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18 March 2019, 06:41
A campaign targeting perpetrators of online child sexual abuse has been launched by police in a drive to tackle the growing problem.
The #StopItNow campaign warns people who groom children or involve them in sexual activity that they will be caught.
Latest figures show that nearly 1,600 crimes where an individual communicated with a child for sexual purposes were recorded by Police Scotland between April 2018 and February 2019, up from 1,400 the previous year.
Police said the perpetrator was arrested and charged in almost 70% of cases in the past year, and investigations remain live in many of the other reported crimes.
The #StopItNow campaign, which will appear on social media channels and outdoor adverts, features an emoji face cracking with messages such as "get ready to kiss your freedom goodbye", "who would employ you?" and "how will it affect your family?"
Assistant Chief Constable (ACC) Gillian MacDonald, lead for Crime and Protection at Police Scotland, said: "Perpetrators of online child abuse are single minded, targeting children using messaging apps.
"This includes crimes of grooming children for sexual purposes, indecently communicating with children and causing children to participate in sexual activity.
"Offenders come from all walks of life, all age groups, and are predominantly men. Their motivations vary.
"Some may not see children as victims, they may not see themselves as abusers. Most don't believe they will get caught.
"As our figures show, the vast majority of those who engage with children for sexual purposes, who groom or attempt to groom will be caught. They will face the consequences of their actions, their families will find out and they will face public exposure."
She urged offenders or those who think they may offend to get help from an organisation such as child protection charity Stop It Now!
ACC MacDonald said that the rise in reported crimes was partly fuelled by the increasing availability of technology but also by increased awareness about the problem following previous campaigns.
Of the 1,600 offences recorded in the last year, 98 were reports of grooming or attempting to groom children for sexual purposes.
The organisation Stop It Now! provides support to people with "problematic sexual thoughts" and who may be at risk of sexual offending, as well as raising awareness about how to protect children from abuse.
Stuart Allardyce, National Manager of Stop It Now! Scotland, said: "This campaign seeks to drive home the message that the online grooming of children and young people is illegal and causes huge harm to the victims.
"There are no grey areas, whether it is sexual conversations with young people online, an attempt to solicit sexual images from them or trying to meet up - all of these things are illegal.
"Our work with men who have committed online offences tells us that many knew what they were doing was wrong - but that they didn't know how to stop.
"Our message is clear - get help."
The £30,000 campaign will run for four weeks from March 18 and will include adverts on Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Google.
Tony Stower, NSPCC Head of Child Safety Online, said: "Social media provides a gateway for sex abusers to target children, using false identities, deception and blackmail, and so it is extremely positive that Police Scotland are focusing more resources into tackling this type of offending.
"However, it is imperative that tech firms are also made to play their part.
"The NSPCC Wild West Web campaign is calling on Government to bring in an independent regulator to enforce a legal duty of care on social networks, which would include them taking proactive steps to tackle grooming on their sites."