Merseyside Police, together with forces from Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Cumbria and North Wales, is today joining forces with a leading child protection charity to launch a campaign to tackle growing demand for sexual images of children online.
The regional campaign represents a multi-agency approach to tackling the growing demand for sexually explicit images of children. It will bring together robust law enforcement work with work already being undertaken by UK child protection charity, The Lucy Faithfull Foundation .
The charity works to prevent people from viewing such illegal material in the first place; and to get them to stop if they have already started. It directs offenders to the charity’s 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 and stop looking at these harmful and illegal images.
Viewing and sharing indecent images of children online is a serious and growing problem. In 2013 the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) estimated that as many as 50,000 individuals in the UK were involved in downloading or sharing sexual images of children.
Police estimate that the number of offenders has grown since then. In a BBC TV interview in October 2016, National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) Lead for Child Protection, Chief Constable Simon Bailey, said that at least 100,000 people across the UK were now regularly viewing online sexual images of children.
Merseyside Police continually carries out extensive work to detect and prosecute people downloading and sharing sexual images of children online. During a week of action in November 2017, the Sex Offender Unit
- visited 80 registered sex offenders to ensure they were abiding by their sexual harm prevention orders
- carried out nine warrants in relation to making indecent images of children
- seized several electronic devices for further examination
- arrested one male offender on suspicion of rape
- Made three safeguarding visits to children in relation to internet offences
- Identified two victims of these crimes during forensic examinations
- Delivered nine training sessions to schools across Merseyside to teach children about child sexual and criminal exploitation, in conjunction with Catch 22 Pan Merseyside Child Exploitation Service, a service commissioned by Merseyside’s Police and Crime Commissioner.
Detective Chief Inspector, Martin Earl, said: "The making and possession of indecent images of children are offences which Merseyside Police takes extremely seriously.
“Offenders think the web will offer them complete anonymity to commit these types of offences, but we are continuing to work with partners to ensure more and more people are aware of the possible risk of child sexual exploitation – be that through online grooming or the distribution and viewing of sexual images of children and as a force we are putting more and more people through the courts.
“It is important that we all become more aware of the possible risk posed by the web and social media and how to report any suspicious activity. I think it’s important for anyone who has any concerns, about the online habits of another adult, to know where to go to get help, support and report such behaviour.
“The confidential helpline operated by Stop it Now! Is one way people can get anonymous, effective support for those worried about their own or someone else’s online sexual behaviour. As a force we are committed to the protection and wider safeguarding issues of children and we believe we all have a duty of care to protect young people from harm.
“Joining the Lucy Faithfull Foundation campaign today, along with the five partner forces is a great step in the direction of tackling and preventing the demand for indecent images of children.
“Anyone who would like to report a sexual offence or anyone with information is asked to contact Merseyside Police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”
The joint campaign launched today will use 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 in Merseyside to tackle the issue
- drive home the consequences of their behaviour to offenders – 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.
Today’s launch of the joint Police-Lucy Faithfull Foundation campaign is timely. Significant, and growing, numbers of people from Merseyside are already seeking help from the Lucy Faithfull Foundation. In 2017, 596 people from Merseyside visited the charity’s online self-help resources or called the confidential helpline to get help with their own viewing of sexually explicit images of children, or that of a loved one.
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 Edinburgh, East and West Lothian and the Borders seeking help to address their online behaviour, or that of another (3). It is intended that the campaign being launched today will have a similar effect in Merseyside by directing more people towards help to stop looking at harmful images.