'Significant gaps' in data on chiild sexual abuse

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A new report calling for regular data on child sexual abuse and exploitation has been published today.

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Cassandra Harrison, director of the Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse, says the study reveals information gaps in the profiles of victims and perpetrators of child sexual abuse

The Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse has compiled local authority and criminal justice data in England and Wales to conclude that 15 per cent of girls and 5 per cent of boys experience some form of sexual abuse.

However, the study highlights ‘significant gaps’ in data and says that improving understanding of the scale and nature of child sexual abuse is essential to tackling the problem effectively.

The report, entitled ’Measuring the Scale and Changing Nature of Child Sexual Abuse and Child Sexual Exploitation’, finds that recording of key information, including about victims and perpetrators, is often incomplete or inconsistent.

It is impossible to tell whether child sexual abuse is increasing or decreasing, according to the study, as it is unclear whether more is taking place or previously ‘hidden’ abuse is now being reported.

The report also finds that profiles of victims and perpetrators are not consistently recorded, patterns and contexts of abuse are not necessarily established, and data on perpetrators does not identify whether they were single, multiple or serial offenders.

Furthermore, as historical abuse is included in criminal justice data, there is no true figure for the child sexual abuse problem today, the study says.

Concerns that existing surveys do not specifically cover child sexual exploitation are also raised within the report.

The Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse has called on the Government to commission the Office for National Statistics to conduct a regular prevalence study to build a better picture of child sexual abuse and exploitation.

Director of the centre Cassandra Harrison said, ‘Although understanding of child sexual abuse has improved over the years, this study shows that there is not yet a full enough picture; there are significant gaps in knowledge about victims and perpetrators, as well as the nature of the abuse itself.

‘To improve our understanding and get better at fighting child sexual abuse and exploitation we need better and comparative data so we can see what is going on and monitor changes over time. Ultimately this is about protecting children more effectively.’

The study is the first major piece of research to be published by the newly-formed Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse, which was set up with a grant from the Home Office earlier this year, and is led by Barnardo’s.

Today’s report follows a study released yesterday looking at the impact of child sexual abuse on victims, their families and wider society, carried out by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, which was set up by then Home Secretary Theresa May in 2014.

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