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Tackling and preventing child sexual abuse: positive steps from the government

October 3, 2023
Lucy Faithfull Foundation

“We must not leave it to children to protect themselves, and we’ll be working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

[First published on ecsa.lucyfaithfull.org]

The Home Office has published a welcome and bold new strategy that sets out its “ambition to prevent, tackle and respond to all forms of child sexual abuse.” The UK is a world leader in efforts to tackle child sexual abuse [1], and a published national strategy like this has never been seen before.

To protect children effectively right now, all three components in that ambition are vital: tackling and responding to child sexual abuse after it has happened means children are rescued and made safe, and perpetrators of abuse are held accountable, including through prosecution, treatment, and ongoing monitoring and management in the community.

But by bringing prevention centre-stage, the government is committing to actions that will avoid harm to children in the first place, saving the huge impact abuse has on children, families, and wider society.

Prevention is better than cure

That’s why we’re delighted to see the support in the strategy for the work of several UK charities, including our own efforts to prevent offending, emphasising the government’s commitment to the effectiveness and importance of prevention:

“We will support national and local initiatives to divert people away from offending, including by continuing to invest in The Lucy Faithfull Foundation’s Stop It Now! campaign and services and its confidential helpline. We will support the organisation to expand the signposting and reach of its services, focusing on at-risk groups, high-risk online environments, and impactful settings in the local community.”

Last year we worked with more than 6,570 people who contacted us over 12,480 times through our confidential helpline, secure emails and live chat. This is 11% more people and 16% more contacts than in 2019.

We support people concerned about their own sexual thoughts towards children and young people; adults concerned about another adult; adults concerned about the sexual behaviour of a young person; as well as professionals and survivors. Every call is an opportunity to protect a child today or prevent harm tomorrow. Continuing and expanding our work is vital for ensuring the safety of children.

Preventing online offending

Our online offending deterrence campaign, now in its sixth year, tackles the growing problem of online child sexual abuse, deterring people from viewing sexual images of children and from having sexual conversations with under 16s and directing them to the confidential help we provide to stop their criminal behaviour. But it also engages with people on the cusp of offending, helping them not to start.

The campaign has been featured in 1,100 pieces of media coverage and its six hard-hitting promotional films have been viewed over 20 million times. The enthusiasm and support of those in law enforcement, health, faith, probation and prison services have been an essential component in our impact and reach so far, demonstrating just how important such partnerships are and will be.

Independent evaluation shows that our campaign and resources reach individuals offending online who aren’t yet known to the police, helping them change their online behaviour to prevent continued offending and harm to children. This work has had a real impact so far, but scaled up it can protect so many more children.

Preventing harmful sexual behaviour among young people

Around one-third of child sexual abuse is carried out by under 18s, so any prevention strategy needs to include this issue. Often the circumstances, drivers and means of help and prevention for under 18s are different from adult offending. That’s why it’s great to see the strategy also talk about our work to prevent harmful sexual behaviour in children and young people, and the Home Office’s support in the creation of our toolkit to help parents, carers and professionals recognise and respond to worrying behaviours in children and young people, with signposting to help and support.

Protecting children during Covid-19

The strategy comes as the pandemic poses huge challenges for all aspects of our lives, including keeping children safe. Some children are at increased risk of harm – some being kept at home with people who might hurt them, and others spending more time online and unsupervised – so in an environment where we know, there is a significant risk.

“We know that Covid-19 has had a profound impact on our society,” said Home Secretary Priti Patel. “The pandemic has created significant challenges for frontline services, and measures implemented to stop the spread of the virus have potentially increased the risk of child sexual abuse online and within the home.”

That’s why the strategy is a positive starting point, but it’s now for all of us – governments, professionals and families – to work together to keep children safe.

Deborah Denis, chief executive of The Lucy Faithfull Foundation, said: “We welcome this strategy that builds on evidence collected and insights gained over recent years. But we also recognise that now the real work must begin on its implementation. We will work with the Home Office to support developments stemming from the strategy, including continuing to press for cross-government department action and seeking evidence of these being developed and implemented. We must not leave it to children to protect themselves, and we’ll be working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

[1] https://outoftheshadows.eiu.com/

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