About 50,000 cases of sexual abuse were recorded by police and local authorities in the two years to March 2014 but the findings indicate 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 should protect 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 child protection 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.”