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Huge variations in response to child sexual abuse across the country

A report funded by the Home Office has identified differences in local authority and police response to child sexual abuse.

A new report from the Child Sexual Abuse Centre has looked into the trends of CSA and found that while the level of abuse recorded seems to have remained consistent, there are huge variations in the response to it. 

The centre which is funded by the Home Office and hosted by Barnardo's examined recorded data from April 2020 to March 2021.

Around 500,000 children are estimated to experience child sexual abuse each year, with the recorded figures remaining far below this number. 

The police recorded 89,200 CSA offences with more than a third of these being image offences and a further one-third related to rape and sexual assault. 

CSA image offences had risen by 18 per cent on the previous year which the report identified as “the largest single-year increase since 2003/04”. 

2020 has already previously been identified as the worst year on record for the quantity of CSA material identified online. 

This month’s report found that CSA image offences saw the highest conviction ratio, and rape offences the lowest. 

The Online Safety Bill is currently still making its way through the House of Commons. 

The report, however, points towards large regional variation between forces with regards to recording child sexual abuse offences, where 19 forces saw an increased number of offences, 19 saw a decreased number, and the remaining five saw no change. 

The rates of recorded offences relative to the child population were the lowest in London and the South East, and the highest in North East, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber. 

The report said that regional variations are “significant” and that they “require local analysis and response”. 

Two thirds of prosecutions ended in a conviction, a drop from three quarters the previous year - it remains higher however than the conviction ratio for offences against adults. 

Last year, there was a serious case review carried out into Cambridgeshire and Hampshire’s handling of a case where twins took their own lives after having disclosed abuse to the police. 

The review found a lack of joint planning between the two forces, both of which have said they have since improved their response to CSA. 

Local authority data also showed significant differences.

According to local authority children’s services in England, there were 29,640 recorded concerns of child sexual abuse from assessments of children and 16,830 recorded concerns of child sexual exploitation. 

Two local authorities identified no children they were concerned about, compared with five which identified more than 70 per 10,000 children. 

The North East and Yorkshire were found to have the highest rates, and London the lowest.

Usually the recording systems with local authorities will require a single form of abuse to be recorded, meaning neglect or emotional abuse could for example be selected over sexual abuse, if more than one form of abuse is relevant. 

Differences were also present in the placement of children on protection plans by local authorities. As many as a third of local authorities in England placed five or fewer children on a plan - including the majority of Inner London local authorities. Meanwhile, the highest rates were in the West Midlands and Yorkshire. 

Approximately one twentieth of recorded concerns resulted in a child being placed on a sexual abuse protection plan. This amounted to 500 fewer children who were put on these plans compared with two years ago. 

The report said: “There is no reason to think that the prevalence of child sexual abuse differs between regions, but local authorities varied widely in their identification of it”. 

Last month an NPCC-backed welfare impact assessment began looking at the effect of dealing with child abuse and exploitation cases on staff. 

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