NEARLY 400 people from Dorset sought help to stop looking at sexual images of children online in just six months, shock figures have revealed.

Child sexual abuse prevention charity Stop It Now! said the number of people who accessed its anonymous helpline between January and June this year totalled 373 - 100 more than the same period in 2018.

The charity's director said the increasing numbers highlight "the scale of the problem" but show people "want help to change."

Across the south west, 3,693 people contacted Stop It Now! in the first half of this year, more than doubling last year's figure.

The anonymous helpline is run by The Lucy Faithfull Foundation, a UK-wide child protection charity dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse offline and online. Through the helpline and website, people can understand what triggers their illegal behaviour and get support to stop.

Callers agree actions they can take and helpline operators also discuss the possibility of any direct risks to children, including in their own family, to ensure youngsters are protected. Calls are confidential and anonymous unless identifying details are known and a child is deemed to be at risk of harm.

The helpline also supports adult family members and friends of those offending online, as well as anyone worried about the sexual behaviour of someone they know.

Donald Findlater, director of the Stop It Now! helpline, said: "The growing numbers of people contacting us for help to stop viewing sexual images of under 18s sheds light on the scale of the problem, but also shows that many users of material they call “child pornography” are worried about their behaviour and want help to change.

"And they do need to change. Viewing and sharing these illegal images has enormous consequences for them in the form of possible arrest, imprisonment, being on the sex offenders register, and losing friends and family. There are also enormous consequences for the people around them, family members in particular. More important still are the children in the sexual images who are harmed when they are first made and when they are viewed or shared again.

"These consequences and harms can be prevented by getting in touch with the confidential and anonymous Stop It Now! helpline or through our self-help website. If you’re worried about yourself or anyone around you, help is available. We have already helped tens of thousands address their concerns and behaviour."

In 2018 the National Crime Agency estimated that 80,000 people in the UK pose a sexual threat to children online. Police forces around the country are making hundreds of arrests each month relating to such behaviour, with many going on to contact Stop It Now! and The Lucy Faithfull Foundation.

Contact the helpline on 0808 1000 900.