Sexual abuse Facts and statistics

Official statistics, published annually, show the amount of child sexual abuse recorded by authorities in the year. The problem is much bigger than shown in official statistics, as most crimes are not disclosed and/or reported.

Most sexual abuse isn’t reported, detected or prosecuted. Most children don’t tell anyone that they’re being sexually abused. It’s a crime that is usually only witnessed by the abuser and the victim.

1 in 20 children in the UK have been sexually abused

Explanation: Figures based on findings from 11-17 year olds. Young people aged 11-17 were asked whether anyone had tried to make them do anything sexual. Those aged 16-17 were also asked if they had done sexual things with an adult in a position of trust or with an adult when they were still under 16 years.

The 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 does not include non-contact sexual abuse (such as flashing or saying sexual things) or "consensual" sexual activity between adolescents.

4.8% of 11-17 year olds reported contact sexual abuse at some point in childhood (see p.8).

For the source of these figures please see our summary of child protection register statistics in the UK (PDF).

1 in 3 children sexually abused by an adult did not tell anyone

Explanation: Figures based on findings from 11-17 year olds. Young people aged 11-17 were asked whether anyone had tried to make them do anything sexual. Those aged 16-17 were also asked if they had done sexual things with an adult in a position of trust or with an adult when they were still under 16 years.

The 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 does not include non-contact sexual abuse (such as flashing or saying sexual things) or "consensual" sexual activity between adolescents.

34% of 11-17 year olds sexually abused by an adult said nobody else knew about it (see p.9).

For the source of these figures please see our summary of child protection register statistics in the UK (PDF).

Over 90% of sexually abused children were abused by someone they knew

Explanation: Figures based on findings from 11-17 year olds. Young people aged 11-17 were asked whether anyone had tried to make them do anything sexual. Those aged 16-17 were also asked if they had done sexual things with an adult in a position of trust or with an adult when they were still under 16 years.

The 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 does not include non-contact sexual abuse (such as flashing or saying sexual things) or "consensual" sexual activity between adolescents.

The 90% figure is not in the published report, but is based on additional analysis of the data.

For the source of these figures please see our summary of child protection register statistics in the UK (PDF).

Over 2,800 children were identified as needing protection from sexual abuse last year

Explanation: 

There were 2,884 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 2014 (or 31 July 2014 in Scotland). This equates to 5% of all the children on child protection registers or the subject of child protection plans. This is based on figures from each UK nation and includes all categories that include sexual abuse. These figures represent children identified and assessed as being at ongoing risk of significant harm from sexual abuse.

Children on the child protection register or subject to a child protection plan due to sexual abuse by nation:

England: 2,210
Northern Ireland: 226
Scotland: 218
Wales: 230

For the source of these figures please see our summary of child protection register statistics in the UK (PDF).


Find out more about the child protection system in the UK

14% of contacts to the NSPCC’s helpline last year were concerns about sexual abuse

Explanation: The NSPCC’s helpline responded to 61,709 contacts in 2014/15, from people who were concerned about a child’s welfare. 8,805 contacts (or 14%) related to concerns about sexual abuse.

The NSPCC’s helpline responded to over 8,800 contacts about sexual abuse last year

Explanation: The NSPCC’s helpline responded to 61,709 contacts in 2014/15, from people who were concerned about a child’s welfare. 8,805 contacts (or 14%) related to concerns about sexual abuse.

People

There were over 11,000 counselling sessions with children and young people who talked to ChildLine in 2015/16 about sexual abuse – this is an increase of 8% since 2013/14

Explanation: 11,398 children and young people contacted ChildLine to talk about sexual abuse.

Sexual abuse includes where the young person has been persuaded/forced by an adult/ older person to take part in sexual activities, or encouraged to behave in a sexually inappropriate way. It includes online sexual abuse such as exposure to sexually explicit images, grooming and sexting.

To find out more see our most recent ChildLine annual report "Always there when I need you": ChildLine review: what's affected children in April 2014 - March 2015.

Disabled children are over 3 times more likely to be abused than non-disabled children

Explanation: Jones, L. et al searched 12 databases for studies that estimated the scale of violence against children with disabilities or that compared their risk of being victims of violence with children without disabilities.

16 studies were identified that provided suitable data about levels of violence against disabled children and 11 studies were identified that looked at risk.

By pooling together the data from these studies, the researchers were able to estimate that:

  • 26·7% of disabled children experienced some type of violence
  • 20·4% of disabled children experienced physical violence
  • 13·7% of disabled children experienced sexual violence.

Compared to their non-disabled peers, disabled children were estimated to be:

  • 3·68 times more likely to experience some kind of violence
  • 3·56 times more likely to experience physical violence
  • 2·88 times more likely to experience sexual violence.

There were over 3,000 counselling sessions with young people who talked to ChildLine last year about online sexual abuse – this is an 11% increase on 2013/14.

Explanation: There were 3,149 counselling sessions with young people who specifically talked about online sexual abuse concerns such as being exposed to online sexually explicit images, sharing sexual images/message and grooming to ChildLine in 2014/15.

To find out more see our most recent ChildLine annual report "Always there when I need you": ChildLine review: what's affected children in April 2014 - March 2015.

For the source of these figures please see our summary of child protection register statistics in the UK (PDF).

People

Over 36,000 sexual offences against children were recorded in the UK last year

Explanation: There were a total of 36,429 sexual offences against children recorded by the police in England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland for 2013/4. Some offences are against children under 16 and some offences are against children under 18.

Sexual offences against children include: sexual assault; rape; sexual activity involving a child; abuse of position of trust; abuse of children through prostitution and pornography; sexual grooming.

Child sexual abuse costs the UK £3.2bn a year

Explanation: This is an estimated cost for 2012. It is difficult to calculate exact costs because child sexual abuse can take a number of different forms, and can affect victims in a number of different ways. This calculation is based on costs for health, criminal justice service, services for children and loss of productivity to society.

Nearly 30,000 registered offenders have been convicted of offences against children.

Explanation: The Violent and Sex Offender Register (ViSOR) is a UK wide confidential database of sexual, violent and dangerous offenders, or potentially dangerous people, who are living in the community under the supervision of the probation service. Government statistics do not separate between those who have offended against adult and child victims. However, in response to a written question, the then Home Office Minister Jeremy Browne stated that, as at 6 September 2012, there were 29,837 offenders whose details were on the Violent and Sex Offenders Register (ViSOR) Dangerous Persons Database who had convictions against children (aged under 18).

These figures only include people who have committed offences since the introduction of the Sex Offenders Act 1997.

For the source of these figures please see our summary of child protection register statistics in the UK (PDF).

Over a third of sexual offences recorded by the police are against children

Explanation: 64,200 sexual offences were recorded by the police in England and Wales in 2013/14. 23,772 (37%) of these offences were carried out against children under 16 years. 

There are 9 sexual offences which relate specifically to children under 16. These are:  rape of a male or rape of a female child under 16, rape of a male or rape of a female child under 13, sexual assault of a male or a female child under 13, sexual activity with a child under 13, sexual activity with a child under 16 and sexual grooming.  There are a further two sexual offences which include children up to the age of 18: abuse of a position of trust of a sexual nature and abuse of children through prostitution and pornography. 

See also: NSPCC (2015) How safe are our children? 2015 Indicator 4

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