and the Stop it Now! Get Help website.
The NW ROCU and the six police forces communicated these key campaign messages via their social media channels to large numbers of people in the North West.
Police forces have also worked with local authorities to raise awareness of the campaign through their own social media channels.
Detective Inspector Stuart York from Cheshire Constabulary’s Strategic Public Protection Directorate, said: “Safeguarding and protecting children from sexual abuse is a priority for Cheshire Constabulary. We are committed to seeking out individuals who abuse children through online activity to bring them to justice and hold them to account for their actions.
“We are very pleased with the success of the Stop It Now! Campaign which has seen an increase of nearly 200% of people seeking help about their online viewing habits in Cheshire.
“We will continue to support the work of The Lucy Faithfull Foundation and urge anyone who is worried about their online viewing habits, or family member or friends, to seek help from the foundation.
“They can provide advice and intervention work to help people manage their thoughts and behaviours.
“It is also important to make it clear that viewing or sharing sexual images of children is illegal, it is child abuse and behind every image is a victim.”
To get help via the confidential and anonymous Stop it Now! Helpline call 0808 1000 900.