A new campaign to stop people viewing online sexual images of children and warn of a "growing demand" for indecent material has begun in West Yorkshire.
It aims to bring together "robust" law enforcement with work by the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, which offers help to people viewing such material.
The campaign aims to raise awareness of "growing demand for sexually explicit images of children", educate those offending about the harm caused, highlight an increase in police activity to tackle the issue, make people aware that there is help available to stop such behaviour, but also "drive home the consequences" – including arrest, possible imprisonment, the break-up of families and being put on the Sex Offenders Register.
West Yorkshire Police, the Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire Mark Burns-Williamson, Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards and local authorities are involved.
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, but in 2018 the National Crime Agency estimated the figure to be 80,000.
Detective Superintendent Jon Morgan, head of West Yorkshire Police’s Safeguarding Central Governance Unit, said: “Tackling child abuse of all forms is a top priority for West Yorkshire Police.
"Many don’t consider the viewing and sharing of indecent images of children in the same vein as contact offences but behind every image or video is a child who has been abused and continues to be abused with every download."
He added: “Our main aim will always be to eliminate the market for indecent images and to protect child victims, what we do find though is that people involved in this kind of offending are often also suffering themselves.
"Unlike most other crimes, when we arrest people in relation to indecent images offences, some are actually relieved. They have found themselves in a pattern of damaging behaviour that they can’t see a way out of."
In 2018, 1,365 people from West Yorkshire visited The Lucy Faithfull Foundation online self-help resources or called the confidential helpline to seek help in relation to illegal online sexual behaviour.
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 its Stop It Now! Get Help website that hosts online self-help resources.
Donald Findlater, director of the helpline, 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, it also causes great harm - primarily to the children in the images - but also to the offenders themselves."
The joint campaign launched today will use traditional media, social media, posters and other public relations activities.
It follows similar activity undertaken in other parts of the UK such as the charity's partnership with Police Scotland, which resulted in a 72 per cent 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.
Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), said the campaign "quite rightly sends a powerful message to those accessing and distributing abusive images of children that they will be caught and could face losing everything they hold dear".
The charity's helpline can be reached at 0808 1000 900, or people can view resources at www.get-help.stopitnow.org.uk