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Partners county-wide back campaign to target potential child sexual abuse offenders

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A multi-channel marketing campaign launches across Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent this week to target people who pose a sexual risk to children both online and offline.

The Stop It Now! campaign aims to educate those abusing, or at risk of doing so, about the harm caused by their behaviour and the consequences for those arrested. It also informs those at risk of offending, either online or offline, of the confidential help available to stop their illegal behaviour.

The campaign, led nationally by the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, is being backed locally by a number of partners and support services across the county, including Staffordshire Police, Staffordshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner, Staffordshire County Council, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Together for Childhood, NSPCC and children’s safeguarding services.

The campaign promotes the Stop It Now! helpline – 0808 1000 900 - and website  through on and offline media, covering print, radio, Facebook, Instagram and digital adverts. It encourages people, particularly men, to question their behaviour, understand the triggers to such behaviour and to get help to stop.

Last year, over 1,850 people from Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent sought help through the Stop It Now! confidential helpline or self-help website.

Donald Findlater, director at Stop It Now! helpline, said: “Across the UK, including in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent, there is a growing problem of people viewing and sharing sexual images of under 18s online. It is vital we all understand that viewing and sharing this material is illegal, that many of the images are of children being abused, and that those looking at or sharing them are causing harm and risk arrest, prosecution and being put on the sex offenders’ register.

“Most of the people looking at this illegal content aren’t the stereotypes that the public would expect – they are our friends, family, neighbours and colleagues. Some of them are just children themselves, but that doesn’t stop the behaviour from being illegal. Many of these individuals start out with a growing legal adult pornography habit, but then begin looking for riskier and more extreme material.

“The Stop It Now! helpline and website provide anonymous and confidential support and advice to help stop this behaviour. We also support friends and family worried about a loved one’s behaviour online, so that they can get the support they need at an early stage. No-one has to deal with it alone – we can help, just as we have helped tens of thousands of people in this position over recent years.”

As part of the campaign, workforce training will also take place in a bid to encourage businesses and practitioners to routinely share information about Stop It Now! with the broadest audience, so individuals know that help to prevent harm to children is available.

Detective Inspector, Kathryn Tomkins of the Staffordshire Police Child Protection Exploitation Team, said: “We do not stop in our pursuit of those sexually exploiting children online or in person. In 2021, we investigated 327 cases of indecent images of children and it cannot be underestimated the impact it has on victims and their families – it is traumatic and often life-changing.

“Through Operation Safenet we use specialist resources to identify sexually harmful or indecent behaviours so we can, through enforcement, protect and safeguard children. Prevention is equally important, however, and we encourage anyone who recognises their own thoughts and behaviour, or behaviour of others, as concerning, to get help through Stop It Now!”

Staffordshire’s Police, Fire & Crime Commissioner, Ben Adams said: “This crucial campaign highlights the serious ramifications of viewing abusive images online and sends a powerful deterrence message to potential offenders encouraging them to question their behaviour, understand their triggers and seek help to stop.

“This partnership campaign is partially funded by the Safer Streets funding my office secured in October 2021 and builds on vital work already being done in Staffordshire, particularly around the safety of women and girls.

“Safeguarding young people is a key priority in my recently launched Police and Crime Plan and this campaign will assist in driving long-term changes to behaviours to protect the young people of Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent.”

Jennie Hammond, NSPCC Development and Impact Manager, said: “The number of child sexual abuse image offences recorded by police this year reached a record high. Behind every crime is a child who has been abused and then is being made to suffer again and again as these images are shared and viewed online.

“To tackle this problem effectively requires a multi-agency response. It is vital that support is available to young victims and their families to help with their recovery, that these horrendous sexual images are quickly removed from the internet and the perpetrators are identified and prosecuted.

“At the same time there needs to be a real focus on prevention by showing potential offenders the huge harm they will inflict on children and, ultimately, themselves. This is why Together for Childhood will be working alongside Staffordshire Police, the Lucy Faithfull Foundation and our other local partners in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire to support the Stop It Now! campaign.”

Councillor Dave Evans, cabinet member for children and young people at Stoke-on-Trent City Council said: “Children across the city are our number one priority and we continue to work tirelessly with our partners to make sure they are not at risk of any exploitation including sexual. We are supporting the Stop It Now! Campaign as it aims to educate and inform adults that this type of behaviour is not ok and is a form of abuse. Child sexual exploitation is happening in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire, so if you know what you are doing is not right, please seek help to stop.”

A Staffordshire Safeguarding Children Board Spokesperson said: “Staffordshire Safeguarding Children Board are committed to ensuring children and young people in Staffordshire are safe from sexual abuse, both on and off line and that concerns about a child or from a child are at the forefront of everything we do. The Board support the work of the ‘Stop it now’ campaign and its ongoing commitment to reducing the number of people with sexual thoughts, feelings and behaviours towards children and those at risk of offending to stop their illegal and harmful behaviour.”