UK Police recorded more than 200 child sex offences, on average, every day last year, new figures from the NSPCC reveal.
Out of the 73,518 recorded offences including rape, online grooming and sexual assault against children in the UK in 2019/20, police in the South West region registered 5,310 offences – up 38% in the five years since 2014/15.
Where gender and age were recorded, girls were more than four times as likely to be victims. There were 812 offences committed against 15-year-olds, making it the most common age group to be a victim of offences in the region.
Figures showed almost a quarter of recorded offences in the South West of England involved a victim who was aged 10-years-old or under, while 33 offences were recorded against babies yet to reach their first birthday.
A total of 44 out of 45 police forces across the UK provided the NSPCC with the latest data on sexual offences against under 18s after a Freedom of Information request.
The charity said the figures on child sexual abuse show the need for national leadership in response and urged the Home Office to publish and implement its Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy.
The strategy was announced by then Home Secretary Sajid Javid at the NSPCC’s ‘How Safe are our Children’ conference in June last year.
In May the Home Office said it “will shortly publish the first of its kind cross-government Child Sexual Abuse Strategy to improve the UK’s response to tackling this abhorrent crime”. The strategy has yet to be published.
The NSPCC is calling for the needs of children and young people to be at the centre of how authorities respond to child sexual abuse, with a focus on effective prevention and victims having access to timely and specialist support.
NSPCC Chief Executive Peter Wanless said: “The crisis of child sexual abuse is not going away and behind these figures are thousands of children and young people who have reported crimes that can have a devastating impact on their lives.
“Urgent action is needed to prevent abuse and to ensure children are supported to recover when they bravely speak out.
“We need concerted leadership from governments across the UK to implement strategies on tackling child sexual abuse that put the experiences and needs of children at their heart and are effective in preventing abuse and helping young people recover.”
The call comes as an NSPCC report found contacts from young people from the UK and Channel Islands to Childline about sexual abuse in the family tripled during lockdown.
The report published today, ‘The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on child welfare: sexual abuse’, shows there were an average of 23 contacts to Childline per week about child sexual abuse in the home, up threefold since March 23rdwhen lockdown was announced.
Some children told Childline that sexual abuse had become more frequent during lockdown, as they were spending more time with their abuser.
One 17-year-old girl said: “It started during lockdown, about seven weeks ago. Dad touched me and got me to touch him. Today he came into my room and removed his trousers and asked me to do something to him and I did it. I don’t want to live here anymore. I feel I should tell social services about how abusive dad is, but I don’t feel ready to tell them about the sexual abuse part.”
A third of counselling sessions were about abuse in the family that happened over a year ago, with many children talking about it for the first time.
A 15-year-old girl told Childline: “My dad touched me sexually when I was younger and now I have to be home all the time with him and I can’t deal with it. Just being in the house with him is so hard. I am constantly reminded of what he did.”
The NSPCC wants the anticipated Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy to bring Government departments, including the Home Office, Department for Education and Ministry of Justice, together to join up efforts to prevent sexual abuse across society.
It must also respond to the needs of children and young people who have experienced abuse so they are able to access timely, specialist support that meets their needs and helps them recover.
This should include through Child House initiatives where health, policing, social work, therapeutic and other services provide support to children under one roof.
Anyone concerned about a child can contact the NSPCC Helpline for advice on 0808 800 5000. Adult victims of non-recent sexual abuse can also get in touch for support. Childline is available for young people on 0800 1111 or at www.childline.org.uk