There are grey areas. It’s not me who did it so I’m not responsible. They are smiling so they must be enjoying it.
These statements are all the less palatable when you consider they are excuses used by those looking at child abuse on the internet.
There are many people who think that men and women who commit these crimes cannot be helped.
But the staff at Stop It Now! are not among that number. They can’t be.
For they work for a child protection charity, working towards the prevention and eradication of child sexual abuse and exploitation.
The six-strong Scottish team’s daily routine revolves around trying to change offenders behaviour and making them see that viewing sexual abuse of a child online is not a victimless crime – it’s a serious one which could lead to a prison sentence.
Stuart Allardyce is the director of the Scottish arm of the charity, founded eight years ago.
A social worker for more than 20 years, he has worked on both sides of the spectrum – helping survivors of sexual abuse and those who have commited it.
Stuart admits to being sensitive to those who believe offenders cannot be rehabilitated.
However, he is also in little doubt of the need for the services provided by Stop It Now!
Twelve months ago the charity in Scotland launched its Get Help website, giving people a chance to access self-help material in a bid to help them stop viewing indecent images of children on the internet.
And the figures speak for themselves.
Stuart said: “In the last year, there has been a 400 per cent increase in those accessing the website. And every time we publicise it, there’s a huge spike too.
“That alone shows the need that exists for the services we provide.”
Last year, 1530 people from Scotland visited the website in a bid to stop their own viewing of online sexual images of children or that of a loved one.
Over the same 12 month period, a further 78 men from Scotland called Stop it Now! to get help to stop viewing sexual images of children online.
The charity also holds weekly help groups at its Edinburgh base.
Around 100 individuals attended last year– the youngest was 14 years old and the oldest 72.
Stuart said: “We work with individuals who are concerned about their online behaviour, as well as their family and partners.
“People come from all over Scotland to attend, having contacted our office to get direct help.
“Some individuals have already put a lot of energy into stopping their behaviour; others who approach us perhaps have some ambivalence about what they are doing.
“They will say it’s not them who is abusing the child so they’re not responsible, or there are grey areas and they didn’t know what age the child was or that the children are smiling in the images so they must be enjoying it.
“There are often a set of distortions around their behaviour – so we have to be very clear.
“There are no grey areas. Looking at images of children being sexually abused or exploited is illegal.
“It is not a victimless crime – these images are created when a child is sexually abused or exploited and the children are victims.
“It is not just a crime it is a serious one – you can be arrested and taken into custody for it.”
While some may think these people are beyond help, Stop It Now’s work shows promising results.
Stuart explained: “I’m sensitive to comments about people not being able to change – it’s understandable why people may think that.
“Some of the people we see, there’s a real persistence to their behaviour.
“But our work is evaluated quite rigorously – both on the helpline and in our groups.
“And the majority of people who engage with us do seem to be able to control their behaviour online.
“Some of it is about changing attitudes – individuals sometimes have a set of excuses.
“We make it very clear that there are no grey areas.
“We make them look at their motivations and help them develop healthier lifestyles to make them move away from that.
“There are no two people we see who are exactly the same.
“Some people we work with have watched a considerable amount of mainstream porn but, for some reason, have started to access illegal sites.
“A number we work with have background issues such as stress, depression and social isolation. Others are in relationships but feel emotionally lonely.
“For some, it means cutting off completely from the internet.”
In addition to the 78 men who rang Stop it Now! in Scotland, a further 28 adults from Scotland rang last year to express their concerns about the online behaviour of another adult.
These calls were typically from wives or parents, who Stop It Now! also helps.
Stuart explained: “We work closely with family and partners.
“It can be devastating for them to discover that a loved one has been looking at these kinds of images.
“We work with them to explore their feelings and, if they can, how they can support them through it.
“In some situations, looking at this material might be just another factor in difficulties that already exist in a relationship.
“In others, couples can work together and move through what is a devastating situation. People need to make their own decisions.”
Sadly, some only come to the charity’s attention later.
Stuart added: “We’ve worked with hundreds of men arrested for viewing sexual images of children.
“For many, being arrested was a real wake-up call. Many knew what they were doing was wrong but struggled to change their behaviour – and that’s where we come in.
“But there are thousands of people out there viewing sexual images of under 18s.
“We need to get to them too, to help them understand what they are doing is illegal and incredibly harmful to the children in the images – and to get them to stop.”
Child protection at charity’s heart
The Get Help website – www.get-help.stopitnow.org.uk – is operated by Stop it Now!, a sexual abuse prevention campaign run by child protection charity, the Lucy Faithfull Foundation.
It is the only UK-wide charity focused solely on reducing the risk of children being sexually abused.
The Get Help website offers self-help tools and resources to help users address their behaviour and stop looking at online sexual images of children.
It also provides information and support to partners and friends of people arrested for, or suspected of, accessing online child abuse images.
Stop it Now! is a public education campaign run by The Lucy Faithfull Foundation.
The charity also runs a confidential helpline – 0808 1000 900 – for people seeking help to change their behaviour.
Since 2002 the helpline has provided advice and support to 31,500 callers and emailers, who made 60,000 contacts. Some 55 per cent were from people concerned about their own behaviour.
The charity also runs internet safety seminars for schools and provides training for professionals, parents, carers and other adults.