Around one in five adults in England and Wales experienced a form of child abuse before they turned 16, official figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show.
According to the ONS’ Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), in the year ending March 2019, an estimated 8.5 million adults aged 18 to 74 years had experienced abuse before the age of 16.
This covers a range of offences and could include the emotional abuse of someone saying they were threatened as a child, through to experiences of rape, a spokesman for the ONS said.
It also estimated that 3.1 million adults aged 18 to 74 years were victims of sexual abuse before the age of 16 (2.4 million women and 709,000 men). This is equivalent to around one in 13 adults aged 18 to 74 years.
However, many cases of abuse remain hidden, with one in seven adults who phoned the NAPAC’s helpline saying they had not told anyone about the abuse before.
Alexa Bradley, of the Centre for Crime and Justice at the ONS, said:
‘Child abuse is an appalling crime against some of the most vulnerable in society, but it is also something that is little discussed or understood. Today’s release is ONS’s first attempt to fill an important evidence gap on this critical issue.
‘Measuring the extent and nature of child abuse is difficult because it is usually hidden from view and comes in many forms. Bringing data together from different sources helps us better understand both the nature of child abuse and the potential demand on support services.’
Andrew Fellowes, public affairs manager at the NSPCC, is calling for the government to conduct a prevalence study.
‘This report shows how abuse blights thousands of childhoods around the country, and the devastating effects it can have into adulthood.
‘But it is also clear from reading this that we simply do not know how many children are suffering right now, hampering our ability to plan and fund services to help them recover.
‘It’s crucial government conducts a prevalence study so we get a true picture of the scale of abuse in the UK. Only then will we know what services are needed to protect and support abused young people.’
This first collection of statistics on abuse suffered in childhood in England and Wales also found that around half of adults (52%) who experienced abuse before the age of 16 experienced domestic abuse later in life, compared with 13% of those who did not experience abuse before the age of 16.
While four in ten adults who were abused before the age of 16 years experienced more than one of emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or witnessing domestic violence or abuse.
The ONS is undertaking a feasibility study to determine whether a new survey could be an effective source of data on the current scale and nature of child abuse and neglect. Findings from this study will be published later in 2020 along with statistics on child abuse and the criminal justice system.
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