The number of child sex offences recorded by the PSNI last year (2016/17) in the North of Ireland rose to 1,875, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) has revealed.
On average, more than five sexual offences against children were recorded every day against children in Northern Ireland with the figures showing that 40 of the alleged victims were aged just two years old or younger.
Across the UK the number of offences rose to a record 64,667 in 2016/17, a 15 per cent increase on the previous year.
In Northern Ireland the total number of offences rose from 1,809 to 1,875.
The PSNI figures obtained by the NSPCC found that officers recorded crimes including rape, sexual assault and grooming against children. And in 2016/17, 178 child sex offences were flagged as having an online element – up from 139 the previous year.
The total number of sex offences committed against children is unknown, as more children may not have come forward out of fear or embarrassment, or may not even realise they have been abused.
The NSPCC believes increases in offences recorded could be down to a number of factors: Police forces improving recording methods; survivors feeling more confident in disclosing abuse following high-profile cases and online groomers becoming a significant problem with predators able to reach hundreds of children.
The NSPCC in Northern Ireland is calling for more support to be made available to front-line police officers to help raise awareness of safeguarding procedures and tackle child sex offences, especially online.
But it is also vital that children feel able to come forward to disclose abuse. The NSPCC’s Speak Out Stay Safe programme visits primary schools across Northern Ireland to help children learn the signs of abuse in an age appropriate way, and what to do if they have been victims of such abuse.
The NSPCC’s education team is also currently piloting the ground-breaking Keeping Safe programme in schools across Northern Ireland. The preventative education project aims to embed information into the curriculum about keeping safe from all forms of abuse and bullying, including cyber bullying, to ensure that children are given the knowledge and skills they need to keep themselves safe.
Colin Reid, Policy and Public Affairs Manager for NSPCC Northern Ireland, said: “This rise in recorded sexual offences is extremely concerning and shows just how extensive child abuse is.
“These abhorrent crimes can shatter a child’s life, leaving them to feel humiliated, depressed, or even suicidal. That is why it is crucial every single child who has endured abuse and needs support must get timely, thorough help so they can learn to rebuild their lives.
“These new figures suggest the police are making real progress in how they investigate sex offences against children. To help them tackle the issue we must ensure the police are equipped to work with other agencies and provide ongoing support and training to officers on the front-line.”