Sexual crimes against children on rise in England, Wales

Police say internet opens new ways for sexual abuse of child which has risen one third in England, Wales last year

Photo by: Reuters (Archive)
Photo by: Reuters (Archive)

The rotating triangular sign is seen outside New Scotland Yard in central London March 17, 2015.

Reported child sexual offences rose by a third last year in England and Wales, figures released on Wednesday showed, an increase partly blamed on predators targeting victims over the internet.

Police in England and Wales recorded just under 41,500 sexual offences against people aged under 18 in the 2014-2015 period, a rise of one third compared to the previous year.

Police said that the ability of abusers to target children over the internet could be partly behind the increase, as well as changes in procedure and more frequent reporting.

"Changes in police recording and victims' improved confidence in how the police will deal with abuse have played a significant part in the increase in reports to us," said Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs' Council lead for child protection.

"But am I now starting work with academics to consider whether more children are actually being abused," he added.

"The internet has opened up new opportunities for abusers to groom children, view indecent images and watch and direct live sexual abuse of children, and we need to understand the impact of this."

Children's charity the NSPCC, which collated police data to produce the figures, said that online grooming of children was a "huge problem" with predators from around the world trawling online spaces popular with children.

"The methods are sometimes very sophisticated, or they may take a more scattergun approach and target hundreds of children at a time," a spokesman said.

The offences recorded over the period amounted to an average of 113 per day, the bulk of them against girls, and roughly one in five against boys, based on reports where the gender of the victim was recorded.

Britain has been hit by a wave of high-profile abuse cases, involving celebrities as well of gangs of men who groomed and abused children in English towns.

A large-scale inquiry currently underway will examine how various institutions have failed to protect children from sexual abuse, and will consider how the internet facilitates abuse of children as part of its work.