One in five adults aged between 18 and 74 years old experienced at least one form of child abuse before the age of 16, a report by the Office for National Statistics has found.
Figures taken from The Crime Survey for England and Wales estimated that this equates to 8.5 million people experiencing emotional, physical or sexual abuse or witnessing domestic abuse before the age of 16.
"Many cases of child abuse remain hidden. Around one in seven adults who phoned the National Association for People Abused in childhood's helpline said they had not told anyone about the abuse before," said the report on the extent and nature of child abuse in England and Wales in the year ending March 2019 which bought together a range of data sources including The Crime Survey.
Child abuse is typically defined in four main categories: emotional, physical, sexual abuse and neglect. Child abuse includes offences relating to modern slavery, trafficking, Female Genital Mutilation, Child Sexual Exploitation and witnessing domestic abuse. Abuse may take place in institutions, within families online or technology may be used to enable abuse offline.
The report highlighted:
- Sexual abuse was reported in around two thirds of calls to NAPAC's helpline.
- In the year ending March 2019, ChildLine delivered 19,847 counselling sessions to children in the UK while abuse was the primary concern.
- There were 49,570 children in England looked after at 31 March 2019 because of experiencing or risking abuse or neglect.
- A further 4,810 children were in care in Wales for this reason.
- There were 52, 260 children in England at 31 March 2019 subject to a child protection plan.
- There were also 1,210 unborn children on a child protection plan at 31 March 2019.
- Around half of adults who experienced abuse before the age of 16 also experienced domestic abuse later in life compared with 13 per cent of those who had not experienced abuse.
- Around four in 10 adults who were abused before the age of 16 years old experienced more than one form of abuse.
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. This is the 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," she added.
This collection of statistics on abuse experienced in childhood in England and Wales is the first set which includes data on sexual, physical, emotional abuse and neglect.
Child abuse in England and Wales: January 2020
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