THE BLOG

What Explains the Astronomical Increase in Reports of Sex Offences Against Children?

09/03/2016 08:20 GMT | Updated 09/03/2017 10:12 GMT

Since the watershed moment when we discovered the extent of the utterly repulsive crimes committed by Jimmy Savile the number of reported sex offences against children has almost doubled.

In the year before the harrowing revelations came to light in October 2012 there were 22,664 sex crimes against under- 18s recorded by police forces in England and Wales. These included rape, grooming and sexual assault, with many victims under school age.

But last year (2014-15) this figure rose dramatically to 41,457 - over 100 a day - with nearly one in four aged ten or younger.

Why this astronomical increase, which has been uncovered by the NSPCC through a series of Freedom of Information requests to all 45 police forces in the UK?

It's probably a mix of things coming together at a time when the profile of child sexual abuse has never been higher, with celebrity trials of offenders like Rolf Harris, Stuart Hall and footballer Adam Johnson.

There's no doubt more children are having the confidence to come forward and report abuse, which is a massively encouraging sign, particularly as ChildLine is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

It's also positive that police forces are becoming more adept at dealing with such challenging cases - although they would probably admit they are constantly playing catch-up with sex offenders who hide behind technology.

And this is where a large part of the problem lies. The internet offers a myriad of opportunities for predators who seek to harm children.

Last year our ChildLine service provided 3,150 counselling sessions- up 10% on the previous twelve months - for children, as young as nine, who had been targets of or were worried about being groomed online.

It's a terrifying experience for any child who gets snared. One ten-year-old girl who rang ChildLine described how she had been playing an online game with another 'girl' when she suddenly discovered it was in fact a man who demanded naked pictures of her.

A boy of twelve also told our counsellors that an anonymous player on one of his games said he would pay if he sent pictures of himself: "Somebody has to stop him." He pleaded.

As well as the current torrent of cases there is no doubt more adults who were abused in childhood are coming forward to tell their stories.

When the NSPCC set-up a special helpline for the Metropolitan Police during the Operation Yewtree investigation into Savile's crimes among the many hundreds of calls our counsellors took were several from those who had never revealed what had happened to them. Some were ashamed or blamed themselves for the abuse. Others simply wanted to forget or were worried no one would believe them.

One woman who had lived with the 'secret' for more than five decades had been sexually assaulted by her father when she was very young. She rang us because he was still alive and she was worried that he might still be abusing children.

There are, of course a multitude of similar stories, which twenty years ago might have been greeted with derision, but which we all now know carry an element of deep, dark truth about them.

So, if we are to prevent a never-ending cycle of 'non-recent' crimes being brought to light decades after the event we have to take a more pro-active approach to catching sex offenders, which means arming police with better technology and the right level of training.

And for those abuse victims who need support to re-build their lives there has to be commitment from government to provide more help.

This is why we have launched our It's Time campaign after discovering that very few children manage to access a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service after being abused. We continually hear that money is available to increase the number of services but there is no sign that a significant amount is being ring-fenced for children.

It's a tragic state of affairs which was starkly highlighted by one expert in the field who said: "Sadly it's not enough for a child to be sexually abused these days. They need to suffer more before they get help."

See the NSPCC's latest campaign, It's Time