Belfast Telegraph

Alarming increase in reported child sex offences

The number of child sex offences reported to police in Northern Ireland hit a record 1,516 last year.

The "rampant" increase in instances of rape, sexual assault and grooming has been attributed to greater awareness of abuse, child protection experts said. The tally rose by 53% over a period of three years.

High profile evidence at the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) inquiry has encouraged greater numbers to come forward, the NSPCC said.

The charity's Northern Ireland's head of service, Neil Anderson, said: "The continuing rise in reported sex offences against children is deeply worrying and shows what a rampant problem this is.

"The statistic that right now, four children are being abused every day in Northern Ireland is an appalling one, and shows that swift action must be taken to stamp out these horrendous crimes."

The figures were obtained by the NSPCC and cover 2014/15.

It said more than a quarter (27%) of the crimes were committed against children aged 11 and under.

The offences covered by the figures included rape, sexual assault and grooming - the equivalent of one child being abused every six hours.

The number of obscene publications offences involving children increased by 62% to 231 over the last year.

Girls were nearly three times more likely than boys to suffer abuse.

The NSPCC said: "This figure may only be a fraction of the true amount of those who have experienced sexual abuse, as many suffer in silence and are afraid to speak up."

It said the increase in recorded offences over the past three years may be attributed to increased confidence in coming forward following greater awareness about sexual abuse and high profile cases in the media, particularly the Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry.

Recording methods may have improved, along with general vigilance about sexual crimes.

Mr Anderson added: " Sexual abuse can shatter a child's mental health; the cruelty can leave them anxious, depressed, and even suicidal.

"That is why it is crucial that every single child who has endured abuse and needs support must get timely, thorough help so that they can learn how to handle disturbing emotions and behaviours, and rebuild their lives.

"Our It's Time Campaign demands that Government make the mental health of abused children a priority, so that some of the most vulnerable members of our society can start to recover."

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