More than 21,000 sex offences against children – an average of 60 a day – were recorded last year, according to figures released by the NSPCC.
A total of 21,618 incidents of sexual abuse were recorded by police between April 2008 and March 2009, including rape, gross indecency and incest. The figures – obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from 43 police forces across England and Wales – show one in seven of the abused children was under 10 while 1,000 were aged five and under.
In three-quarters of the cases, the crimes were committed against 10-17 year olds. Girls were six times more likely to become victims than boys.
However, experts said the real figure of sex offences could be far higher.
“These figures show just how many children are still being sexually abused every day. It’s a shocking picture – even more so because these are only offences reported to the police. We believe the true extent of the problem is far worse,” said Phillip Noyes, director of strategy and development for the NSPCC.
“Some of these children are so young they can’t tell anyone what is happening…
“Even when they are older some children don’t speak out about the sexual abuse they have suffered because they’re scared they won’t be believed,” Noyes said.
The figures also showed that the number of incidents where the offender knew the victim was four times higher than those involving strangers.
The findings follow the news that home secretary Alan Johnson wants to roll out a national scheme which would allow parents to check whether anyone with access to their child has previously been convicted of, or suspected of, sexual abuse.
The so-called Sarah’s Law scheme – proposed after the murder of schoolgirl Sarah Payne by a convicted sex offender 10 years ago – is currently being piloted in Southampton, Warwickshire, north Cambridgeshire and Stockton-on-Tees. Johnson has called early findings “extremely encouraging.”