An NSPCC survey has found 64 under 18s accused of sexual offences against other children in 2013/14, an increase of 13 from the previous year.
Figures obtained from Beds Police show the youngest perpetrator was seven and the youngest victim was aged three.
Most victims knew their alleged abuser and some of the most common crimes were teenage boys abusing female acquaintances.
While most abusers were male there was a small number of female abusers and male and female victims. The survey was carried out as part of the NSPCC’s ‘Underwear rule’, aimed to help parents protect youngsters.
Up to two thirds of contact sexual abuse on children is committed by other young people. But whilst these crimes are shocking, this behaviour can be turned around if caught early. Colin Peak, Regional head of service for the NSPCC, said:
“It’s deeply concerning that thousands of children are committing sexual offences including serious assaults and rape. For very young children, such as those of primary school age or younger, we have to question the environment in which they are growing up in that has led to them behaving in this way. Prevention has to be the key and that is recognising warning signs early and taking swift action. It could be that they have seen sexual activity that they are just too young to understand and are copying what they’ve seen.
“We also know that for many older children pornography is now part of life. Easy access to hard core, degrading and often violent videos on the internet is warping young people’s views of what is normal or acceptable behaviour. It is also feeding into ‘sexting’ where teenagers are creating and distributing their own videos and images that are illegal and have led to prison sentences.
“But these children are not beyond help. If we act quickly and children receive therapy such as that provided by the NSPCC’s ‘Turn the Page’ service we can stop them becoming adult sex offenders. And, most importantly, their victims need support to overcome what has happened to them. Sexual offences, whether committed by another child or an adult, can have lifelong consequences.”
Parents can help keep their children safe by teaching them the ‘Underwear Rule’ which is a simple, effective and age appropriate way of telling children what is and isn’t acceptable. Parents simply tell their children that the area covered by their underwear should never be touched by anyone else.
Any adult worried about a child or in need of help and advice can contact the NSPCC’s helpline on 0808 800 5000. Children and young people can contact ChildLine on 0800 1111.