Record number of people contacting NSPCC amid 'publicity surge' about sexual violence

Credit: PA

The number of people contacting the NSPCC with concerns about child sexual abuse has hit a record level, with survivors motivated to step forward amid a “surge in publicity” about sexual violence against women and girls.

The charity received 4,735 calls about child sexual abuse or exploitation over the six months to October – up 36% from the same period in 2020.

More than 1,500 of these contacts led to a referral to bodies such as the police or local councils for further action, according to the data shared with the PA news agency.

These calls have been from people worried that a child is being groomed, sometimes by adults in positions of authority, sexually abused by family members or experiencing sexual harassment and abuse by their peers.

The helpline has also been receiving calls from survivors of non-recent sexual abuse, who said they have had come forward following widespread media coverage of violence against women and girls.

This includes the thousands of testimonies sent to the Everyone’s Invited website about incidents in schools and universities.

The NSPCC said people have felt “empowered to voice their concerns” following the disclosures.

It fears that the risk of abuse has risen during the coronavirus pandemic, and noted that helpline calls relating to other concerns have fallen to pre-pandemic levels while concerns about abuse continue to rise.

Part of the rise, it said, is a result of the Report Abuse in Education helpline it set up in April, with support from the Department for Education.

The figures show the charity was dealing with 26 contacts a day on average, from people concerned about a child, over the first half of the 2021-22 financial year.

Of the calls received between April and September where the time of the abuse was known, 60% concerned abuse that had taken place more than six months before.

More than 2,100 calls were about abuse that had occurred at least six months ago, compared with 1,456 more recently.

One caller recalled how an older boy had touched her inappropriately while she was on the coach back from school as a young girl.

She said: “I haven’t spoken to anyone else about this before, but I felt compelled after seeing all the recent news coverage about violence against women.

“If this happened to me, it could have happened to others too. And who knows, this boy (now man) could still be a risk to children.”

Another person, who was sexually abused by a teacher as a young teenager, said: “I didn’t report him at the time as I worried what would happen, and people not believing me and stuff.

“Now all these stories are coming out in the media, like Everyone’s Invited, it’s brought all the memories up again.”

Head of the NSPCC helpline, Kam Thandi, said: “We know people have felt empowered to voice their concerns to our helpline after a surge in publicity about sexual violence towards women and girls and peer-on-peer abuse in schools following the revelations on the Everyone’s Invited website.

“We are also worried that the risk of abuse has gone up since the start of the pandemic, with children more vulnerable and out of sight of the adults who can keep them safe.

“We continue to encourage anyone who has concerns about a child or who has suffered child sexual exploitation and/or abuse to seek help and support, no matter if it happened in the recent or distant past. It is never too late to make a report.

“We all have a role to play in preventing child sexual abuse and our experts are here to support both adults to spot signs of abuse and share concerns and to give children the chance to speak out and stay safe.”

The charity said anyone with concerns about a child should report them, adding that it is important that schools, local authorities, the NHS, police and other safeguarding professionals work together to protect children.

Soma Sara, founder of the Everyone’s Invited website, said: “Everyone’s Invited is so proud of every survivor who has had the courage to contact the NSPCC and grateful for the support that they have found there.

“We’d like to encourage anyone who is even thinking about contacting the NSPCC to ring 0800 136 663.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “Child sexual abuse is a despicable crime and every child has a right to be protected. The government is committed to keeping children and young people safe from all forms of abuse including exploitation.

“The NSPCC’s helpline has provided a vital service for children and adults affected by sexual abuse, which is why we have increased the NSPCC’s core grant to £2.6 million to help it continue to meet heightened demand.”

He added that the Reporting Abuse in Education helpline, which has received 784 contacts as of the end of October, has been extended until the end of the year so more people can raise concerns.

Anyone with concerns should contact the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000 or via the Reporting Abuse in Education helpline on 0800 136 663.