Reports of child sex abuse in Northern Ireland at highest level ever
Five child sex offences are recorded every day in Northern Ireland, shocking figures have revealed.
Police said 1,809 sex crimes against children were reported here last year - the highest ever level and up 19% on the previous year. The offences included rape and sexual assault.
A total of 777 crimes were recorded against children aged 11 and under - 230 of these were perpetrated against those aged five and under.
But it is feared this could be the tip of the iceberg, as campaigners say many young people may not have come forward because they are afraid, embarrassed or do not realise they have been abused.
Across the UK the figure rose to a record 55,507 last year - an average of one child every 10 minutes.
The figures were released after Freedom of Information requests by the NSPCC.
The charity believes the increase may be partly down to improvements in police recording methods.
It said more people may have been encouraged to come forward by high-profile cases in the news.
Online grooming is also thought to have made it easier for predators to target multiple children.
Colin Reid from NSPCC NI said: "These figures speak for themselves regarding the extent of this problem and the urgent need to protect children against these appalling crimes.
"Sexual abuse can shatter a child's life and leave them feeling ashamed, depressed or even suicidal.
"Now, more than ever, victims need support as soon as possible to help them recover from their ordeals and go on to lead full and happy lives.
"Government here must commit funds to early intervention programmes that better help these children who, through no fault of their own, are enduring so much pain.
"Given the increasing prevalence of online offending, we need to ensure children and young people are enabled to protect themselves and we urge the new Executive to take forward the e-safety strategy." The charity is calling for the Executive and Government departments to prioritise putting in a place a public health approach for the prevention of child sex abuse.
It has also called for effective resources to be made available for the police to tackle online offending.