THE BLOG

Only One in Eight Children Who Are Sexually Abused Are Identified By Professionals

04/12/2015 17:46 GMT | Updated 04/12/2016 10:12 GMT

Most of us can recall painful episodes from childhood but overall we remember how happy, secure and carefree we felt; the good memories mostly outweigh the bad.

But a substantial minority of us will bear emotional and in some cases, physical scars, from neglect or abuse.

And of course, thousands of children continue to be abused to this day - this week we published 'Protecting children from harm' which highlights evidence on child sexual abuse that we obtained from every Police force in England.

There were approximately 50,000 victims of child sexual abuse reported to the police in the two years to March 2014. Using a clever and respected statistical modelling technique, we calculated that there could be an additional 450,000 victims who were not in touch with the authorities during this time.

The data and research suggests not only that around one in 20 children suffer sex abuse before they reach the age of eighteen, but also that Police and social services know about just 1 in 8 of those victims.

Our report identifies several reasons for this disparity.

Children are often not able to express properly what's happening to them - they can often feel too afraid or guilty to speak up, or they're not given the opportunity.

Many don't even realise they have been sexually abused until they become adults and reflect on what has happened to them. In fact, our report shows that historically, the overwhelming number of sex abuse survivors only realise they have suffered abuse after they turn 18.

Around two-thirds of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone within the family, a factor which makes it so much harder for children to speak out.

It's an uncomfortable truth, but perpetrators are most likely to be a close family member such as a parent or grandparent, or someone trusted by the family; a friend or a babysitter for example.

In this context children are either forced to keep quiet through threats or coercion, or they say nothing because they are worried about the impact on their own family.

The statistical model we used to generate these figures has previously been used to predict the number of people being subjected to modern slavery in the UK. Like child abuse victims, people who are victims of slavery tend to remain firmly hidden.

In our report we highlight a number of findings from data gathered by all Police forces, the voluntary sector and community groups and the largest ever survey of adult survivors of child sex abuse in the family.

The research revealed three key highlights.

Girls are much more likely to suffer abuse - though males may be under-represented because they are less likely to report abuse or identified - children often don't recognise they have been abused until they are older and professionals working with children need additional support to help them identify victims.

That's why I'm recommending the government develops a strategy to deal with this.

Schools and teachers could play a critical role in identifying and addressing abuse - I want schools not only to make sure all children have age-appropriate lessons for life, so they understand what is and what is not a safe and respectful relationship, but also for teachers to be given the training they need to identify the signs of abuse.

Authorities also need to look at the ways in which they work with children when abuse is disclosed or identified so that the possibility of substantiating abuse and taking effective action is maximised and the potential for re-traumatisation minimised. Finally, it's essential the Police start recording data about the relationship between abusers and victims.

But this report is just the first step - it's all very well having the right torch, but if there are thousands of children being abused in the shadows, first we need to know where to shine it.