Helpline highlight: the under-reporting of sexual abuse Contacts to the NSPCC helpline 2011-12

Boy standing outsideThis report looks at contacts to the NSPCC helpline between 1 April 2011 and 31 March 2012 about sexual abuse. It considers the dynamics affecting the under-reporting of sexual abuse.

Part of the Helpline highlight series.

Author: NSPCC

  • Between 1 April 2011 and 31 March 2012, the NSPCC was contacted 5,360 times about child sexual abuse. This was 13% of all calls made to the NSPCC (42,755) during that period.
  • 39% (2,071) of contacts about sexual abuse were so serious they had to be referred to social services or the police.
  • 34% (1,800) of the contacts we received about sexual abuse came from parents or carers. This is a higher proportion than for any other type of abuse (18% of contacts about emotional abuse were from parents or carers, 14% for physical abuse and 12% for neglect).
  • The data on contacts to the NSPCC about sexual abuse support the findings of previous studies that children may be more likely to disclose abuse to close family members and friends rather than to professionals.
  • Adults tend to report concerns about child sexual abuse more readily than other forms of abuse but 33% of callers to the helpline waited over a month. This can have potentially devastating effects for the child or young person.
Introduction and key findings 4
What is sexual abuse? 5
What happens when people contact the NSPCC with worries about a child being sexually abused? 8
What types of sexual abuse do people contact the NSPCC about? 10
Case study: Dylan’s story 10
Case study: Katy’s story 13
Conclusion 16

Helpline highlight series

Helpline highlights is a series of reports looking at why people contact the NSPCC helpline and how we help.

View Helpline highlight series

Looking for something in particular?

Our Information Service can help you find the latest policy, practice and research in child protection.

Call 0808 800 5000 or email for more information.

Submit an enquiry

Other research and resources

Helpline highlight 2012/13: more people speaking out to protect children

Finds an increase in people contacting the NSPCC to help protect children. Part of the NSPCC's Helpline highlight series.
Find out more

Sexual abuse: a public health challenge

Review of the evidence looks at what we know about the causes, prevalence and consequences of sexual abuse.
Find out more

How safe are our children? 2016

How safe are our children? 2016 is the NSPCC's third annual report that compiles and analyses the most robust and up-to-date child protection data that exists across the four nations in the UK for 2016.

Read the report

Helpline highlight: more people contacting the NSPCC with concerns about neglected children

Reports a rise in people contacting the NSPCC who were concerned about children being neglected. Part of the NSPCC's Helpline highlight series.
Find out more


Our Current Awareness Service for Practice, Policy And Research delivers free weekly email alerts to keep you up-to-date with all the latest safeguarding and child protection news.

CASPAR is currently being upgraded but you can still sign up by contacting our Information Service.

Sign up to CASPAR

Information Service

Our free service for people who work with children can help you find the latest policy, practice, research and news on child protection and related subjects.

For more information, call us or email

0808 800 5000

Submit an enquiry

Your donation can take a child anywhere

Research like this helps keep children safe from abuse and free to dream – but we can’t do it without our generous supporters. 

Donate now

Follow @NSPCCpro

Follow us on Twitter and keep up-to-date with all the latest news in child protection.

Follow @NSPCCpro on Twitter

Library catalogue

We hold the UK's largest collection of child protection resources and the only UK database specialising in published material on child protection, child abuse and child neglect.

Search the library

New in the Library

A free weekly email listing all of the new child protection publications added to our library collection.

New in the Library is currently being upgraded but you can still sign up by contacting our Information Service.

Sign up to New in the Library

Helping you keep children safe

Read our guide for professionals on what we do and the ways we can work with you to protect children and prevent abuse and neglect.

Read our guide (PDF)

Impact and evidence hub

Find out how we evaluate and research the impact we’re making in protecting children, get tips and tools for researchers and access resources.

Our impact and evidence

Get expert training and consultancy

Grow your child protection knowledge and skills with CPD certified courses delivered by our experts nationwide and online.
Get expert training

Sharing knowledge to keep children safe

Read our guide to NSPCC Knowledge and Information Services to find out how we can help you with child protection queries, support your research, and help you learn and develop.

Read our guide (PDF)