Posted: 28 April 2017

Mapped: Sexual offences reported in England and Wales, 2016

Yesterday, the Office of the National Statistics released their latest data on crimes reported to the police forces across the country.

Our analysis of the data shows that there were 45,411 sexual crimes against children were recorded in 2016. They include child sexual exploitation, sexual abuse of children by people in positions of trust, and children being groomed online. But these figures don't tell the full story.

The number of offences:

Child sexual exploitation


Abuse by an adult in a position of trust


Familial sexual offences


Rape and sexual assaults on females under age 16


Rape and sexual assaults on males under age 16


Sexual activity involving children under age 16


Sexual grooming



A map of the total number offences, by police force area:

...but these shocking numbers don't present the full picture

Sadly, the numbers do not present the full extent of sexual offences against children.

That is because:

  • they do not present the full picture of sexual offences against 16 and 17 year olds
  • not all children report their experiences to the police - either because they are not able to recognise that they have been a victim of crime, or out of fear or lack of trust of statutory services

As a result, children aged 16 and 17 are to a great extent not included in these numbers. Data on this age group on crimes such as rape and sexual assault is grouped with adult statistics. Therefore, the true scale of sexual offending against all children under 18 can not be analysed.

Children aged 16 and 17 are to a great extent not included in these numbers

Worryingly, 16 and 17 year olds are not always protected by the law in the same way as children under age 16. Some offences (such as grooming) and disruption tools available to police (such as Child Abduction Notices) do not address children aged 16 and 17, leaving vulnerable older adolescents at risk of sexual exploitation.

In the coming weeks we will be publishing updated data - which we have collected separately through Freedom of Information requests to all police forces in England and Wales - on sexual offending against this age group.

Helping children understand when they are targeted for sexual exploitation

Many children who become victims of sexual crimes do not feel that they can talk about their experiences. From our direct work with children and young people we know that there are many possible reasons for this, from children mistaking abuse relationships for love and affection to not disclosing out of fear or shame.

We deliver services in schools raising awareness of signs of grooming and sexual exploitation. We will continue working with schools and continue through our policy work to ensure that all children learn how to stay safe in relationships.

Children and young people do not always disclose crimes against them to police

More needs to be done to enable children who become victims of sexual offences or other crime to disclose those crimes to police and to support police investigations.

Our Old Enough to Know Better report showed that only 1 in 5 crimes reported to the police by 16 and 17 year olds results in action against the perpetrator. We will shortly be publishing updated information on the outcomes of sexual offences reported to the police by children under the age of 18, showing that too few reported crimes result in action against the perpetrator. In many cases, this is due to victims of crime feeling unable for a variety of reasons to continue supporting the police with the case.

Young people who have experiences with the police are very clear that to enable young people seek help, disclose crimes and trust police, all police staff must get better at working with children. The Big Up the Bill campaign, led by young people involved in our services, calls on decision makers in the police to ensure that all staff have training to help them develop skills and knowledge on how to work with children. This includes children who may be victims, or at risk, of sexual exploitation.

Sexual offending against children is an issue that we will continue tackling through the policy and direct work with children at The Children’s Society. We will seek to make sure that more crimes are prevented and disrupted, that children feel able to seek support earlier, and that victims of sexual offences get help to recover from these traumatic experiences.

By Iryna Pona - Policy team

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