Thousands in Yorkshire worried about dark urges phone specialist helpline

Thousands of people in Yorkshire who are concerned about being sexually attracted to children contacted a specialist helpline last year.

The Stop It Now! helpline received more than 12,500 calls in 2020

Trained advisers at Stop It Now! speak to them about their worrying thoughts and behaviours and encourage them to get professional help before they commit a sexual offence.

They also take calls from people who are concerned about how a friend or relative is behaving around children or suspect they are viewing indecent images online.

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The confidential service, which is endorsed by several police forces, had its busier year on record in 2020, as it received more than 12,500 requests for help either over the phone or online. That’s up from 10,700 in 2019.

The Lucy Faithfull Foundation, which runs the service, saw a significant increase in calls from people across the UK after the first national lockdown was imposed in 2020 and it says many of them claim isolation, stress and mental health issues drove them to access indecent images online.

It said 5,260 of the calls made in 2020 came from Yorkshire, including 2,270 from South Yorkshire and 1,950 from West Yorkshire.

That is down from 2019, when the helpline received 6,609 calls from people in the county.

Jennifer, an advisor on the Stop It Now! helpline, said: “People who offend often aren’t who you would expect.

“Feelings of isolation, stress and general uncertainty, over the last year in particular, are often what leads to our callers’ escalating pornography habits, and in turn, illegal online behaviour.

“Obviously for most people these worries don’t lead to offending, but for some people they do.

“Recognising those triggers and warning signs, and reaching out for help, can mean that offending can be prevented.

“We listen and don’t judge, and will help the person on the other end of the line express their worries, as well as suggest practical things that will ultimately help keep children safe It may feel hard to stop, but it is possible, and it is easier to stop with confidential help than on your own.”

Since Stop It Now! was first set up in 2002, it has been contacted by more than 53,000 people looking for help.

Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection, said: “Police are arresting more offenders than ever before and our tools to track down those responsible are better than ever.

“The consequences of being arrested are huge both for the perpetrator and their family and friends.

“Anyone who is having inappropriate thoughts about children, or anyone who believes a family member may be, should seek help from Stop It Now! otherwise they should expect a visit from police officers.”

A spokeswoman for the Lucy Faithfull Foundation said: "The sad reality is that too many people, mostly men, seem to think it is okay to view sexual images of under 18s online. But it is not. Not only is it illegal, but also children have often been harmed in the making of the images and are further harmed when they are viewed again and again.

"The consequences for the viewers, following arrest, are often extremely serious. Most of them were not thinking of any such consequences when viewing online, and live to regret their actions for years to come.

"Loss of job, loss of family, loss of contact with their own children or grandchildren, loss of liberty, ending up a registered sex offender. The Stop It Now! helpline deals with thousands of people each year where some or all of these possible consequences have become a reality."