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Statistics on child sexual abuse

A compilation of the key statistics on child sexual abuse from research and official publications

January 2014

  • 1 in 20 children have been sexually abused.

  • Over 90% of children who have experienced sexual abuse, were abused by someone they knew.

  • 18,915 sexual crimes against children under 16 were recorded in England and Wales in 2012/13.


Research statistics on the prevalence of child sexual abuse

Child abuse and neglect in the UK today (Radford et al, 2011) is a major piece of NSPCC research which interviewed over 6,000 young adults, adolescents and parents of younger children.

Participants were asked whether anyone had tried to make them do anything sexual whilst they were under the age of 18 years. Parents of  children aged under 11 years responded on their child's behalf. Older teenagers and young adults were also asked if they had done sexual things with an adult when they were still under 16 years or with an adult in a position of trust whilst they were still under 18 years.

This research uses a definition of sexual abuse that includes any unwanted sexual activity, as well as criminal sexual activity with an adult, where physical contact took place. It excludes non-contact sexual abuse (such as flashing or saying sexual things) as well as "consensual" sexual activity between adolescents.

The figures below are all based on the reports from young people aged 11-17 years. These reports give us the best picture of the experiences of children today.

  • One in 20 children (4.8%) have experienced contact sexual abuse.

  • Over 90% of children who experienced sexual abuse, were abused by someone they knew.*

  • More than one in three children (34%) who experienced contact sexual abuse by an adult did not tell anyone else about it.

  • Four out of five children (82.7%) who experienced contact sexual abuse from a peer did not tell anyone else about it.

From: Radford, Lorraine, Corral, Susana, Bradley, Christine, Fisher, Helen, Bassett, Claire, Howat, Nick and Collishaw, Stephan (2011) Child abuse and neglect in the UK today . London: NSPCC.

* Not in the published report, based on additional analysis of the data.


Child protection register statistics

  • There were 2,926 children in the UK on child protection registers or the subject of child protection plans under a category that included sexual abuse on 31 March 2012 (or 31 July 2012 in Scotland).

  • 6% of all the children on child protection registers or the subject of child protection plans in the UK were under a category that included sexual abuse on 31 March 2012 (or 31 July 2012 in Scotland).

For a breakdown by nation and the source of these figures please visit our page on child protection register statistics .


Crime statistics on sex offences

England and Wales

  •  18,915 sexual crimes against children under 16 were recorded in England and Wales in 2012/13.

  • 35% of all sexual crimes (53,540 sexual crimes in total) recorded in England and Wales in 2012/13 were sexual crimes against children under 16.

  • In 2012/13 the police in England and Wales recorded: 

  • 5,156 offences of rape of a female child under 16

  • 1,138 offences of rape of a male child under 16

  • 4,171 offences of sexual assault on a female child under 13

  • 1,267 offences of sexual assault on a male child under 13

  • 6,634 offences of sexual activity involving a child under 16

  • 176 offences of abuse of children through prostitution and pornography

  • 373 offences of sexual grooming.

  • In 2012/13 the police in England and Wales also recorded 192 offences of abuse of a position of trust involving a child under 18.

  • More than one third (39%) of all rapes recorded by the police in England and Wales in 2012/13 were committed against children under 16 years of age.

From: Office for National Statistics (2013) Appendix table A4 In: Crime in England and Wales 2012/13: findings from the British Crime Survey and police recorded crime (xls). 

  • Police recorded 22,654 sex offences against children aged under 18 years in England and Wales between April 2012 and March 2013.

  • 5,547 of these sex offences were against children aged under 11.

From: Information obtained by NSPCC from 41 police forces in England and Wales under the Freedom of Information Act. See: NSPCC (2014) Sexual abuse of under-11s: reports to police rise 16% in 2012-13. London: NSPCC.


Offender statistics

  • 40,345 individuals were registered as sexual offenders in England and Wales on 31 March 2012.

The Ministry of Justice does not provide a breakdown of sexual offenders against adults versus offenders against children. Therefore these figures include all registered sex offenders.

From: Ministry of Justice (2012) Table 1. In: Multi-agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) annual report 2011/12 (PDF) . London: Ministry of Justice.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, the NSPCC received further information on registered sex offenders from the National Police Improvement Agency. 

  • 29,837 offenders are on the Sex Offender Register for sexual offences against children


  • 941 offenders on the Register for offences against children have re-offended.

These figures cannot be compared with the total number of registered sex offenders taken from the MAPPA annual report as they relate to a later date in 2012 and more sex offenders were added to the register in the intervening period.

From: NSPCC (2012) Nearly a thousand registered child sex abusers reoffended . NSPCC press release, 18 November 2012. London: NSPCC.

  • 60-70% of child sex offenders target girls only, about 20-33% boys only, and about 10% children of either sex.
  • "The majority of perpetrators sexually assault children known to them, with about 80% of offences taking place in the home of either the offender or the victim."

From: Grubin, Don (1998) Sex offending against children: understanding the risk (PDF) . London: Home Office. pp.v-vi and p.26.

  • Retrospective studies present a broad consensus that between 23-40% of all alleged sexual abuse of children and young people is perpetrated by other young people, mainly adolescents.

From: NSPCC (2013) Harmful sexual behaviour: NSPCC research briefing . London: NSPCC.

Cawson, P. et al (2000) Child maltreatment in the United Kingdom: a study of the prevalence of child abuse and neglect . London: NSPCC.

Horne, L.et al (1991) Sexual abuse of children by children. Journal of Child Law, 3(4): 147-151.

Kelly, L., Regan, L. and Burton, S. (1991) An exploratory study of the prevalence of sexual abuse in a sample of 16-21 year olds. London: Polytechnic of North London, Child Abuse Studies Unit.

Morrison, T. (1999) Is there a strategy out there? In: Erooga, M. and Masson, H. (eds) Children and young people who sexually abuse others: challenges and responses. London: Routledge.

Royal Belfast Hospital and Queen's University of Belfast (1990) Child sexual abuse in Northern Ireland: a research study of incidence. Antrim: Greystone Books.


Children talking to ChildLine about sexual abuse

  • Children talking to ChildLine about sexual abuse
    Mariathasan, Jeevi
    London: NSPCC, 2010
    A ChildLine casenote based on analysis of calls to ChildLine about sexual abuse from April 2008 to March 2009.  Looks at the number of children counselled, additional problems children talk about, types of sexual abuse reported, age and gender breakdown of callers and perpetrators.
  • Calls to ChildLine about sexual abuse
    ChildLine
    London: NSPCC, 2007
    A ChildLine casenote based on analysis of calls to ChildLine about sexual abuse from April 2005 to March 2006. Includes statistics on sexual abuse including who children tell and what happens then, and the victim-offender relationship.

Further reading

People convicted of child abuse image offences
Analysis of 284 cases reported in local and national news of people convicted for making, possessing or distributing indecent images of children.

Sexual and physical violence against children in Northern Ireland: a statistical overview of recorded crime 2008–10 (PDF, 393KB)
Analysis of offences recorded by the Police Service for Northern Ireland (PSNI).

Child protection register statistics
Our annual summary of child protection register statistics for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

How to find, understand and use statistics about child abuse
A brief introduction to child abuse statistics.

Comparing child abuse statistics over time and between countries
Explains the issues around looking for trends in statistics over time, within the UK and internationally.

Thousands of young people committing child sex abuse
Findings from an NSPCC FOI request sent to all police forces in England and Wales.


Contact the NSPCC's information service for further information on sexual abuse, statistics or any child protection topic