More than 3,000 child sexual abuse crimes recorded in Milton Keynes' region
More than 3,000 child sexual abuse crimes have been recorded in Thames Valley, new figures reveal.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) data shows that Thames Valley Police recorded 3,057 child sexual abuse crimes in 2019-20.
Of the total, 217 were cases of sexual exploitation against children.
Child sexual exploitation is a form of sexual abuse where a child is coerced into sexual activity. It does not always involve physical contact and may occur through the use of technology.
The children's charity NSPCC says while the Government's recent Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy puts the emphasis on early intervention, it must be backed up with action and funding.
The number of child sexual abuse crimes in Thames Valley increased by 22% compared to two years earlier, when 2,505 cases were recorded. Exploitation offences went down – in 2017-18 there were 316 cases recorded by the force, a 31% decrease.
When presented with these figures a spokesperson for the Thames Valley Police responded with the following statement, saying: "Thames Valley Police takes all reports of sexual offences against children seriously and will treat those that come forward to make reports sensitively and with dignity.
"The force continues to work closely with our partners in education, health and local authorities through the Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards and partnerships to improve awareness of the signs of child abuse, prevent harm to children, and deliver the best service we can to children who are abused.
"The rise in the number of recorded reports may be attributed to an increase in confidence in the public to report them to the police, as well as an improvement in the way that we record these types of crimes, but also changes in trends of offending. For example, the recent COVID-19 lockdowns have seen an increase in online offending against children.
"We are conscious that given the persistent feature of these lockdowns in the last 12 months, this will have affected victim and offender behaviour, and it’s difficult assess the figures year on year as like for like figures.
"In response to this, the force has conducted a number of warrants at addresses across Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, dedicated to disrupt those who were carrying out online child sexual abuse.
"Other campaigns that the force has taken part in, including our Hidden Harm campaign, has helped to raise awareness of abuse happening in Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, as well as undetected and unreported abuse of a person or people, including children.
"Our officers and staff are trained and vigilant to the signs of child sexual offences and deal robustly with any signs of such offences.
"Keeping children safe from all harm is all of our responsibility, and we rely on information from members of the public to identify crimes and keep all victims safe."
Across England and Wales, 61,800 child sexual abuse crimes were recorded in 2019-20 – 12% more than in 2017-18.
The number of child sexual exploitation crimes fell by 16% across the period, with 12,600 cases recorded by the end of March.
The ONS cautions that the figures are experimental and variations between years could reflect changes in recording rather than changes in the number of offences.
Anna Edmundson, head of policy at the NSPCC, said: “Behind these figures are thousands of children and young people who have suffered sexual abuse which can have a devastating impact on their lives.
“We know the risks of young people experiencing certain types of sexual abuse, particularly within the home and online, have increased since the pandemic began while access to support has been severely reduced.
“The Government’s Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy is an important first step in protecting and supporting children."
She added that the Government should also invest in a multi-agency model of care for child sexual abuse, known as the Child House approach.
A Home Office spokesman said: “Child sexual abuse is a sickening crime that can devastate lives.
“The publication of the Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy builds on the Government’s commitment to ensuring there are no safe spaces online or offline for offenders to abuse and exploit vulnerable children.
“It will ensure offenders of these horrific crimes are swiftly brought to justice.
"This includes equipping police with enhanced powers and tools, including investing in the UK’s world-leading Child Abuse Image Database, introducing the ground-breaking Online Safety Bill and GCHQ collaborating with the technology industry to identify and develop solutions to crack down on large-scale online child sexual abuse."