Charity launches new film highlighting the severe consequences of online grooming

With more than one in four (28 per cent) of UK adults regularly speaking with people they do not know online, a child protection charity has released a new online film warning adults engaging in sexual conversations with under 16s that this behaviour is illegal and has severe consequences.

Beyond the harm done to children groomed, these consequences include irreversibly damaging the adult’s relationships with loved ones, and a potential prison sentence.

The new online film, Spotlight, is part of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation’s Stop It Now! campaign, which offers support to anyone worried about their own or someone else’s sexual thoughts about or behaviours towards children via its free and confidential helpline.

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It aims to shine a light on this confronting subject, giving clear information about the law and consequences associated with online grooming.

Its release comes after a survey of 2,558 UK adults found more than half (55 per cent) who speak to strangers online are not confident that they know the age of the other person. Furthermore, when asked what they would do if they were to find out that the person they’re speaking with was a minor, 11 per cent men over the age of 25 stated they wouldn’t immediately stop the conversation.

Though not illegal for an adult to have an online conversation with someone under the age of 16, in the UK it is illegal for an adult to engage in sexual communications with someone under 16 – also known as online grooming. In the past two years, the Stop It Now! helpline has seen a 64 per cent increase in the number of people making contact concerned about either their own or a loved one’s online grooming behaviours.

The campaign provides a number for those who wish to seek help for themselves or a child's safetyThe campaign provides a number for those who wish to seek help for themselves or a child's safety
The campaign provides a number for those who wish to seek help for themselves or a child's safety | Stop It Now!

No excuses

Similarly, the NSPCC recently warned that online grooming is at an all-time high, with an 82 per cent rise in reported incidences over the past five years.

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Dr Alexandra Bailey, senior practitioner with The Lucy Faithfull Foundation, registered forensic psychologist and a lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, said: “The adults who have sexual conversations with children online come from all walks of life and backgrounds. Their motivations vary. Some are sexually attracted to children, but most are not. Some are actively seeking to cause harm and distress and to exploit the children they target, but most don’t think about the impact of what they do.

“Some of the men we work with tell us that their illegal online behaviour was a way of coping with difficult issues in their lives. They would chat to people online, including children, as a way to deal with their own feelings of loneliness, difficulties within their relationships, or as a way to deal with stress and negative feelings.

“The internet became a way to escape from their problems and find a ‘quick fix’ to feel better. There can be many different reasons why people offend online, but there are no excuses. To prevent harmful and illegal behaviour and protect children, we must recognise these reasons and help people to stop the behaviour and ensure it stays stopped.” 

The survey found 44 per cent of UK adults agree it can be difficult to determine what constitutes as an instance of online grooming. Furthermore, more than a third (37 per cent) said they wouldn’t know what to do if someone they knew was engaging in inappropriate or sexual conversations with a child that’s under 16.

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Child sexual abuse prevention expert and Director of Stop It Now! UK & Ireland, Donald Findlater, says: “Our message to all adults having online conversations with anyone under 16 is to be crystal clear about your boundaries and the law. These are your responsibility. Online sexual conversations with under-16s are illegal – no ifs, no buts, no excuses.

“The Online Safety Act represents a major step forward to proper child safety on the internet and this reinforces our message to those offending online that there is no place to hide. So, to anyone needing support to manage their boundaries and change their online behaviour - contact the Stop It Now! helpline for confidential help and advice.”

To find out more and watch Stop It Now!’s new ‘Spotlight’ film, click here.

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