Child sexual abuse prosecutions drop by half in four years
Prosecutions and convictions for child sexual abuse have fallen by around half in four years, research by a children’s charity suggests.
Figures obtained by the NSPCC under Freedom of Information legislation showed that the total number of prosecutions in England and Wales fell steadily from 6,394 in 2016/17 to 3,025 in 2020/21.
The number of convictions went from 4,751 to 2,595 in the same period.
Additional figures given to the charity by the Ministry of Justice showed that cases were taking longer to resolve, with the median number of days from offence to completion going from 526 in 2017/18, to 668 in 2020/21.
Anna Edmundson, NSPCC head of policy and public affairs, said: “Young victims of abuse have often lived through unimaginable trauma but many want to share their evidence with a court and prevent perpetrators from causing further harm.
“These figures show young witnesses are being denied this opportunity and those who do go to court experience long delays and inadequate support, which risks retraumatising them further.
“This is utterly unacceptable.
“We call on Dominic Raab to review and reverse the decline in prosecutions and convictions and use the Victims’ Law to tackle the delays affecting child sexual abuse cases going through court, and provide much better support for young witnesses and victims.”
The NSPCC wants increased use of specialist sexual violence advisers who are trained to work with children, of special measures such as pre-recording evidence for court, and of intermediaries to help children while giving evidence.
It is calling for a guaranteed share of the £477 million received by the Ministry of Justice in the Spending Review to tackle the backlog of child sexual abuse cases, and to ensure that a proportion of the £185 million funding for Independent Sexual Violence Advisers pays for “a significant number” who are trained to work with children.
The NSPCC also wants a boost in funding for child houses – centres where a number of specialist workers such as police officers and social services staff are based together.
A Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) spokesman said: “Child sexual abuse cases are some of our most challenging, complex and sensitive cases. They are dealt with by specially trained prosecutors working closely with the police to build the strongest possible cases that meet our legal test.
“The number of these cases prosecuted has increased by 22 per cent in the past year, with most resulting in a conviction.
“We recognise, however, there is more work to do to increase the number of cases going to court. The CPS is working collaboratively with partners across Government to address challenges that arise from when an allegation is made to prosecution.”
The CPS said that, between July 2020 and June 2021, it prosecuted 4,347 individuals for child sexual abuse offences, with an 84.2 per cent conviction rate.
Between July 2019 and June 2020, there were 3,556 completed prosecutions, with an 84.4 per cent conviction rate.
Ian Dean, director of the Centre of expertise on child sexual abuse, commented: “These figures highlight a significant fall in the number of prosecutions and convictions for sexual offences against children, sadly, they are just a snapshot of a worrying long-term trend evident well before the pandemic.
“Our own analysis of data from children’s services and criminal justice has revealed a concerning drop across all services in the identification of and response to child sexual abuse. It is also clear that where children live matters, with prosecution numbers in England and Wales varying by up to five times from region to region. Overall, the consistent picture continues to be that fewer cases are identified by children’s services, and despite a decade of increased recording of offences by police very few result in charge, prosecution or conviction.
“These figures should raise serious concern: not only because they show an already small number getting increasingly smaller, but because these numbers represent such a tiny proportion of the children who are sexually abused each and every year. With an estimated half a million children being sexually abused each year, the cases of child sexual abuse that criminal justice agencies are aware of is just the tip of the iceberg.
“The latest Crime Survey for England and Wales found that only around one in five respondents who had been sexually abused in childhood ever reported their abuse to the police. With children the victims in at least half of all recorded sexual offences this downward trend needs to be urgently addressed. While the Government made a commitment last year to secure improvements with the first ever Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy, we need sustained effort across all services to address the full scale of child sexual abuse and improve our collective ability to protect and support children.”