There has been a “significant increase” in the number of adults admitting to having sexual thoughts about children during lockdown, according to a leading charity.
Stop It Now! Scotland, which works to prevent child abuse, said more people had been contacting it to ask for support.
The charity works with adults across the country who fear they pose a risk to children, and said youngsters were vulnerable as they were spending more time than usual online while schools are closed.
It has a website where people can contact them to admit sexual thoughts and feelings towards children and seek help.
Stuart Allardyce, director of Stop It Now! Scotland, told STV News: “The data shows us that in the week lockdown began we had a significant increase in the number of people looking for support around that area.
“We worry about those individuals who pose a risk to children online – more children than before are online.
“This is a time when more children are online than ever before, often unsupervised, often anxious and worried about the situation – they could be exploited by people who want to have sexualised conversations with children online.”
STV News spoke to ‘David’, a convicted paedophile who received a community order for viewing illegal images online.
He said child abusers would attempt to exploit youngsters who were not used to spending unsupervised time online.
David said: “These children would not normally be on a chat room or social media and chat with people they don’t know and they are liable now to do so.
“Unfortunately there are a number of people out there who will exploit this and if children are not supervised correctly that is what will happen.”
Stop It Now! Scotland said most offenders they work with often progress from viewing legal hardcore pornography to illegal material.
David warned that progression will happen quicker during lockdown.
He said: “Having been down this route before it would not take long before I or anyone in my position would start looking down that particular path again to view illegal images.”
It’s not just online exploitation that is worrying charities – there are concerns for Stop It Now! Scotland around how safe the home environment may be for vulnerable children.
The NSPCC on Monday said it received more than 1500 calls about child safety concerns between April 13-19.
Mr Allardyce said: “For the vast majority of children home is a safe space, but that’s not always the case, so for those who are confined at home with an abuser – maybe a family member or a close relative, or someone who could abuse them – that’s a worry.”