Three-fold rise in number of people calling hotline about online child abuse behaviour

The number of people admitting their paedophilia to a specialist hotline has climbed three-fold, latest data has revealed, with more than 10,000 telling a charity they were worried about their online sexual behaviour towards children.

Reports of internet child sex abuse are also on the rise, Police Scotland said on Monday, with 1,928 online sex abuse crimes reported in 2022/23. It is 6.6% higher than the five-year average.

The number of people who approached charity Stop it Now Scotland, which provides support services to people with problematic sexual thoughts and those who may be at risk of sexual offending, reached 10,303 in 2022/23.

It is three times the number who went to the charity for help in 2020/21, the organisation said.

Stuart Allardyce, director of the charity, said it showed there was a lot of people “who are aware that what they are doing is wrong, they feel shameful about it and are motivated to change”.

“Prevention is at the heart of our approach to child protection. Viewing sexual images of under-18s causes huge harm to the children in them,” he said.

“We help those who are worried about their behaviour express their concerns, provide practical support, and challenge, that helps keep children safe.”

The charity offers a freephone hotline and also has a website for people worried about their online sexual behaviour towards children.

From Monday, the charity is running a social media campaign which urges anyone worried about their internet activity towards children to seek help.

During the reporting year between April 2022 and March 2023, detectives carried out 709 investigations into online child sexual abuse crimes, police said.

As part of their investigations, the force said 486 arrests were made and 776 children protected.

Detective Chief Superintendent Sam Faulds, head of public protection and Police Scotland’s national child abuse investigation unit, warned offenders needed to understand they “will be identified, arrested and will face the consequences of their actions”.

“Behind every image of abuse shared online is a child. These images are viewed and shared thousands, if not potentially millions, of times around the world. This is a horrific trade in trauma and misery,” he said.

“Grooming, indecent communications and sharing indecent images are all serious criminal offences, with serious consequences for the perpetrators.”

He added: “Abusers are responsible for their criminal behaviour, it’s up to them to take action and get help.

“Our partner Stop It Now, offers that help. Make the call, get help and stop the unacceptable abuse of children.”

Between 2015 and 2021, there has been a 511% increase in referrals of information about online offending targeting children, police said.

Joanne Smith, policy and public affairs manager for NSPCC Scotland, said: “Online child sexual abuse has a devastating impact on children and families in every corner of society and it’s vital that we work together to protect young people from harm.

“Stop It Now! Scotland and NSPCC Scotland are calling on the Scottish Government to develop a national strategy to tackle child sexual abuse that focuses on prevention to make the country a safer place to grow up.

“We’d like to see a comprehensive and co-ordinated national approach to prevent child sexual abuse, which involves health, police, education, community safety, children’s services, social services, housing and the wider community.

“It is also crucial that we have a robust Online Safety Bill that compels tech companies to do everything in their power to prevent, detect and deal with the problem.”

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