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Conversations with strangers: launching our new film Spotlight to deter online grooming

22 November 2023

With research finding that more than one in four (28%) UK adults regularly speak with people they do not know online, today we are pleased to announce the release of a new online film warning adults engaging in sexual conversations with under-16s that this behaviour is illegal and has severe consequences.

Beyond the harm done to the children groomed, these consequences include irreversibly damaging the adult’s relationships with loved ones, and a potential prison sentence.

In the spotlight

The new online film, Spotlight, is part of our Stop It Now! campaign, which offers support to anyone worried about their own or someone else’s sexual thoughts about or behaviours towards children via its free and confidential helpline. The film aims to shine a light on this confronting subject, giving clear information about the law and consequences associated with online grooming.

Its release coincides with new data that shows more than half of adults (55%) who speak with strangers online are not confident that they know the age of the other person. Furthermore, when asked what they would do if they were to find out that the person they’re speaking with is under 16, 1 in 10 (11%) men over the age of 25 stated they wouldn’t immediately stop the conversation.

Though not illegal for an adult to have an online conversation with someone under the age of 16, in the UK it is illegal for an adult to engage in sexual communications with someone under 16 – also known as online grooming.

Grooming at an all-time high

In the past two years, the Stop It Now! helpline has seen a 64% increase in the number of people making contact concerned about either their own or a loved one’s online grooming behaviours. Similarly, the NSPCC recently warned that online grooming is at an all-time high, with an 82% rise in reported incidences over the past five years.

Many motivations but no excuses

Dr Alexandra Bailey, senior practitioner with The Lucy Faithfull Foundation, registered forensic psychologist and a lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, says: “The adults who have sexual conversations with children online come from all walks of life and backgrounds. Their motivations vary. Some are sexually attracted to children, but most are not. Some are actively seeking to exploit the children they target, but most don’t think about the impact of what they do.

“Some of the men we work with tell us that their illegal online behaviour was a way of coping with difficult issues in their lives. They would chat to people online, including children, as a way to deal with their own feelings of loneliness, difficulties within their relationships, or as a way to deal with stress and negative feelings. The internet became a way to escape from their problems and find a ‘quick fix’ to feel better.”

“There can be many different reasons why people offend online, but there are no excuses. To prevent harmful and illegal behaviour and protect children, we must recognise these reasons and help people to stop the behaviour and ensure it stays stopped.”

When surveyed, 44% of UK adults agreed that it can be difficult to determine what constitutes as an instance of online grooming. Furthermore, more than a third (37%) said they wouldn’t know what to do if someone they knew was engaging in inappropriate or sexual conversations with a child that’s under 16.

Seek help

As well as causing harm to children and being faced with a prison sentence, engaging in sexual communications with under 16s can have a serious impact on a perpetrator’s friends and family. Kate’s husband was arrested for the offence earlier this year.

Kate, who is a mother of two with her husband and has been married to him for over 15 years, said: “Like every marriage, we’d had difficult years, but we’d gotten through them as a team. I loved my husband, and we had a good relationship filled with lots of laughter. But then he was arrested, and I learned what he’d done.

“Nothing can prepare you for the overwhelming emotions that hit when you find out your partner has been convicted for this kind of offence. It was extremely traumatic. I was terrified of leaving the house and had to get medication from my local GP to try and ease my anxiety.

“To make matters worse, I watched my husband’s mental health spiral after the arrest. He even tried to commit suicide.

“My husband and I have lost a lot – friends, family. It’s been a terrible year. The laughter has gone from our lives. My message to anyone that’s concerned about their own or a loved one’s online behaviours is to please seek help, before your life changes forever.

Contact Stop It Now!

Child sexual abuse prevention expert and Director of Stop It Now! UK & Ireland, Donald Findlater, said: “Our message to all adults having online conversations with anyone under 16 is to be crystal clear about your boundaries and the law. These are your responsibility. Online sexual conversations with under 16s are illegal – no ifs, no buts, no excuses.

“The Online Safety Act represents a major step forward to proper child safety on the internet and this reinforces our message to those offending online that there is no place to hide.

“So, to anyone needing support to manage their boundaries and change their online behaviour - contact the Stop It Now! helpline for confidential help and advice.”

Life changing impact

Wendy Hart, Deputy Director for child sexual abuse at the National Crime Agency, concluded: “Tackling child sexual abuse is a priority for the NCA and UK law enforcement. We see first-hand the life-shattering effect these online interactions can have on victims, as well as the devastation this brings to the family of the perpetrator.

“Stopping online offending taking place in the first place is of course the ideal, and the Lucy Faithfull Foundation carries out an extremely important service in preventing this criminality.

“However, if you do go on to commit abuse, we will work relentlessly to ensure you are arrested and brought to justice. You and only you will be responsible for the life-changing impact your offending has on the victim and your family.”

Watch our new campaign film here.

We are also pleased to see more than 150 pieces of coverage for this year's campaign launch including:

The Independent

Daily Mail Online

The Standard

The Herald

Yahoo! News UK


If you’d like to find out more about our campaigning work to deter online child sexual abuse, please contact

If you would like to donate to help us continue our groundbreaking work to prevent child sexual abuse, click here.

Get involved

If you’d like to find out more about our campaigning work to deter online child sexual abuse, please contact

If you would like to donate to help us continue our groundbreaking work to prevent child sexual abuse, click here.

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