Sexual offences against Northern Ireland children at an 'all-time high'
The number of recorded sexual offences against children in Northern Ireland have reached an "all-time high", according to new figures.
The revelation comes as part of a Freedom of Information (FOI) exercise carried out by children's charity the NSPCC, who contacted police forces throughout the UK, seeking up-to-date data on sexual offences against under 18 year olds between April 1, 2018 and March 31, 2019.
A total of 44 out of 45 police forces across the UK responded to the FOI requests by the charity.
The figures for Northern Ireland reveal that 2,036 sexual offences against children were recorded in the last 12 months, a significant rise of over 34% since 2014/15 when there were 1,516 recorded offences.
The information collated shows that in the last year there were more than 750 reports of sexual offences against children aged 10 or under. The highest single number of cases in that period were among those aged 14 years old - with 263 reports coming from this demographic.
Females in Northern Ireland also made up the bulk of those instances, with 1,454 offences.
Offences reported in the figures were some of the most serious, including rape, grooming and sexual assault. The figures in Northern Ireland equate to more than five sex crimes against a child every day.
The stark increase in reported cases was mirrored across the rest of the UK, with 74,168 cases in England, Scotland and Wales reported in 2018/19 - a 63% increase over four years.
There was also a notable increase in the number of offences involving an online element across the UK, with an 18% increase on the previous year.
While the numbers represent a dramatic rise, the child welfare charity is keen to stress that the increase in recorded sex offences does not automatically reflect a high prevalence of crime, rather the rise can also be explained by greater awareness of the signs of abuse and increasing confidence among survivors to report abuse.
Responding to these figures, Neil Anderson, head of NSPCC Northern Ireland, said: "Record numbers of child sexual offences means we are facing a crisis in the help available for thousands of children.
"These children have the confidence to disclose what happened to them, but in too many cases there is not enough timely, joined up and child-friendly support.
"We need a radical rethink in the way we help these young people, otherwise they could struggle for the rest of their lives with long-term, deep-seated trauma."
The charity is calling for a greater provision of specialised services, tailored to support children who have experienced sexual abuse, with the current provision of services described by the organisation as being "overstretched" and in need of a "radical reshaping of how this support is delivered across the country".