No one knows the real scale of child sexual abuse* in the UK. Some  believe that it is close to 1 in 3 children (ie 33% of boys and girls) who will suffer from some form of sexual abuse before they reach the age of 18.  The European Commission set out a campaign in 2010 called “1 in 5”, based on their view that 20% of children have been victims of sexual violence.  Others say 1 in 4. The precise numbers are irrelevant to the bald fact that child sexual abuse is rampant across every part and social strata within the UK.

There have been numerous research exercises using sampling techniques. In 2000, NSPCC published a report stating that 16% of children (11% boys and 21% of girls) suffered from sexual abuse before the age of 16. The majority of children who experienced sexual abuse had more than one sexually abusive experience.

Three-quarters of sexually abused children do not tell anyone about the abuse at the time, and around a third still have not told anyone about their experience(s) by early adulthood.
(NSPCC Research: Cawson et al. 2000 Child Maltreatment in the UK: A Study of the Prevalence of Child Abuse and Neglect).

  • 1% per cent of all children experienced sexual abuse by a parent or carer
  • Another 3% per cent of all children experienced sexual abuse by another relative during childhood.
  • 11% of children experience sexual abuse by people known but unrelated to them.
  • 5% of children experience sexual abuse by an adult stranger or someone they have just met.

* Child sex abuse includes penetration of a child’s mouth, vagina or anus by a penis (rape), penetration by a part of abuser’s body or another object, sexual touching, masturbation, indecent exposure, use of children in or showing children pornographic films or pictures, encouraging or forcing children into prostitution or encouraging or forcing children to witness sexual acts (Sex Offences Act 2003).

Who are the perpetrators?

These detailed statistics and sources were compiled by the NSPCC Child Protection Awareness and Diversity Department in December 2007.

  • A study which examined police data on rapes committed against children found that children under the age of 12 were the most likely of all those aged 16 and under to have reported being raped by someone they knew well Children under the age of 12 were least likely to have been raped by a stranger . Children between 13 and 15 years of age were the most likely to have reported being raped by an ‘acquaintance’. Harris, J. and Grace, S. (1999) A question of evidence? Investigating and prosecuting rape in the 1990s (PDF) Home Office Research Study 196. Home Office. p.7.
  • For the children who experienced sexual abuse in the family, the most common perpetrator was a brother or stepbrother:
  • 38% of penetrative/oral acts of sexual abuse in the family were by a brother/stepbrother
  • 23% were perpetrated by a father
  • 14% were perpetrated by an uncle
  • 13% were perpetrated by a stepfather
  • 8% were perpetrated by a cousin
  • 6% were perpetrated by a grandfather
  • 4% were perpetrated by a mother.

For other forms of sexual abuse (attempted penetrative/oral acts, touching, voyeurism/pornography and exposure) brothers were also the most frequently cited perpetrator.

Very few children (less than 1%) experienced abuse by professionals in a position of trust, for example a teacher, religious leader or care/social worker.

Source : Cawson, P. et al. (2000) Child maltreatment in the United Kingdom: a study of the prevalence of child abuse and neglect. London: NSPCC. p.80 and p.81.

The Government’s Deputy Children’s Commissioner (Sue Berelowitz) recently highlighted her evidence from her detailed report into child sexual exploitation. She says that the problems featured in Rotherham (and Rochdale, Oxford and other towns across the UK) are evidenced across the country, and that there is a “culture of denial”. Berelowitz also notes that the 1,400 cases in Rotherham were all related to Child Sexual Exploitation, but that 90% of cases are within the home (ie intra-familial abuse) and hidden. She concludes that “Society is just coming to terms with the scale of the abuse. We need to mount a public information campaign like that done about seatbelts and get money for therapy”.

One must ask — why isn’t this being done?