Police forces from Cheshire, Lancashire, Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Cumbria and North Wales have joined with a leading child protection charity to launch a campaign to tackle growing demand for sexual images of children online.

The region-wide campaign represents a new 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 child protection charity, The Lucy Faithfull Foundation. The charity’s work focuses on deterring offenders from continuing to look at sexually explicit images of children online, and potential offenders from looking at such images in the first place. It also directs offenders to the charity’s Stop it Now! Get Help website https://www.get-help.stopitnow.org.uk 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.

Police have been working extensively to detect and prosecute people downloading and sharing sexual images of children online. 142 arrests have been made across Cheshire between 1 January and 31 December 2017.

The joint campaign launched will utilise 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 across the North West in this space

• Drive home the consequences of their behaviour to offenders who often do not consider 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. (The number of people in North West England already seeking help from the Lucy Faithfull Foundation is significant. In 2017 an average of 556 people per month from the North West 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. It is intended that the campaign being launched today will have a similar effect in safeguarding children in the North West by directing more people towards help to stop looking at harmful images.

Detective Inspector Stuart York of Cheshire’s Public Protection Unit said: “It is wrong to think that viewing sexual images of children in the privacy of the home is not harming anybody in the sense that the viewer is not physically touching anyone. Viewing, sharing or distributing sexual images of children is child abuse, behind every image is a victim. Viewing images is child abuse and, by engaging in criminal activity, this encourages others to commit child abuse.

“Safeguarding and protecting children from sexual abuse is a priority for the 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.

“I would urge anyone who is worried about their internet viewing habits to seek help from the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, who can provide advice and intervention work to help people manage their thoughts and behaviour, and to help them to live responsible, fulfilling and law abiding lives.”

Donald Findlater, child sexual abuse prevention expert and spokesperson for The Lucy Faithfull Foundation, added: “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, it also causes great harm - primarily to the children in the images - but also to the offenders themselves.

“Alongside police activity in arresting more and more offenders, the Lucy Faithfull Foundation has been working over these last two years to develop its own response and resources. 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 and get help to tackle the problem.”