Police Scotland has launched a campaign targeting sexual predators who groom and abuse children online.
With the coronavirus restrictions in place, the force said increased internet use had created a “period of heightened risk” for child sexual exploitation.
The social media campaign – #GetHelpOrGetCaught – proactively targets men who are either already offending or at risk of offending.
It features a video that challenges behaviour and asks the question: If you wouldn’t do it in the real world, why groom and abuse children in the online world?
Assistant chief constable Duncan Sloan said: “Protecting children from abuse online is one of our top priorities. But we are now living through a period of heightened risk, as people follow guidance and practice social distancing during the Covid-19 outbreak.
“We are acutely aware that people are at home, that they have more time to access the internet and that the potential risk of online child abuse is, therefore, extremely high. This makes our current campaign even more relevant.
“Online child sexual abuse is not virtual, its repercussions are real. Grooming, indecent communication and causing children to participate in sexual activity, are all serious criminal offences.
“Offenders will be identified and arrested and they will face the consequences of their actions: not just a conviction but the potential loss of family, reputation and work/livelihood.
“Abusers are responsible for their actions, it is up to them to take action and stop, to get help or get caught.”
Internet grooming and online child sexual abuse remain a major threat across the UK.
Offences continue to rise with 1694 recorded in Scotland between April 2019 and February 2020, compared to 1573 over the same period for 2018/19.
Police Scotland consulted with partners on the campaign including Stop It Now! Scotland.
Stuart Allardyce, director of Stop It Now! Scotland, said: “Actions that would not be acceptable in real life, are not acceptable online. There are no grey areas.
“Whether it is sending sexualised messages or images to young people, trying to get them to send images to you, or trying to meet up for sexual purposes – all of these things are illegal and wrong.
“Stop It Now! Scotland provides help to people who are worried about their sexual thoughts, feelings or behaviours towards children.
“We work with men who have committed online offences and many of them tell us that they knew what they were doing was wrong – but that they didn’t know how to stop.
“If you are already talking to children or young people online, asking for images or seeking to meet them, or are feeling the urge to do so, please reach out to us for confidential and anonymous help.
“It is not only victims of the crime that suffer. Families of groomers are often devastated by the actions of their loved ones and this can have a life-changing impact.”
If you need help – or know someone who does – call Stop It Now! Scotland’s confidential helpline on 0808 1000 900.