Six police forces across Eastern England have launched Operation NetSafe in May 2017 in a bid to tackle online viewing of child sexual abuse images.
In October last year, National Police Chiefs' Council lead on Child Protection and Chief Constable of Norfolk Police, Simon Bailey, announced that more than 100,000 individuals from across the UK were regularly accessing indecent images of children (IIOC) online.
The operation is being conducted in partnership with child protection charity, The Lucy Faithfull Foundation. Their staff, including former probation officers, social workers, psychologists and police officers, help prevent child sexual abuse through work with victims, families and sex offenders themselves.
The foundation also works with the public to help them play their part in protecting children via the UK-wide 'Stop it Now!' campaign. This directs offenders, potential offenders and their concerned loved ones to a confidential and anonymous helpline and online self-help resources, enabling them to address any concerning behaviour.
Operation NetSafe represents a new, multi-agency approach to address demand for child sexual abuse images by bringing together the detection and law enforcement work of the police with the prevention work of The Lucy Faithfull Foundation and 'Stop it Now!'.
The operation will include a public awareness campaign using traditional media, social media, posters and other public relations activities to communicate key deterrence messages to offenders and potential offenders. Messages will include: children in the images are real children who are abused each time their image is viewed; that there are severe consequences for those who view such images, including arrest, loss of job, prison, family or relationship break-downs and being put on the Sex Offenders Register.
Welcoming the launch of Operation NetSafe in Eastern England, Norfolk's Chief Constable and National Police Chiefs' Council Lead for Child Protection, Simon Bailey said: "Police services across the UK are dealing with an unprecedented volume of child sexual abuse reports, including online indecent images and these numbers continue to rise.
"Child sexual abuse is a crime and so is possessing images of that abuse. Often offenders convince themselves that as the images already exist there isn't a victim as they don't have direct contact with the children or young people involved. But these children were abused and exploited to make these images and are further victimised every time those images are viewed.
"Police forces are responding to the threat, and we have to consider different approaches such as rehabilitation and treatments as well as prosecution to deal with offenders to ensure children are safeguarded.
"I am delighted that Norfolk and the other five police forces in the region have joined forces with the charity the Lucy Faithfull Foundation.
"Together, we are committed to protecting the most vulnerable in our communities and to put a stop to online child sexual abuse and exploitation."
Donald Findlater, Safeguarding Consultant at The Lucy Faithfull Foundation, commented: "Too many men seem to think that it is alright to view sexual images of under-18s online. They may do this as part of an adult pornography habit; or they may have an established sexual interest in children that needs addressing urgently. But whatever the reason, they need to stop and stay stopped.
"In our work with those arrested for such viewing and sharing sexual images of children online, we often hear that they did not think they were doing any harm. But the reality is that the children in the images were typically abused when the image was first taken; and they are re-abused every time that image is viewed.
"Police are increasing their capacity to tackle this crime. The chances of getting caught have never been higher. The consequences of getting caught can be severe for families and for offenders themselves. Those offending online must not bury their heads in the sand. That knock on the door will come if they do not stop their illegal and harmful behaviour.
"For those men who are struggling with what they see as an addiction to pornography, including sexual images of under 18's, confidential and effective help is available from Stop it Now! via 0808 1000 900 or by visiting the Stop it Now! website at www.get-help.stopitnow.org.uk.
"Children deserve nothing less than that all agencies and members of the public work together to keep them safe from sexual abuse."
In just one year, more than 1,800 people from across Eastern England have sought help to stop looking at sexual images of children. 131 people from the region called the Stop it Now! helpline with concerns about their online behaviour; and a further 1,691 people from Eastern England visited the Stop it Now! website seeking help for their own online behaviour, or that of a loved one.
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