One in five children ‘may have met with some form of sexual abuse’

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ONE in five of all children may have experienced sexual abuse – ranging from physical assaults to being shown pornography – by the age of 16, according to figures revealed yesterday.

But only three out of every 1,000 cases come before the police, according to the statistics highlighted at the launch of Jersey’s Child Sexual Abuse and Child Exploitation Strategy, a new plan to prevent and investigate the sexual abuse of children and young people and prosecute more of its perpetrators.

Guests at the launch at the Jersey Youth Service in St Helier, who included police officers, health professionals, social workers and teachers, were told that research from the UK indicated that around 15% of girls and 5% of boys will have encountered some form of sexual abuse or exploitation before they turn 16.

And Sarah Elliott, pan-island independent chair of the Safeguarding Partnership, said: ‘Jersey is no different from other jurisdictions in this.’

She said that – based on figures from the 2011 census – 459 boys and 1,373 girls in Jersey may have experienced some form of child sexual abuse or exploitation.

She added that only 70 to 90 of these cases come to the attention of the police, equivalent to three cases per 1,000, and around half the rate in the UK.

Ms Elliott said the aim of the new strategy was to ensure all the different agencies and professionals who worked with young people – and parents – knew the warning signs and could act quickly to tackle it.

She said: ‘A child’s behaviour may change, they could become more withdrawn, or they might show an “inappropriate adult knowledge” of sex.’

It is Jersey’s third strategy of this kind but Ms Elliott explained that the nature of the crimes had changed since previous ones.

She said: ‘It has got more sophisticated. More of it is online. And we know there can be networks of abusers, as in the recent reports from England.

‘It would be naïve to think, “That couldn’t happen here”.

‘But in a place like Jersey it should be easier to ensure all children feel comfortable and safe.’

One of the important recommendations in the strategy is that the justice system should become more ‘child-centred’ and not require children to have to repeat their story several times to different investigators.

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