Rising number of child sexual abuse crimes are being committed by children
Half of child sexual abuse offences reported to police in 2022 were crimes committed by children, a landmark report has found.
Previously around a third of recorded crimes were classed as child-on-child – those aged 10 to 17 committing offences against other children – but in 2022 this rose to 52% in what police called “a growing and concerning trend”.
This included what is classed as “exploratory online sexual behaviours”, but also serious sexual assaults including rape.
The three most common offences were sexual assault on a female, rape of a female under 16, and taking, making or sharing indecent images.
Data from 42 police forces in England and Wales showed that a total of 106,984 child sexual abuse offences were reported to police in 2022, up 7.6% on the previous year and up from just over 20,000 recorded in 2013.
Researchers found that 73% of the crimes were committed directly against children, while the remainder involved indecent images.
Around a third of all crimes committed directly against children involved abuse within families, and experts believe it will take years for the full scale of abuse committed during the pandemic to become known.
On average, victims of this kind of abuse take 17 years to report it to police, and it it feared that many crimes are going unreported.
The report said: “This challenging time of isolation and lockdowns meant there were fewer opportunities for authorities, teachers or friends to identify abuse signs.
“It’s highly likely that many of these crimes are going unreported and hidden for years.”
Abuse by gangs, ranging from sharing images to physical abuse, made up 5% of reported cases, while 32% were online sexual abuse.
The report also found that some perpetrators are using artificial intelligence and “deep fake” technology to create indecent images of children.
Ian Critchley, National Police Chiefs Council lead for Child Abuse Protection and Investigation, said: “Child abuse is an appalling crime, and this analysis helps us understand more widely the growing challenges we are all facing nationally not least young people growing up today.
“We also know that sadly reported crime remains significantly lower than the actual crimes of child abuse that take place with the Independent Inquiry [into Child Sexual Abuse] reporting one in six girls and one in 20 boys will be abused in childhood, an appalling statistic and one we must all seek to change.
“This analysis will help police and our partners develop and improve our prevention, disruption, and investigation of these appalling crimes against children.”
Greater need for education
Wendy Hart, deputy director for Child Sexual Abuse at the National Crime Agency, said: “As this report shows, the scale of child sexual abuse continues to increase year on year.
“It highlights that this is a largely hidden crime, and the NCA estimates that there are up to 830,000 adults in the UK that pose some degree of sexual risk to children.
“We also know from our collective analysis that the severity of offending has increased, as have the complexities faced by law enforcement in tackling it.
“We are now seeing hyper-realistic images and videos of abuse being created using artificial intelligence, for example, while the rollout of end-to-end encryption by technology platforms makes it a lot more difficult for us to protect children.
“Alongside our policing partners and Ofcom, we are working closely with industry to ensure platforms have adequate safety measures designed in, and that our collective ability to tackle the threat keeps pace with technology.
“With over half of reported crimes involving child on child abuse, there has never been a greater need for education in this space.
“Children, parents, carers and professionals can find information, resources and advice produced by the NCA’s dedicated education programme at www.thinkuknow.co.uk.”
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