Sex crime reports soar 20% with victims more willing to come forward
A "greater willingness" of sexual abuse victims to come forward has seen the number of sex crimes recorded by police soar to a 15-year high.
Police forces recorded 106,098 sexual offences in the year ending in March last year - a 20% rise on the previous year and the largest total since new recording standards were introduced in 2002, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
Its report said: "As well as improvements in recording practices, this is thought to reflect a greater willingness of victims to come forward to report such crimes, including non-recent victims."
Over the same period, there was an 8% rise in reports of offences that took place more than 20 years ago compared with the previous year.
The NSPCC called the figures "alarming".
The report, which analysed data from police and the Crime Survey for England and Wales, suggested recording of historical sexual offences had been on the rise since high-profile coverage of police investigations such as Operation Yewtree , launched in 2012 after the Jimmy Savile scandal.
The report comes as HM Inspectorate of Constabulary warned that forces were under-recording reports of crime including violent and sexual offences, but not rape.
The ONS analysis found there was a 22% rise in rape compared with the previous year, to 35,699 crimes, while other sexual offences rose 19% to 70,399.
There were large year-on-year rises in specific offences such as sexual activity involving a child under 16 (31%), sexual assault on a female aged 13 and over (20%), and sexual grooming (51%).
An NSPCC spokesman said: "Sadly we know that child abuse goes on every day, as these alarming figures show.
"However, it is very encouraging that victims now feel confident to speak out about abuse, and are able to come forward in the knowledge that they will be listened to and taken seriously.
"We must never return to the dark days when child abuse was cloaked in a culture of secrecy."
About 2% of adults had experienced sexual assault, including attempts, in the 12 months to March 2016.
Separate figures from the Home Office Data Hub showed 90% of rape victims were women and the majority (78%) of sexual offences were against people under 30.
The ONS said improvements in recording crimes by the police were behind a 27% year-on-year increase in the number of instances of violence against the person to just under a million.
Some 57% of these were without injury and 43% were recorded as causing injury, although these also included attempted crimes.
Overall, there were 571 homicides, including murder, manslaughter and infanticide - an 11% rise on the previous year, the ONS said.
But the number of victims under the age of 16 was the lowest since records began in 1972 - at 38.
Police recorded 880 modern slavery offences in the same period, eight months after legislation creating the new offence came into force on July 31 2015.
Lucy Hastings, director of Victim Support, said: " While the increase in reporting and improvements in police recording practices is to be welcomed, there is still a long way to go to improve the support given to the thousands of victims of violent crime and sexual offences who make the brave decision to speak up and seek justice every year.
"Today's figures also highlight a very concerning perception by many young people who have experienced violent crime, with 37% believing it to be 'just something that happens'. We know from supporting young victims that violent crime can, in fact, have a huge impact on their lives, both physically and emotionally, for many years to come.
"All young people should have access to age-appropriate, exemplary education addressing issues of crime and victimisation so that they know what their options are and the help and support that is available to them."