A recent report from the Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse has highlighted the significant gap between the number of children subject to sexual abuse and the identification by statutory agencies.

Recent statistics show that 2,290 children were under support through Child Protection Plans (CPP) for sexual abuse in the year to March 2023. This marks a 9% decrease from the previous year and represents the second-lowest figure recorded in the 29 years this data has been published.

However, experts warn that far more children are suffering sexual abuse, with these statistics not coming to official agencies’ attention.

Based on the available survey evidence, the report estimated that 1 in 10 children in England and Wales experience sexual abuse before the age of 16, with approximately 500,000 children in England alone facing sexual abuse annually.

The report suggests that when a child on a CPP is suspected to have been a victim of sexual abuse, a different primary category is likely to be recorded.

Research from the Children’s Commissioner indicates that according to police data among the children who are victims of sexual abuse, more were classified by children’s services as being cases of ‘neglect’ or ‘emotional abuse’, as opposed to sexual abuse.

Understanding the scale and nature of sexual abuse is crucial to improving responses.

Not naming sexual abuse on the CPP may reduce the likelihood that the child can receive the appropriate targeted response. At a greater level, the decline in numbers risks false assumptions that there is less sexual abuse, which could lead to deprioritising training and support for victims.

Official agency data only offers a very partial understanding of the true extent of sexual abuse.

According to a 2018/19 survey, approximately two-thirds of individuals who experienced sexual abuse before the age of 16 did not disclose their experiences when it was happening.

Only one in 15 instances of contact sexual abuse and one in seven cases of non-contact sexual abuse were reported to the police at the time.

There is a significant gap in identifying and addressing the majority of child sexual abuse cases, emphasising the urgent need for professionals to improve their ability to recognise the potential signs and indicators of sexual abuse.

If you would like to discuss the possibility of pursuing a claim, our abuse claims specialists are on hand to help. We know it can be difficult to talk about your experience but you can be assured that our experts will handle your case with the confidentiality and sensitivity required. We can be contacted through our dedicated abuse line on 0330 134 6430 or, if you’d prefer, you can contact us by email, or use our live chat below.