Nearly 3,000 'non-recent' child sex abuse cases reported in four years
The PSNI has recorded more than 2,700 cases of 'non-recent' sex offences against children over the past four years, according to child protection charity the NSPCC.
In Northern Ireland the figures have increased from 667 in 2013/14 to 722 in 2016/17 - an increase of more than 8%, the charity said.
The news comes as the charity released the result of a survey of UK police forces which found that more than 60,000 cases of non-recent sexual abuse against children have been recorded by police forces across the UK in the last four years.
'Non-recent' is defined by the police as when the offence is alleged to have occurred more than a year before it was reported, while children are defined as people under 18.
The children's charity believes this steep rise in reporting may, in part, be down to high-profile abuse cases as well as the football abuse scandal which began a year ago this week - and which has seen a dedicated NSPCC Helpline receive more than 2,500 calls.
Last night Neil Anderson, head of NSPCC Northern Ireland, said: "It doesn't matter whether the sexual abuse happened a year ago or 50 years ago, it is never too late to report it.
"It's clear that for far too long, many people who suffered horrendously as children felt they could not speak up, were not believed or did not know who to turn to.
"Although these rising figures paint a worrying picture of widespread abuse, it is encouraging that so many are finally finding their voice in a climate today where they know they will be listened to and supported.
"What's important now is survivors of abuse receive the support they need and that the people who carried out these vile offences are identified and finally brought to justice."
Commenting on the NSPCC statistics, Detective Chief Superintendent George Clarke, head of the PSNI's Public Protection Branch, said: "The Police Service of Northern Ireland regards child protection as a priority and is committed to working with our partner agencies to help keep children and young people safe.
"Although the statistics show the number of incidents of non-recent sexual abuse against children has risen, we believe this rise can be attributed to a number of reasons, including the fact people feel more confident in reporting their concerns to police and an improved, multi-agency approach to tackling this issue.
"We recognise that in every investigation it is necessary for police skills to be combined with those of partners to provide maximum protection for children who are at risk, or have suffered significant harm.
"We are constantly striving to improve the treatment of victims of sexual abuse and to encourage more victims to report offences to the police. I would encourage anyone with any concerns or information in relation to the sexual abuse of children, whether it is historical or ongoing, to come forward and report it to police, so that it can be investigated thoroughly."