Belfast Telegraph

Child abuse: Media coverage of high-profile cases has given more children courage to seek help

Neil Anderson is head of service for NSPCC Northern Ireland
Neil Anderson is head of service for NSPCC Northern Ireland

By Neil Anderson

Over the last few years the news agenda has been flooded with reports of large-scale sexual abuse including the horrendous actions of Jimmy Savile and accounts from victims giving evidence to the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry here.

While the figure of 718 ongoing sex abuse investigations by the PSNI is a stark statistic which highlights, to a degree, the scale of this heinous crime, the figures need to be seen in context.

There is reason to believe that media coverage of high-profile cases may be encouraging victims to come forward in the confidence that they will be believed.

Changes to the child protection reporting systems in Northern Ireland have also made it easier for victims to disclose abuse.

We also know that sexual offences involving children and young people reported to the PSNI over the last decade have shown an increase from 875 in 2002/03 to 1,182 in 2012/13.

This should not necessarily be taken to mean that there has been an increase in child abuse.

More and more children and young people are demonstrating the courage and confidence to come forward and report the abuse they have suffered.

It is important also to look into the nature of these reported cases and their relationship with the offender.

The majority of offenders will be known to the victims, many of them will be peers, with the abuse by strangers making up 30% of reports to the police.

We have also recently seen coverage of child sexual exploitation - this is an emerging issue for our young people, as are the risks in the online world.

All of these factors suggest that we must redouble our efforts to help educate children and young people to keep them safe, empower them to seek help and ensure that all cases are investigated thoroughly and those who prey on and abuse vulnerable children and young people must be prosecuted.

An increase in reporting abuse should be welcomed.

We also need to ensure that young people and their parents can access sources of help when they need it. Statistics tell only one part of the story.

But they also remind us of what we still have to do in this important journey to protect our children and young people from harm.

  • Neil Anderson is head of service for NSPCC Northern Ireland

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