The number of people contacting a helpline to stop them or another person viewing child abuse images online more than doubled last year.
A total of 165,225 people contacted Stop It Now! by phone or online with concerns about their own behavior or that of someone close to them in 2021, up from 79,868 the previous year.
This included 2,714 users of MindGeek sites, the company that owns Pornhub, who visited the helpline website after receiving a warning about searching for sexual images of under-18s.
Those seeking help said increased isolation, unemployment and a rise in the amount of pornography they were viewing fueled the offending.
Donald Findlater, director of the Stop It Now! helpline, said: “Mostly, the tens of thousands of people in the UK viewing sexual images of children online don’t conform to the stereotypes – they are our friends, family, neighbors and colleagues.
“Many of the people contacting our helpline started out simply looking on mainstream adult pornography sites.
“Some don’t know the law and need it spelled out. A few are struggling with a long-standing sexual interest in children and think that looking at ‘only pictures’ is a way of managing that interest.
“Everyone needs to know that looking at sexual images and videos of under-18s is illegal; that children are harmed by it; that serious consequences await those involved in it; but that our helpline and website give anonymous, and confidential, support and advice to stop and stay stopped.”
An increasing number of young men are contacting the helpline, which is run by child sexual abuse prevention charity the Lucy Faithfull Foundation.
Michael Sheath, an expert in child sexual abuse prevention for the helpline, said: “There are a lot of stereotypes when it comes to what a typical offender looks like, but the people we speak with aren’t always who you would expect.
“Often they’re everyday people, whose feelings of isolation, stress and general uncertainty, over the last year in particular, have led them down a dark path.
“We’re currently seeing a rise in the number of young men seeking help, typically following habitual pornography consumption which has, over time, led them to seek illegal content online.
“Recognizing those triggers and warning signs, and reaching out for help, can mean that offending is prevented.
“It may feel hard to stop, but it is possible, and it is easier to stop with confidential help than on your own.”
In the year to March 2021, police arrested more than 9,000 people for viewing child abuse images online, and safeguarded more than 12,000 children.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection, Deputy Chief Constable Ian Critchley, said: “Behind each of these images is a real child who is being abused, and every view only creates more demand for these appalling offences.
“This is not a victimless crime and it is vital that anyone worried about what they are doing online comes forward and seeks help.
“The tools we use to track down those responsible are better than ever, and will continue to develop in response to new technology.
“We are committed to targeting the perpetrators of these crimes and bringing them to justice. If you think you can’t be found, you’re wrong.
“Just like the harm to victims, the consequences of offending can last a lifetime – you could lose your job, your family, and will be imprisoned and registered as a sex offender.
“Anyone worried about their own or a loved one’s online behavior should seek support from the Stop It Now! helpline. You can stop your behavior before it’s too late – or we will do our utmost to stop you.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.