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Child sexual abuse helpline sees surge in calls after lockdown restrictions eased

There has been a large surge in calls to a national child sexual abuse prevention helpline, figures have shown.

Between June and August – just after lockdown restrictions were eased – there was a 47% increase in the number of calls to the confidential Stop It Now! Helpline compared to the first three months of lockdown.

Donald Findlater, director of the Stop It Now! helpline, said: “This year has been like no other since the Stop It Now! helpline launched in 2002, and call numbers have never been higher. Covid-19 is causing huge changes to all our lives and increasing the risk of harm to some children.

“We’re getting more and more calls from parents and grandparents concerned about the sexual behaviour of their children or about the risk to them, online and offline. These are difficult issues to deal with, but families have a key role to play in protecting their children from harm, and in noticing concerning behaviours so they can respond quickly and wisely,” he added.

Through the Stop It Now! helpline, anonymous messaging service and website, the public and professionals can get advice and support for their concerns about child sexual abuse and its prevention.

The data shows helpline was contacted by more than 2760 people across the UK with worries about child sexual abuse. However, due to the high demand for services, the helpline missed 6,950 calls and more than 660 people called but were unable to get through. The helpline is now aiming to double capacity by recruiting more advisors to meet this sustained increase in demand.

At the start of lockdown, the helpline saw an 11% reduction in contact compared to the same time last year, as people dealt with extra pressures and a new way of living. But July 2020 was the busiest ever month on the Stop It Now! helpline and it took calls and emails from more than 800 people across the UK.

More than 530 adults, who were worried about another adult’s behaviour, contacted the helpline between June and August, an increase of 51% compared to the start of lockdown.

Calls from parents and carers worried about the behaviour of a child or young person increased even further – the helpline received double the amount of calls from this group (114) between June and August 2020 compared to March to May.

The rise in contact as lockdown restrictions eased is in line with warnings of an increased risk of child sexual abuse because of the coronavirus pandemic. Yet with coronavirus restrictions returning, there are concerns these issues will continue.

Police and charities have been extremely concerned about the increased risk to children during the near-global lockdown. As families spent more time at home, away from schools, health professionals and social workers, and with young people spending more time unsupervised offline and online, the risks are very real.

Donald Findlater, director of the Stop It Now! helpline, said: “With backgrounds in health, counselling, education, social work and psychology, our experienced advisors are on hand to give confidential advice and support to help parents and carers decide on next steps to keep their children safe.

“Demand for the helpline continues to grow, so we are recruiting more advisors to double our capacity. We’ve also just introduced a live online chat service, because we know that some people prefer to get advice, help or support by that way rather than over the phone.

“We aren’t trying to create a drama out of a crisis, but trying to avert one, by ensuring children are as safe as possible. Parents are the first line of defence for their children and deserve all the support they can get,” he concluded.

The Stop It Now! helpline opened in 2002 and is run by The Lucy Faithfull Foundation, the only UK-wide child protection charity dedicated solely to preventing child sexual abuse. Since then, more than 51,000 people have contacted the helpline for support with all aspects of child sexual abuse prevention offline and online, including nearly 6,000 people in the last year.

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