Recorded child sex abuse cases increase by more than 30%
Police believe that while it is true more victims are coming forwards there is also an increase in abuse driven by technology – and 80% of the abuse is of girls
Cases of recorded child sexual abuse increased by more than 30% last year, figures suggest. Police chiefs fear the rise is being driven by predators searching online for victims.
A total of 45,456 child sexual offences were recorded across the United Kingdom last year, an average of 124 a day.
Nearly 11,000 victims were under 10 years old and 2,409 were aged five or under, according to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), which surveyed every UK police force using Freedom of Information laws.
Chief constable Simon Bailey, who is in charge of combating child sexual abuse in England and Wales, told the Guardian that the increase was caused by an increase in attacks, not just because victims were more willing to trust the police and report them.
Bailey, chief constable of Norfolk police and National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection, said: “We are seeing exponential increases is in the reporting of abuse year-on-year … Do I think there are more people with the sexual interest in children in the population? Probably not.
“What there is, is a greater ability for them to fulfil the desires. Technology has opened up new opportunities for people to do that.”
Since the publicity around the Jimmy Savile case began in 2012, there has been more reporting of cases to the police, better record-keeping and increased confidence by those attacked to seek justice. But campaigners and police fear that the full extent of the rise may also be explained because of more sexual attacks on children taking place. “I can’t help but think there is more of it,” Bailey said.
He said the internet provided new opportunities for predators, including to groom children, view indecent images and even to watch and direct the live sexual abuse of children. In 1990 it was estimated that there were approximately 7,000 indecent images of children circulating in the United Kingdom while now the estimate is that there are 100m indecent images of children in circulation.
Bailey cited the case of footballer Adam Johnson, who is facing jail for sexual activity with an underage girl, which involved the exchange of messages via smartphones. “Without mobile technology could he have done what he did with the 15-year-old girl? It would’ve been a lot more difficult.”
He added that talks were being held with internet service providers and software companies to see if more could be done to protect children.
Campaigners and police estimate only one in eight sexual attacks on a child is reported.
The NSPCC’s figures indicate that there were 32,675 sexual attacks or assaults on girls, compared with 8,387 on boys, meaning young females were four times more likely to be victims.
Alan Wardle, head of policy at the NSPCC, said: “Child sexual abuse is about abuse of power. Victims are cowed into silence. They are told they will not be believed, that it was their fault. The internet has given predators the opportunity to find and abuse children in a new way.”
The NSPCC’s chief executive Peter Wanless said: “This dramatic rise is deeply worrying and shows just how extensive this appalling crime has become, claiming many victims every day, every hour. Sexual abuse can shatter a child’s mental health. It can leave them anxious, depressed and even suicidal. That is why it is crucial every single child who has endured abuse [receives] support.”
Bailey said that there had been some success in dealing with cases but its impact left terrible damage. “Police have improved our response to sexual abuse and every single day we are safeguarding children at risk, investigating offences and bringing abusers to court,” he said.
“However by the time the report comes to us, the damage is done, so colleagues working in social care, education and health need to work together to stop abuse before it happens. Police work will continue but we ask everyone to help us by being alert to signs of abuse and sharing any concerns however small they may seem.”
An NSPCC spokesman said: “Online predators may trawl social networks, online game environments and other areas popular with children to build trust with young people and exploit any vulnerabilities they discover. The methods are sometimes very sophisticated, or they may take a more scattergun approach and target hundreds of children at a time.”
The charity has launched a campaign called It’s Time, urging the government to increase funding and to ringfence money for support services for children who have been abused.