By Kieran McCartan, PhD, & David Prescott, LICSW
New official statistics from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) state that one in five adults in the UK aged 18 – 74 have experienced at least one form of child abuse before the age of 16. The survey estimates this at approximately 8.5 million people. While this figure may seem shocking at first, it actually reinforces what we know about child abuse prevalence and hints that this maybe the tip of the iceberg, with these numbers being an underestimation and not an overestimation. The report indicates that (please note that the below statistics are directly quoted from the report);
- Many cases of child abuse remain hidden; around one in seven adults who called the National Association for People Abused in Childhood’s (NAPAC’s) helpline in the last year had not told anyone about their abuse before.
- In the year ending March 2019, Childline (a free service where children and young people in the UK can talk to a counsellor about anything) delivered 19,847 counselling sessions to children in the UK where abuse was the primary concern; around 1 in 20 of the sessions resulted in a referral to external agencies;
- As of 31 March 2019, 49,570 children in England and 4,810 children in Wales were looked after by their local authority because of experience or risk of abuse or neglect;
- Around 4 in 10 adults (44%) who were abused before the age of 16 years experienced more than one of emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or witnessing domestic violence or abuse. This proportion is higher for women than men (46% compared with 41%);
- Sexual abuse was reported in around two-thirds (63%) of calls to National Association for People Abused in Childhood’s helpline;
- Around half of adults (52%) who experienced abuse before the age of 16 years also experienced domestic abuse later in life; compared with 13% of those who did not experience abuse before the age of 16 years.
Previously in this blog we have talked about the challenges of understanding the base rate data on experiences of sexual abuse, which is just as important for broader definitions of abuse. We know that there is under reporting, under recording, poor prosecution rates, cases being dropped, and acquittals within the system. The volume of people sentenced for abuse does not accurately reflect the volume of abuse that there is. This new data from England and Wales, as Scotland and Northern Ireland collect and record data separately, data is more than likely an underestimation, especially given the way that the CSEW is constructed. That is, it relies on (1) self-completion modules of Survey by men and women aged 16 and over who are resident in households in England and Wales, & (2) offences reported to and recorded by the police. Therefore, if you have not reported a crime to the police or are not a home owner you are unable to take part. Interestingly, in recent years the CSEW have contacted some children between 10 -15 to take part to get a broader spectrum.
The data from the CSEW highlights the challenges that child abuse causes in England and Wales, especially in terms of trauma, Adverse Childhood Experiences, ongoing development impacts and the costs/demands on the social care and criminal justice systems. The growing recognition of ACE’s and past trauma in our adult victims and perpetrators population is massive in the UK, with Scotland and Wales putting it at the heart of their social care and social welfare policies; however, it has not been as straightforward for England and Northern Ireland. The CSEW data really highlights the need for a more preventative/interventionist approach to child abuse. We need to intervene sooner and develop more coherent secondary prevention approaches to reduce child abuse. We also need to provide those at risk of abusing others with the skills to prevent offending and to assist those at risk of being victimized to be better safeguarded.