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.

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.

People

Over 3,000 children were identified as needing protection from sexual abuse last year

Explanation: There were 3,100 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 2015 (or 31 July 2015 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: 2,340
Northern Ireland: 260
Scotland: 250
Wales: 250

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

See also Indicator 14 in How safe are our children? 2016.

Find out more about the child protection system in the UK.

13% of contacts to the NSPCC’s helpline last year were concerns about sexual abuse

Explanation: The NSPCC helpline responded to 54,865 contacts in 2015/16, from people who were concerned about a child’s welfare. 6,990 contacts (or 13%) related to concerns about sexual abuse.

See also Indicator 8 in How safe are our children? 2016.

The NSPCC helpline responded to nearly 7,000 contacts about sexual abuse last year

Explanation: The NSPCC helpline responded to 54,865 contacts in 2015/16, from people who were concerned about a child’s welfare. 6,990 contacts (or 13%) related to concerns about sexual abuse.

See also Indicator 8 in How safe are our children? 2016.

People

There were over 10,000 counselling sessions with children and young people who talked to ChildLine in 2015/16 about sexual abuse

Explanation: 10,067 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.

See also Indicator 7 in How safe are our children? 2016.

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 and plan statistics in the UK (PDF).

People

Over 47,000 sexual offences against children were recorded in the UK last year

Explanation: There were a total of 47,008 sexual offences against children recorded by the police in England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland for 2014/5. 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.

See also Indicator 4 in How safe are our children? 2016.

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.

Statistics on child abuse

View statistics and information on child abuse and neglect in the United Kingdom.
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Research and resources

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