WARNING: This story contains descriptions of abuse
Child sexual abuse has more than doubled in just five years with 62 youngsters being attacked every week, according to Kent Police figures.
The current crisis is leaving some victims feeling trapped and terrified as Childline counselling sessions about family sexual abuse tripled during lockdown.
Kent Police recorded 3,249 child sex offences in 2019/20 - the equivalent of 62 a week. This is a massive 143% increase on the 1,337 recorded in 2014/15.
Nationally offences have jumped 57% in the last five years, with 73,518 being recorded in 2019/20, which includes rape, online grooming and sexual assault against children.
Where gender and age were recorded, girls were four times more likely to be victims and 14-year-olds reported the largest proportion of offences.
There were 12,374 recorded sex crimes against children under the age of ten and 449 were recorded against babies before their first birthday.
Lockdown has been a particularly difficult time for victims as Childline has been receiving on average 23 contacts per week about child sexual abuse in the home, according to ‘The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on child welfare: sexual abuse’ report published today.
Helen Westerman, head of local campaigns at the NSPCC, speaks to KMTV
This tripling in the number of contacts before March 23 is due to victims having to spend more time around their abuser during lockdown, leading to more frequent abuse.
One 17-year-old girl said: “It started during lockdown, about seven weeks ago. Dad touched me and got me to touch him. Today he came into my room and removed his trousers and asked me to do something to him and I did it. I don’t want to live here anymore. I feel I should tell social services about how abusive dad is, but I don’t feel ready to tell them about the sexual abuse part.”
Many of these children were speaking out for the first time, with a third of counselling sessions being about abuse in the family which happened over a year ago.
A 15-year-old girl told Childline: “My dad touched me sexually when I was younger and now I have to be home all the time with him and I can’t deal with it. Just being in the house with him is so hard. I am constantly reminded of what he did.”
In light of these shocking figures, the charity has urged the Home Office to publish and implement its Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy.
The strategy was announced by the previous Home Secretary Sajid Javid in June last year. Despite the Home Office announcing in May the strategy would be published shortly, this is still yet to be done.
The NSPCC is calling for the prioritisation of children and young people's needs in authority's response to child sexual abuse. This should centre effective prevention measures and timely, specialist support for victims.
The charity also wants the strategy to unite the Home Office, Department for Education and Ministry of Justice in the fight to prevent sexual abuse.
Peter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive, said: “The crisis of child sexual abuse is not going away and behind these figures are thousands of children and young people who have reported crimes that can have a devastating impact on their lives.
“Urgent action is needed to prevent abuse and to ensure children are supported to recover when they bravely speak out.
“We need concerted leadership from governments across the UK to implement strategies on tackling child sexual abuse that put the experiences and needs of children at their heart and are effective in preventing abuse and helping young people recover.”
Detective Chief Superintendent Andrew Pritchard of Kent Police’s Protecting Vulnerable People Command explained that part of the increase could be explained by more reports being made in the wake of high profile cases and a large number of non-recent offences.
He said: "In recent years the media attention around high profile cases and the work we do with the children’s workforce has helped raise everyone’s awareness, and given young people the confidence to speak up about the crimes committed against them. This greater awareness and confidence, along with the introduction of more accurate crime recording techniques and our own proactive work to target and identify those who pose a risk to children, has contributed to the increases in the number of reports made to the police.
"It is also important to note that more than half of the offences recorded in 2019/20 were non-recent crimes that did not happen in the same financial year, with some having occurred several decades earlier. The increase over the five-year period also includes an additional 426 offences relating to sexual activity with a child under 16, mainly relating to sexual intercourse between children who have not yet reached the age of consent.
"With child abuse most likely to occur behind closed doors, it will always be under-reported and we therefore welcome increases in the number of offences being reported. This means we have the opportunity to work with our partners to intervene and protect even more children from harm.
"It has never been more important for people to be vigilant about child abuse and report any concerns to us, as the Covid-19 lockdown has meant far fewer children have been going to the types of places where such abuse is picked up on or where victims have felt safe to speak up, such as in schools and youth clubs. Protecting children is a shared responsibility and while we and our partners have continued to monitor those young people we have concerns about during lockdown, we continue to need the public’s help in coming forward if they think a child is in danger."
The Gillingham NSPCC Service Centre provides therapeutic support for children who have been sexually abused as part of their ‘Letting The Future In’ initiative. Those aged 8 to 17 accessing the service saw their psychological and behavioural problems improve.
Anyone concerned about a child can contact the NSPCC Helpline for advice on 0808 800 5000. Adult victims of non-recent sexual abuse can also get in touch for support.
Childline is available for young people on 0800 1111 or at www.childline.org.uk.