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Child sex crimes at seven-year high

The number of child sex offences recorded in Northern Ireland has hit a seven-year high, police said.

Around three crimes a day were logged as the total increased by a third in 2013/14.

The NSPCC said the higher profile given to child protection issues recently, which followed a series of revelations about predators like Jimmy Savile, was partly responsible for the spike.

Colin Reid, the charity's policy manager in Northern Ireland, said: "It is a good thing that people are coming forward to seek help. It is not necessarily a sign of increased prevalence.

"There needs to be a public health approach. Sex abuse is preventable. We need to take a slightly different approach.

"It is about empowering young people to seek help, giving them the skills to avoid abuse, ensuring parents are equipped to talk to their children."

According to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), in 2013/14, 1,342 sex offences against victims aged under 18 were recorded. The previous year it was 1,058 and in 2007/8 the total was 929.

Mr Reid said the most prevalent challenge in Northern Ireland was neglect. The number of offences is at the highest level in a decade according to the charity. Within the last six years alone the total soared from 28 (2007/08) to 184 (2013/14).

Neglect accounted for 30 per cent of the child protection registrations in Northern Ireland, the highest category of abuse. PSNI figures for 2013/14 showed an increase of 39 per cent, the NSPCC said.

NSPCC national head for Northern Ireland, Neil Anderson, said: "The continued rise in neglect cases and offences here illustrates that the problem of child neglect is in need of prioritisation of resources, attention and actions.

"Although it's not clear why the number of offences recorded by the PSNI and contacts handled by our helpline have risen so dramatically, it is encouraging that more people are seeking help.

"With more people speaking out about the issue we need to ensure that children, young people and their carers have the support they need and that resources are made available by the Northern Ireland Executive."

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