Child victims of sexual abuse are waiting more than 600 days to see their attackers brought to justice, figures suggest.
A report by the Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse (CSA Centre) found that in 2021/22 it took an average of 261 days for police to reach a charging decision after a crime was reported, and then another 353 days for the matter to be concluded in court.
That means there was an average of 614 days between the crime being logged and the court case ending.
The report says police logged 103,055 child sexual abuse offences in 2021/22, a rise of 15% to the highest level recorded in England and Wales, but the CSA Centre believes the crimes are severely under-reported.
In England, local authorities also recorded more concerns about potential sexual abuse, with the risk being flagged up in 33,990 assessments of children, a rise of 15% on the previous year.
And sexual assault referral centres, which offer medical and forensic help to victims, had initial contact with 8,213 children during the year, 13% more than in the previous 12 months.
The CSA Centre report says: “Concerningly, the rise in the number of recorded child sexual abuse offences was accompanied by a significant increase in the time it took for investigations and prosecutions to proceed through the criminal justice system.
“Further, large geographical variation in the identification of and response to child sexual abuse remained prominent in 2021/22.
“There is an urgent need for local and national leaders to address these issues.”
The centre says that despite the increase in recorded crimes and assessments, child abuse is under-reported.
Around 500,000 children suffer sexual abuse each year, it estimates.
Ian Dean, director of CSA Centre, said: “Although this report shows encouraging signs of improved identification of sexual abuse by professionals, there remains a long way to go before we can be confident that services are recognising and responding to anywhere close to the actual number of children who are being abused.
“Sexual abuse is a very hidden form of harm which many professionals find challenging to identify and it will take a significant and sustained effort to address this – but it must be a priority.”
The CSA Centre says there is considerable variation between areas of England in terms of how many abuse cases are identified.
In 2021/22, five English local authorities identified no children at the centre of sexual abuse concerns, while seven identified such concerns in more than 70 assessments for every 10,000 children living in the area.
There were higher rates of identification in Yorkshire and the Humber and the North East, while London and the East of England were lower than average.
Sarah Dines MP, safeguarding minister, said: “Child sexual abuse is a horrific, devastating crime which targets the most vulnerable in our society and this Government is determined to tackle it.
“I welcome this report produced by the Home Office-funded Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse, which recognises improvements in identification and reporting.
“However, the prevalence of these heinous crimes is deeply concerning, and we will leave no stone unturned in pursuing offenders and keeping children safe.
“We are putting the needs of victims at the heart of this work, including investing £477 million over three years to reduce court wait times for victims.”
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