The public has been urged to play their part in keeping children safe from abuse during the coronavirus lockdown.
Police and a child protection charity have warned that spending more time at home is likely to lead to an increased risk of child sexual abuse in Northern Ireland.
It comes as incidents of viewing of indecent images of children and online grooming are increasing.
They are promoting the Stop It Now! UK and Ireland campaign urging a greater awareness of the law and consequences of offending, as well as appealing for everyone to do what they can to protect children.
Head of the Police Service NI’s Public Protection Branch, Detective Chief Superintendent Anthony McNally, said children as well as those who pose a danger to them are spending more time online during lockdown.
He described those who pose a danger to children as viewing and sharing sexual images of those under 18, or engaging children in sexual conversations and behaviour.
“Figures released today show that 1,460 people from Northern Ireland contacted the Stop It Now! helpline and self-help website in 2019 to address their risky and illegal behaviour,” he said.
“However when online offending takes place police will take robust action against those involved in suspected criminal behaviour.
“In 2019/20, detectives in the Police Service NI’s Child Protection Team carried out 87 searches and made 47 arrests in relation to this devastating crime, with 121 searches and 79 arrests in 2018/19 and 158 searches and 87 arrests in 2017/18.
I would ask all parents and carers to think about what steps they are taking to supervise their children and grandchildren to help them stay safe onlineDominic Findlater
“Through the Stop It Now! confidential helpline and website people can understand what triggers their illegal behaviour and get support to stop for good.
“The confidential helpline and website also provide support and advice to parents and professionals concerned about child sexual abuse.”
Donald Findlater, director of the Stop It Now! helpline, added: “There is much we can all do to protect children. I would ask all parents and carers to think about what steps they are taking to supervise their children and grandchildren to help them stay safe online, to check online for the latest advice and information, and to ask for help if they’re ever unsure.
“I would also ask those individuals viewing increasing quantities of adult pornography – how are they ensuring they don’t step over a line and start viewing sexual images of under 18s? Because this is the route the majority of viewers of sexual material involving children have taken. Viewers of this illegal material may make excuses to themselves, but the material is against the law, children are harmed in its creation and viewing, and there are grave consequences facing those who are arrested.”
The Stop It Now! Website www.stopitnow.org.uk provides self-help information to people worried about their own online offending and also to their families or friends.
The anonymous and confidential helpline number is 0808 1000 900.