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Child sex abuse cases take 'an average of 614 days' to conclude

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.

It currently takes more than 18 months for a child sex abuse case to reach its conclusion, according to a new report which found that police in England and Wales recorded the highest level of such crimes in 2021/22.

The Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse (CSA Centre) found that, during the same time period, police took an average of 261 days to reach a charging decision after a crime was reported.

A further 353 days were required on average for the matter to be concluded in court, taking the total to 614 days. This was 101 days longer on average compared to the previous year. 

This lengthy process coincides with more crimes of this nature being reported.

According to the report, police logged 103,055 child sexual abuse offences in 2021/22 - a 15% rise that represented the highest level recorded in England and Wales.

Sexual assault referral centres which offer victims medical and forensic help had initial contact with 8,213 children during the year - 13% more than in the previous 12 months.

Though reports are going up, this type of crime remains vastly under-reported, with the CSA Centre estimating that around 500,000 children suffer from child sexual abuse each year.

In terms of the types of crime, 34% of the 103,055 offences involved sexual abuse images, the same percentage involved rape of or sexual assault against a child, while the remainder related to sexual activity with a child, sexual grooming and abuse through sexual exploitation.

England's 39 forces recorded 97,000 such offences, while Wales' total was just over 6,000. This worked out at 11 offences per 1,000 children of the population, whereas in England there were 9.25 offences per 1,000 children.

Beyond the time taken to reach a charging decision, the charging rate was also low. The report found that, of the 94,646 child sexual abuse offences where an investigation was concluded in 2021/22, a suspect was charged/summonsed in just 10,232 of cases (11%).

Nearly two-thirds of all investigations (65%) were closed because of some form of evidential difficulty, where a suspect could not be identified or a victim didn't support proceedings.

Investigations into rape, sexual activity or sexual assault were far less likely to lead to a charge, with between 76% and 91% of investigations closed for these offence categories.

The ratio was higher with offences relating to abuse through sexual exploitation; in 2021/22, 32% of those investigations ended with either a charge, a summons, an out of court resolution or a diversionary activity.

For offences relating to sexual grooming, it was 23%, while the above outcomes were seen in 20% of investigations into child sexual abuse image offences.

These trends could also be seen in the conviction rate for each type of crime.

While there was a 97% conviction ratio for offences involving child sexual abuse images, this dropped to 44% and 47% respectively for sexual activity and rape offences.

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.”

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