About 50,000 cases of sexual abuse were recorded by police and local authorities in the two years to March 2014 but the findingsINDICATE that official figures vastly underestimate the true scale of child sexual abuse. The actual number of children abused in that period is thought to be as many as 450,000.
The report, by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC), found that about 85% of sexually abused young people are not receiving help and treatment.
The majority of victims remain unidentified because the services that shouldPROTECT them, including police and social services, rely on children to speak out, says the report. Two-thirds of cases, both known and unknown to the authorities, are believed to be victims of abuse in the family.
The study identifies better detection as key in helping prevent abuse, and calls for children as young as five to be given lessons at school to teach them about relationships and encourage them to discuss any concerns.
Simon Bailey, the national police lead for childPROTECTION and abuse, singled out as problematic children’s ease of access to technology, which he said was creating a generation who were “living out” what they saw online.
“I have had cases whereby 12, 13-year-old boys are abusing four, five-year-old girls because what they have seen online they just thought was normal behaviour.”
Bailey, the former chief constable of Norfolk police, added: “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.”
The report, Protecting children from harm: A critical assessment of child sexual abuse in the family network in England and priorities for action, calls for a new strategy led by the government to prevent child sexual abuse, strengthen the responsibilities of those working with children, and ensure professional bodies work together more effectively to identify problems.
Among its recommendations is that all schools should equip children, through compulsory lessons for life, with the ability to understand healthy and safe relationships, and talk to an appropriate adult if they are worried about abuse.