We are joining leading child protection charity, The Lucy Faithfull Foundation, to tackle growing demand for sexual images of children online. The collaboration brings together robust law enforcement work with prevention and education activity carried out by the UK child protection charity.
We have been working extensively to detect and prosecute people downloading and sharing sexual images of children online. Our officers have undertaken 90 search warrants in the last 12 months and 85 offenders have been charged. The force currently has 235 live cases involving internet child abuse, with more investigations at the development stage. The number of cases we have handled has increased in recent years, with referrals from other organisations increasing by 100%, in part due to better collaborations and improved reporting from social networking giants.
Offenders looking at indecent images of children risk imprisonment, family break up and being added to the Sex Offenders Register. They also cause harm to children in the images who are re-victimised each time the image is viewed online. Help is available for those who need to stop such behaviour.
A growing number of people in Avon and Somerset are proactively seeking help to stop looking at sexual images of children. In 2017 895 people from the force area visited the Lucy Faithfull Foundations online self-help resources or called the confidential helpline to get help for themselves or a loved one. The charity works to prevent people from viewing illegal material in the first place; and to get them to stop if they have already started. It directs offenders to the Stop it Now! Get Help website that hosts online self-help resources, as well as the Stop it Now! confidential helpline (0808 1000 900) where they can get help to address their online behaviour.
Stop it Now! UK and Ireland is run by The Lucy Faithfull Foundation and aims to prevent child sexual abuse by increasing public awareness and empowering people to act responsibly to protect children. The Stop it Now! helpline aims to prevent child abuse by encouraging abusers and potential abusers to seek help and by giving adults the information they need to protect children safely. The Helpline has provided advice and support to 35,000 callers and emailers. 55% were people concerned about their own behaviour. www.stopitnow.org.uk and www.get-help.stopitnow.org.uk
Avon and Somerset Head of Protect Will White said: "Behind every image is a child. Anyone who creates indecent images or videos is committing an offence and those who view or share the content are also responsible for that child’s suffering.
"This abhorrent crime involves extortion of some of the most vulnerable individuals in our communities, children. As technology makes rapid advancements, the problem police face evolves in equal measure and becomes increasingly complex. It is our role to protect these children from harm and we work tirelessly to seek out and convict those who offend.
"Child sexual abuse can be stopped and preventing this is an important part of protecting children. Our collaboration with Lucy Faithfull aims to educate individuals who are offending or about to offend and prevent the abuse in the first place."
Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens said: "We all have a responsibility to safeguard our young people. That is why I have made protecting the most vulnerable from harm a priority for the police in my Police and Crime Plan.
"Victims of child sexual exploitation are extremely vulnerable, suffering adverse consequences that blight their lives. Preventing their exploitation and responding quickly to stop this from happening is crucial in improving outcomes for vulnerable children.
"There is complete determination across Avon and Somerset to identify children most vulnerable to being sexually exploited and help them to stay safe, while disrupting and prosecuting their abusers. It is only by working together can we make a real difference."
Donald Findlater, child sexual abuse prevention expert and spokesperson for The Lucy Faithfull Foundation, said: "Too many people, especially men across all age groups, seem to think it is okay to view sexual images of under 18s online. It is not. Not only is it illegal, but it causes great harm to the children whose images are used. It also causes harm to those offending and to their families.
"Alongside police activity in arresting more and more offenders, the Lucy Faithfull Foundation has been working over these past two years to develop its response to this growing problem. Whether arrested or not, we want online offenders to stop their illegal behaviour and to stay stopped. Our specialist staff have helped thousands to do this over recent years. We have also helped thousands more family members come to terms with the fact that someone they know and love has engaged in this behaviour."
The campaign follows similar activity undertaken in other parts of the UK by the Lucy Faithfull Foundation. A campaign, run in partnership with Police Scotland, resulted in a 72% increase in the number of people from the region seeking help(2). It is intended that the campaign being launched today will have a similar effect in Avon and Somerset by directing more people towards help to stop looking at harmful images.