Editor's Viewpoint: PSNI must lead way on child protection
No right thinking person could fail to be horrified at the revelation that an average of five child sex offences are recorded in Northern Ireland every day.
What a mountain of misery those engaged in this paedophilia are creating. For sex offences are not just crimes of the moment, but continue to destroy lives well into adulthood and even to the time of death.
Child sex offences are classified as crimes against under 18 year olds, but much younger children are assaulted. Forty of the offences were again infants under the age of two and 48 against those yet to reach the age of three. In fact, one third of all the crimes recorded here were against children under the age of 10.
Those are scarcely believable statistics and show the level of depravity involved in these most distasteful of crimes.
However, the frightening aspect of these crimes is that the reported figure does not reveal the true extent of what goes on.
A significant number of young people may be too ashamed to report what happened to them, or may feel that they have no-one to turn to for help. Others may be so young that they don't even realise what has happened to them or are incapable of alerting anyone.
As ever in instances like this, the routine solution put forward is a multi-agency approach. That is fine in theory, but can lead to inertia, a lack of response, as each agency leaves it to the others to press ahead.
It is clear that the PSNI must be the lead agency, although other bodies like social services and schools have a role to play in alerting police to crimes committed or suspected. Bodies like the NSPCC also have a role to play in keeping the prevalence of child sex abuse to the forefront of the public consciousness.
We know that the courts can take a very stern view of sex crimes against children. Yesterday, ex-football coach Barry Bennell was jailed for 31 years at Liverpool Crown Court for 50 counts of child sex abuse.
This approach by the judiciary will be comforting to the public but, as ever, the problem is bringing offenders to justice. Only a fraction of crimes reported result in conviction. That is why it is imperative that the various agencies involved in child safeguarding are constantly on alert and that all information is passed on to the police for investigation and, hopefully, prosecution of those guilty of these most heinous crimes.