New study on the reporting of child sexual abuse - the ACP responds

Children's commissioner Anne Longfield has commissioned a study which highlights how 85% of child sexual abuse goes unreported. Around 50,000 cases were recorded from April 2012 to March 2014, but the study suggests that the actual number was up to 450,000 and most abuse happens within families or their trusted circles. The government say they are looking at how authorities deal with abuse, but the study found that: 

  • 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

Anne Longfield 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." 

The children's commissioner has called for urgent action from government and more training to help teachers, social services, police and other professionals identify abuse early on. "There are always signs. Children can become withdrawn or show overly sexualised behaviour. If you know the child it will be obvious to see changes in their behaviour," she said.

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 also 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.

An ACP spokesperson said she wants the government to be aware that observing distress and the signs of abuse in children and young people, takes training and experience, but added " children who are suffering, need the space and time to establish a level of trust with a professional. Disturbed behaviour can show itself in a number of ways and one way a child can choose to deal with abuse is to become invisible, in the hope that no-one will notice how different they feel. Taking the time to notice and then respond, is key if professionals are going to be a protective influence in children's lives."

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