One in 14 adults in England and Wales were sexually abused as children, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics, the first research of its kind.
An average of 7% of adults – 11% of women and 3% of men – told the annual Crime Survey of England and Wales that they were sexually assaulted during their childhood, after questions about child abuse were introduced to the research for the first time.
The findings suggest 567,000 women aged between 16 and 59 and 102,000 men in the same age bracket suffered “sexual assault by rape or penetration” as minors, in figures described as “utterly staggering” by campaigners.
John Flatley, from the ONS’s crime statistics and analysis department, said police forces in England and Wales had been dealing with a growing number of reports of child abuse in recent years. “Many of these have been historical cases reported by adults many years after the event,” he said. “These new ONS estimates, based on asking adults to recall abuse experienced during their childhood, provide a more comprehensive picture than has previously been available.”
An spokesman for the NSPCC said including historical abuse in ONS figures was an important step towards gauging the true level of child abuse in England and Wales, but that it was important not to lose sight of the vulnerable children being targeted today or the “cycle of historical abuse [would] rear its ugly head in the future”.
The spokesman said: “Whilst it’s crucial that those who have suffered are heard and the perpetrators of these awful crimes are brought to justice, the authorities’ primary focus must be on identifying those who are enduring abuse right now; helping them rebuild their lives, and catching offenders to stop them from inflicting even more harm.”
The Crime Survey for England and Wales, formerly known as the British Crime Survey, is used to estimate crime levels and asks people aged 16 and over about their experiences of crime in the last 12 months. Apart from sexual abuse, 9% of adults who took part in the survey said they had suffered psychological abuse and 7% physical abuse as children, while 8% said they had witnessed domestic violence or abuse at home.
With the exception of physical abuse, women were more likely than men to report abuse during childhood. This was most marked when it came to sexual assault, where women were four times as likely as men to be a survivor of such abuse during childhood.
Survivors of sexual assault by rape or penetration reported that the perpetrator was most likely to be a friend or acquaintance (30%) or other family member (26%). For other types of sexual assault, the perpetrator was most likely to be a stranger (42%). For sexual assault by rape or penetration, male victims (15%) were three times more likely than females (4%) to report that they had been abused by a person in a position of trust or authority, such as a teacher, doctor, carer or youth worker.
Perpetrators of psychological and physical abuse were most likely to be a parent, with 35% of psychological abuse survivors saying the culprit was their father and 40% saying it was their mother, while 39% of those who said they had been physically abused said the culprit was their father and 29% said it was their mother.
Three in four victims also said they did not report what had happened at the time, with the most common reason given being “embarrassment or humiliation, or thinking that they would not be believed”.
The report also noted that older people were more likely to report being abused than younger people, but added: “It is difficult to determine whether this indicates a reduction in the prevalence of child abuse in more recent years or whether it is due to survivors being more willing to disclose past abuse the further in time they are away from the experience.”
The government minister for vulnerability, safeguarding and countering extremism, Sarah Newton, said the government was determined to stamp out all forms of abuse against children. “Having a comprehensive national picture of the scale of these types of crimes is crucial to tackling the problem and protecting our children and young people in the future and I welcome the Office for National Statistics’ report,” she said.
“This government has done more than any other to lift the lid on non-recent child sexual abuse and ensure the mistakes of the past are not repeated, including establishing the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse. We have also increased funding for violence against women and girls’ services to £80m between now and 2020.
“But we are not complacent and know more must be done. Today’s figures reaffirm just how important it is that we continue to work to end child sexual abuse, create an environment where victims can report abuse without fear of not being believed and give survivors the ongoing support they need.”
A spokesperson for the Home Office said more and more perpetrators of child sexual abuse were being brought to justice. In the year to December 2015, 8,593 defendants were prosecuted for child sexual abuse-related offences, up from 7,536 – a rise of 14% on the year to December 2014. In the same time period 5,940 were convicted, up from 4,982 – an increase of 19% on the number of convictions in 2014.
Barnardo’s chief executive, Javed Khan, said abuse and exploitation of children must be “dragged from the shadows and placed firmly in the spotlight, to prevent future generations of children becoming victims”. He said: “The sheer scale of those who reported witnessing or being abused as children is utterly staggering. It is everyone’s responsibility to keep children safe.”
QotD: “One in 14 adults in England and Wales were sexually abused in childhood – survey”