The number of people contacting a helpline to stop them or someone else from viewing child abuse images online has more than doubled in the past year.
A total of 165,225 people contacted Stop It Now! on the phone or online with concerns about their own behavior or that of a loved one in 2021, up from 79,868 the previous year.
This included 2,714 users of MindGeek sites, the company that owns Pornhub, who visited the helpline’s website after receiving a warning about finding sexual images under the age of 18.
Those seeking help said increased isolation, unemployment and an increase in the amount of pornography they watched had fueled delinquency.
Donald Findlater, director of Stop It Now! helpline, said: ‘Most of the time the tens of thousands of people in the UK who view child sexual images online do not conform to stereotypes – they are our friends, family, our neighbors and colleagues.
“Many of the people contacting our helpline simply started looking at mainstream adult pornography sites.
“Some do not know the law and need it to be clarified. A few struggle with a long-standing sexual interest in children and think that looking at “only pictures” is a way to deal with that interest.
“Everyone should know that viewing sexual images and videos under the age of 18 is illegal; that the children suffer from it; that grave consequences await those involved; but that our helpline and website offer anonymous, confidential support and advice on how to stop and stay stopped.
A growing number of young men are contacting the helpline, which is run by the child sexual abuse prevention charity, the Lucy Faithfull Foundation.
Michael Sheath, child sexual abuse prevention expert for the helpline, said: ‘There are a lot of stereotypes about what a typical offender looks like, but the people we talk to are not not always what you expect.
“Often they are ordinary people, whose feelings of isolation, stress and general uncertainty, over the past year in particular, have led them down a dark path.
“We are currently seeing an increase in the number of young men seeking help, usually as a result of habitual pornography consumption which, over time, has led them to search for illegal content online.
“Recognizing these triggers and warning signs, and asking for help, can mean delinquency is prevented.
“It may seem difficult to quit, but it is possible, and quitting is easier with confidential help than on your own.”
In the year to March 2021, police arrested more than 9,000 people for viewing child abuse images online and protected more than 12,000 children.
The National Council of Chiefs of Police’s Child Protection Officer, Deputy Chief Constable Ian Critchley, said: ‘Behind every one of these images is a real child who is being abused, and every sight only creates no 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 asks for help.
“The tools we use to track those responsible are better than ever and will continue to develop in response to new technologies.
“We are committed to targeting the perpetrators of these crimes and bringing them to justice. If you think you can’t be found, you’re wrong.
“Like the harm done to victims, the consequences of an offense can last a lifetime – you could lose your job, your family, and be imprisoned and registered as a sex offender.
“Anyone who is concerned about their own online behavior or that of a loved one should seek help from Stop It Now! help line. You can stop your behavior before it’s too late – or we’ll do everything we can to stop you.