Office for National Statistics
Overview of child abuse in England and Wales
Around one in five adults in England and Wales experienced a form of child abuse before they turned 16, official figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show.
The ONS has worked with the Department for Education, Home Office, National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC), National Crime Agency, National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), NHS Digital, Violence Research Group at Cardiff University and the Welsh Government to provide a more complete picture of child abuse in England and Wales for the first time.
This first collection of statistics on abuse suffered in childhood in England and Wales includes data on sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect.
The ONS has found that in the year ending March 2019, the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) estimated 8.5 million adults aged 18 to 74 years had experienced abuse before the age of 16. This covers a range of offences and could include the emotional abuse of someone saying they were threatened as a child, through to experiences of rape.
It also estimated that 3.1 million adults aged 18 to 74 years were victims of sexual abuse before the age of 16 (2.4 million women and 709,000 men). This is equivalent to around one in 13 adults aged 18 to 74 years.
However, many cases of abuse remain hidden. Around one in seven adults who phoned the NAPAC’s helpline said they had not told anyone about the abuse before.
Alexa Bradley, of the Centre for Crime and Justice at the ONS, said:
“Child abuse is an appalling crime against some of the most vulnerable in society, but it is also something that is little discussed or understood. Today’s release is ONS’s first attempt to fill an important evidence gap on this critical issue.
“Measuring the extent and nature of child abuse is difficult because it is usually hidden from view and comes in many forms. Bringing data together from different sources helps us better understand both the nature of child abuse and the potential demand on support services.”
Today’s publications also show that:
- there were 19,847 counselling sessions delivered to children by Childline in the UK where abuse was the primary concern in the year ending March 2019
- at 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 half of adults (52%) who experienced abuse before the age of 16 also experienced domestic abuse later in life, compared with 13% of those who did not experience abuse before the age of 16
- around 4 in 10 adults 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
The CSEW’s questions estimate the prevalence of adults who experienced abuse before the age of 16. Although these data fill an important evidence gap, they do not provide a measure of the current level of abuse experienced by children in England and Wales. The ONS is undertaking a feasibility study to determine whether a new survey could be an effective source of data on the current scale and nature of child abuse and neglect. Findings from this feasibility study will be published later in 2020.
Later this year, the ONS will also release statistics on child abuse and the criminal justice system.
If you or someone you know has experienced abuse, help is available:
- Childline can be called on 0800 1111
- Help for Adult Victims of Child Abuse (HAVOCA) offers online support
- Mind can be called on 0300 123 3393 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
- National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC) can be called on 0808 801 0331
- National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) can be called on 0808 800 5000 or emailed at email@example.com
- Rape Crisis can be called on 0808 802 9999
- Samaritans can be called on 116 123 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Survivors Trust can be called on 08088 010 818
- Victim Support can be called on 0808 16 89 111
Notes to Editor:
- As there is no specific offence of “child abuse” in law, there is not a single definition. However, working definitions used by practitioners and government typically cover any form of maltreatment of a child.
- Although it can come in many forms, abuse is typically defined in four main categories: sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect.
- The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) asks respondents about their experiences before they were 16 years old. It asks about:
- Emotional abuse (for example, whether someone aged 16 years or over threatened to abandon them)
- Physical abuse (for example, whether someone aged 16 years or over pushed them or burned them)
- Sexual abuse (for example, whether anyone sent them sexual images through to experiences of rape)
- Witnessing domestic abuse (this can be witnessing psychological, physical or sexual abuse)
- The CSEW also asks about physical neglect but, owing to how this is asked in the survey, this is a separate measure rather than being included in the “all abuse” estimate.
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