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Child sex abuse convictions up 60% in six years
An expert in cases involving abuse has welcomed news that the number of people convicted of sex offences on children under the age of 16 in England and Wales has risen by nearly 60% in six years.
Mark Hatzer, a partner at Fentons Solicitors LLP, was commenting after a BBC freedom of information request to the Ministry of Justice revealed that 1,363 people were convicted in 2005 and 2,135 in 2010.
“While any news of a rise in the number of offenders being convicted of these types of crimes is of course welcome,” said Mark, “it is important people recognise that these figures are in fact quite small considering the scale of child abuse that currently exists in the UK and across the world.
“Child abuse sadly remains a grossly under-reported crime,” added Mark. “It is difficult to assess whether these figures indicate an increase in the number of sex offences against children, or whether they merely reflect a raised awareness of what constitutes abuse as well as the fact that victims are now more willing to report cases then they perhaps would have been in the past.”
Child protection groups attribute the increase in the number of convictions to better detection and raised awareness of child sex abuse, suggesting the rise could also be due to the courts, which are now increasingly likely to find offenders guilty despite the difficulties involved in prosecuting cases given the absence of witnesses.
“Although it is encouraging that more people, both adults and children, now have the confidence and awareness to come forward and report cases of abuse to the police and relevant authorities,” said Mark, “it is unfortunately still the case that most children who are sexually abused do not report it. Indeed, recent research by the NSPCC suggests a terrifying one in 20 secondary school children have been sexually assaulted.”
Other figures released to the BBC by the Ministry of Justice reveal a staggering 23,000 sexual abuse offences were reported to police in England and Wales last year and 281 cases in which people were convicted of meeting a child following sexual grooming on the internet, since it was made illegal in 2004.
Criminal justice agencies have introduced a raft of measures designed to support victims of abuse throughout investigations right up to giving evidence at trial. These can include court appearances from behind screens or via video link as well as special interview suites located in police stations or sexual assault referral centres. Other measures include the Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme - where parents can discover if anyone their child has been in contact with is a convicted paedophile - which was rolled out to police forces across the country earlier this year.
“Thankfully, the concerted efforts of agencies such as the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) continue to see major gains in our ability to protect children from sex offenders,” said Mark. “While it is of course comforting to hear of the success of those working so hard to combat the scourge of sexual abuse against children, it is crucial we persist in doing everything we possibly can to promote awareness and pursue offenders.”
How can Fentons help?
Fentons has a specialist department experienced in helping victims of abuse.
If you would like to talk to one of our experts in confidence then please contact us on 0161 684 6643 or 0161 238 6440.
Read more: Guardian
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