More than half of UK public underestimate extent of child sexual abuse, Barnardo’s

More than half of people in the UK underestimate how widespread child sexual abuse is, a leading children’s charity has said.

According to a survey commissioned by Barnardo’s, 55% of adults across the country are unaware of how many children and young people are impacted by the abuse.

Research previously found that one in six of 11-17 year-olds have experienced sexual abuse in their lives, which Barnardo’s said is still thought to be a conservative estimate.

However, nearly a third (31%) of those polled thought child sexual abuse, including contact and non-contact abuse, only affected one in 20 children or fewer.

As well as offences involving physical contact, child sexual abuse also involves non-contact offences such as making a child look at sexual images.

Around one in four (19%) of the 2,000 people who took the YouGov survey for the charity were unable to provide their guess for how many children are affected.

In the year ending March 2019, police in England and Wales recorded 73,260 sexual offences against children.

Barnardo’s said advances in technology such as in gaming and social media have provided abusers with increased mechanisms to access children.

Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan said: “Child sexual abuse is a horrific crime, causing trauma that can last a lifetime.

“This new evidence suggests that adults underestimate how many children are at risk – and we know that even official figures just scratch the surface. Too many children across the UK are slipping through the cracks – unseen, unheard, and unsupported.

“To help keep children safe we need better awareness and understanding of child sexual abuse, among parents, professionals, government, and citizens so we can improve identification and make sure children access the support they need.”

The charity added boys, children under 10 and minority groups – including BAME, LGBT and disabled children – are often missed in safeguarding and risk assessment work.

Research referenced by the charity suggested that children with disabilities are three times more likely to be sexually abused than children without disabilities.

Barnardo’s has called on the Government to prioritise “hidden” and minority group victims of abuse in its upcoming Child Sexual Abuse strategy.

Mr Khan added: “Barnardo’s has been tackling child sexual abuse for more than 25 years, and we know that any child from any community or background can be sexually abused, including by perpetrators who groom children online.

“But some groups are particularly vulnerable and face additional barriers to disclosing their abuse, meaning they are even more likely to miss out on the help they need.”

The charity is raising awareness of the scale of the abuse with a new advert and its “Believe in Me” campaign, launched on Thursday.

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