Child abuse hotline reports rise in calls from men viewing illegal content

Child abuse experts have reported a rise in the number of men contacting a specialist helpline for people who are watching or considering watching online child sexual abuse material.

The Stop It Now! helpline had its busiest year in 2020, handling more than 12,500 calls, emails and live chats – up from 10,700 in 2019. More than 3,500 individuals asked for help because they were worried about their own or someone else’s online sexual behaviour towards children.

Donald Findlater, director of the helpline, is concerned that a reported increase in the use of pornography during lockdown could have led some people to watch illegal material.

He 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 of the men we work with move to viewing illegal material from an adult pornography habit, which some describe as an addiction. With the increase in online pornography viewing over lockdown, we’re worried that there will now be a new set of people, mostly men, moving on to looking at illegal sexual images of under-18s.”

The Stop it Now! helpline is run by the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, a charity that provides specialist counselling to men who have been watching child abuse material.

The charity points to reports from Pornhub showed a substantial rise in individuals accessing legal pornography across the first Covid-19 lockdown in 2020.

Lucy Faithfull counsellor Michael Sheath told the Guardian in December that legal rape- and abuse-themed pornography was desensitising some users, leading them on to illegal material.

He said: “Typically these men I work with will have been watching porn that is freely available on the internet at eight, nine, 10 years old. This isn’t looking at naked ladies, it’s group sex, it’s rape-themed, incest-themed. Porn is an entry drug for a lot of them. They go down what I call an escalating pathway.”

A large proportion of callers to the helpline who have offended online say they watched pornography excessively before seeking out sexual images of under-18s.

Jennifer is an adviser taking calls on the helpline. She urged anyone to call if they were worried about their own or a family member’s behaviour online. “Feelings of isolation, stress … these are often what lead to escalating pornography habits and then in turn to illegal online behaviour,” she said.

“Obviously for most people these worries don’t lead to offending, but for some people they do. We listen and don’t judge, as well as suggest practical things that will ultimately help keep children safe.”

New research out today from the charity showed two-thirds of UK adults wouldn’t seek help or advice if they knew or suspected their partner, parent or child was viewing sexual images or videos of under-18s online.

Police and child abuse experts have warned that the fight to stop children being abused and their images shared is at risk because of plans to further encrypt social media sites including Facebook. Experts say scanning technologies will no longer be able to track suspicious activity as easily.

Facebook has responded robustly to criticism from senior police officers and experts over encryption, saying “[We have] led the industry in developing new ways to prevent, detect and respond to abuse.”

Comments are closed.