10 January 2024

More than half of child abuse reports made against under-18s

10 January 2024

More than half of the reports of child sexual abuse in England and Wales in 2022 were made against people aged under 18, according to police figures.

Analysis by the Vulnerability Knowledge and Practice Programme, created to co-ordinate a collective policing response to protecting vulnerable people, found 107,000 cases were reported – a 7.6% rise on the previous year and almost four times the figure from 10 years before.

One third of abuse came from within the family with at least 32% of cases stemming from online sexual abuse.

The rollout of end-to-end encryption by technology platforms makes it a lot more difficult for us to protect children

While online cases contribute to the 52% of abuse by children aged 10 to 18, the report says the “growing and concerning trend” also includes serious sexual assaults, including rape.

The most common age for those under-18 who are reported of abuse is 14.

Wendy Hart, deputy director for child sexual abuse at the National Crime Agency, said: “With over half of reported crimes involving child on child abuse, there has never been a greater need for education is in this space.

“We 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.”

Around 75% of child sexual abuse and exploitation cases are related to offences committed directly against children, around one in four relate to online indecent images.

The report said the rise in online abuse was “no doubt” partly due to the increase in smartphones and digital devices.

Reports of group-based offences, ranging from unorganised sharing of imagery to more complex, organised cases, accounts for 5% of reported abuse.

Ian Critchley, who leads the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) in tackling child abuse, said the priority must be preventing abuse.

“We must stop abuse happening, preventing the lifelong physical and mental harm it causes,” he said.

“Whilst policing has made significant developments in its approach to tackling child sexual abuse this analysis enables us to review current approaches, continually adapting and developing our service and ensuring that the voices of children and victims are at the heart of everything we do.”

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox