Thousands of child sex abuse cases missed

Nov 23, 2015 by

The prevalence of child sexual abuse in England has been vastly underestimated, particularly within families, a Children’s Commissioner report suggests.

Only one in eight children in England who are sexually abused are identified by authorities, a study suggests.

Police and local authorities found 50,000 cases of abuse in the two-year period from April 2012 to March 2014.

But a report by the children’s commissioner suggests the actual number was up to 450,000, with 85% of cases missed, particularly within families.

The government says it has set up a taskforce to change the way police, schools and social services react.

The report found:

  • Two-thirds of child sexual abuse took place within the family environment or the close circle around it
  • 75% of victims were girls
  • Abuse was most likely to have occurred at about the age of nine
  • Victims often did not speak out until adolescence or later, when they recognised what had happened
  • Even if a child did tell someone, often the abuse did not stop

‘Wake up’

Children’s commissioner Anne Longfield said recent attention and investigations had focused on the abuse children suffered in institutions or by groups of perpetrators.

She said: “We must now wake up to and urgently address the most common form of child sexual abuse – that which takes place behind the front door within families or their trusted circles.”

She called for urgent action from government to prevent abuse, and for more training to help teachers, social services, police and other professionals identify abuse early on.

“Our duty must be to do all we can to ensure it stops, to ensure children get the childhood they deserve.”

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The report – the most detailed analysis of child sex abuse in England to date – examined information from a range of sources, including police and local councils, and surveys from more than 750 survivors of abuse.

It drew on a recent study of child maltreatment, which found 11.3% of young adults aged 18-24 had experienced sexual abuse during childhood, and calculated results based on the 11.5m children and young people living in England.

Norfolk Chief Constable Simon Bailey, who is in charge of police child protection and abuse investigations nationally, said: “The numbers are staggering [but] I’m not that surprised.

“I’ve regularly talked about the level of child abuse reported to police as being the tip of the iceberg.”

Police had made significant improvements in dealing with child abuse reports, but there was still work to do, he admitted.

He said: “Jimmy Savile in 2012 was a watershed moment, for the police service in particular. This now has to be a watershed moment for all agencies involved in child protection.

“We have to fundamentally rethink how we go about stopping abuse of this nature happening on the horrific scale the commission has identified.”

The report calls for a major strategy by government to prevent child abuse, including:

  • To increase the responsibilities of those working with children
  • To teach school children as young as five, in compulsory lessons, about healthy and safe relationships
  • To teach them to talk to an appropriate adult if they are worried about abuse
  • Training teachers to recognise the signs and symptoms of abuse and act accordingly
  • To support children from the moment they disclose abuse. And to have a child psychologist or appropriate intermediary in evidence interviews with the child
  • To make sure all police forces record child sexual abuse-related crimes

The Department for Education said it would “carefully consider” the recommendations in the report.

“[This government] 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,” it said.

“We have also invested an extra £100m to support vulnerable children and we are providing £7m for services supporting child abuse survivors.”

Roy Perry, of the Local Government Association, said the burden of disclosing abuse needed to be taken away from children wherever possible, but “councils cannot do this alone. We need support from a million eyes and ears amongst the public”.

Children’s Commissioners in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland said they had no equivalent figures on abuse.

Source: Thousands of child sex abuse cases missed, report says – BBC News

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