Child sex abuse much more widespread than official figures suggest, research warns

Study into 'invisible' child abuse finds total number of victims in two years up to March 2014 could be 450,000

Jonathan Owen
Tuesday 24 November 2015 01:22
The study found that two thirds of all child sexual abuse happens within the family
The study found that two thirds of all child sexual abuse happens within the family

Child sex abuse is significantly more widespread than official figures suggest, according to research revealing the troubling scale of “invisible” abuse within families.

Police and local authorities recorded around 50,000 cases of sexual abuse over the two years to March 2014. But the total number of children abused over the same period could be as high as 450,000, the report by the Children’s Commissioner for England found. This means that only one in 8 victims received the vital intervention needed to keep them safe and help to overcome their experiences.

Two thirds of all child sexual abuse happens within the family, with fathers, uncles, stepfathers and mothers’ boyfriends the most common offenders, the report found. Around one in four cases involve “a perpetrator under the age of 18, such as a brother or cousin.”

The extent of abuse remains hidden as “fear, coercion, loyalty to the perpetrator and/or a desire to protect other family members may prevent a victim of child sexual abuse in the family environment from telling anyone.”

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said that while abuse in institutions like schools and care homes was finally being taken seriously, there is now a need to “urgently address the most common form of child sexual abuse - that which takes place behind the front door within families or their trusted circles.”

Responding to the findings, Simon Bailey, chief constable of Norfolk Constabulary and the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s lead on child protection, said: “The scale of abuse identified within the OCC report is horrific and it confirms my belief that the police service has been dealing with the tip of the iceberg.”Jon Brown, NSPCC lead for tackling sexual abuse, said the report “paints a stark picture” of how of how far there is to go to help children abused within the family environment and “who are currently coping alone with this appalling crime.” In a statement, a Government spokesperson said: “This government has made tackling child abuse a priority - we set up the first ever cross-government Child Protection Taskforce to overhaul the way police, schools, social services and others work together in tackling this abhorrent crime. We have also invested an extra £100m to support vulnerable children and we are providing £7m for services supporting child abuse survivors.” They added: “We will carefully consider the recommendations in the report.”

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