There has been a ‘record rise’ in the number of adults seeking help for having sexual thoughts about children, according to a leading charity.
Stop It Now! Scotland, which works to prevent child abuse, said more than 11,000 people had been in contact in the last year to ask for support.
Isolation, unemployment, and escalating pornography habits are among the contributing factors which have led to a record number of adults seeking help from the charity for child abuse thoughts.
The charity, which has a website where people can contact them to admit sexual thoughts, revealed that 11,213 adults got in touch in 2021 – nearly double the previous year.
Stuart Allardyce, Director of Stop It Now! Scotland, said: “We know that thousands of people across Scotland are viewing sexual images of children. They do not conform to stereotypes and can be from any community, background or be any age. They are our family, friends, our workmates, or neighbours.
“The people who end up looking at sexual images of children often do not initially seek it out. For many of those we work with they have been looking at mainstream adult pornography and have become desensitised to it.
“They look for riskier and more extreme images, which can include viewing sexual images of under 18s. This often takes place over a long period of time where boundaries are broken over and over again.
“We are clear with everyone that we work with that it is illegal to look at sexual images of under 18s and children are harmed by it. But there is a way to stop this harmful behaviour.”
According to the charity, the figures revealed that the main factors behind adults having sexual thoughts about children include isolation, unemployment, mental health issues, relationship breakdowns, and escalating porn habits.
Further data revealed that porn consumption overall increased during the pandemic.
Andy, a former offender who sought help via the Stop It Now! helpline, said: “As a 52-year-old man when my marriage ended, I thought my life had ended too. I had always had an issue with pornography from an early age and found it easy to slip into a fantasy world online.
“It wasn’t long before I had gone from regular stuff to illegal, all the time ignoring the warnings and offers of help to stop.
“It wasn’t until I had been arrested and served a prison sentence that I realised that I could not deal with my issues alone and I finally reached out to the Stop It Now! helpline and found that there were people out there that would listen and not judge me.
“Over months I talked to people who could really help me and give me a real insight into why I had offended and my behaviour. After working with them I felt for the first time for years I was in control of my addiction. I’m lucky to have the support of my siblings, who are helping me keep on the right track, but I deeply regret what I did and the harm it caused to children.
“I just wish that I’d had the courage to pick up the phone and call in those dark days. Things could be so different for me now, I would still have contact with my children, old friends and my life would be different in so many ways.”
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.
“In the year ending March 2021 there were more than 9,000 arrests and voluntary attendances for online offences, and we safeguarded and protected over 12,000 children.
“We are committed to targeting the perpetrators of these crimes and bringing them to justice.
“Anyone worried about their own or a loved one’s online behaviour should seek support from the Stop It Now! helpline. You can stop your behaviour before it’s too late – or we will do our utmost to stop you.”