Four children a day in Lancashire are reporting sexual abuse to police, heartbreaking figures show today.
A total of 1,572 sexual crimes against youngsters in the county were recorded in the period between 2015 and 2016 – a startling 49 per cent increase from 1,056 recorded the previous year.
It comes as the NSPCC, which obtained the figures from police, reveals a child sex offence, including rape, sexual assault, and sexual exploitation, is recorded on average every ten minutes in UK.
And 91 of the victims in Lancashire were aged under four years old, according to the harrowing statistics.
One Lancashire man who was abused by his elder half brother has echoed calls for more investment into rehabilitating offenders and supporting victims.
It is nearly 40 years since Robert McEwen, now 50, was subjected to vile attacks by Michael Lyttle, 56, who served four months of an eight month jail term.
The dad-of-two, who now lives in the Tarleton area, bravely waived his anonymity, after Lyttle, of Norland Drive, Heysham, near Lancaster, was convicted of charges of indecent assault, and inciting a boy under 14 to commit gross indecency at Preston Crown Court last year.
Lyttle, who had worked as a shop fitter and as a French polisher in banks and building societies, served four months of an eight month jail term.
Robert, who was driven to attempt to take his own life in the 1990s after carrying the secret of the abuse, said: “The figures don’t shock me – nothing shocks me anymore.
“I always felt prison would never really do him much good at this stage – what is going to change him in four months?
The thing is that after a court case is over, you feel a bit dumped, like no-one is interested anymore – so I would support the NSPCC’s call for investment into recovery services too.
“At least rehabilitation is addressing their offending.
“The thing is that after a court case is over, you feel a bit dumped, like no-one is interested anymore – so I would support the NSPCC’s call for investment into recovery services too.
“I live looking over my shoulder, I even saw someone in a car who looked like him. It is never really over, but I’m glad I was one of those who came forward because it does help you in the long run.”
In Lancashire a total of 478 crimes were recorded against children aged ten and under, while 91 of these crimes were perpetrated against children four and under, some of whom would be too young to even attend primary school. The remaining 937 were against over 10s – with 66 other internet based crimes.
Some of the reports were not recent crimes.
To cope with the increase, the charity is calling for specialist training for police investigating online child abuse, effective rehabilitation for child sex offenders, and investment in early intervention services to help children recover.
But not everyone is encouraged by the idea of rehabilitation. A Preston grandmother, whose abuser was recently given a community order with supervision on account of his dementia, called the figures “sickening”.
Her attacker William Altham, 84, of Bleasdale Street East, Preston, was sentenced two weeks ago for raping her when she was a little girl.
She said: “I don’t feel safe by a sentence like that .
“I don’t agree with a community sentence. How would this stop him doing it again? It really sends out the wrong message. I’m absolutely astounded that this amount of children have come forward in one year – it’s really hitting the public domain.”
The NSPCC believes several factors are behind the dramatic increase, including improvements to crime recording methods, survivors feeling more confident in disclosing abuse following high-profile cases, but also multiple children being reached by the same online predators.
The figures are feared to be the tip of the iceberg as authorities believe other youngsters have not come forward because they are frightened, embarrassed, or do not realise that they have been abused.
Across the UK, the total rose to a record 55,507 in 2015/16, which was an average of 152 a day.
Chief Executive Peter Wanless said: “Sexual abuse can shatter a child’s life and leave them feeling ashamed, depressed, or even suicidal. Now, more than ever, victims need help as soon as possible to help them recover from their ordeals and go on to lead full and happy lives.
“Government must commit funds to early intervention that better help these children who, through no fault of their own, are enduring so much pain.”
There have been major changes to how abuse is tackled in the county.
Teams of people from different organisations such as police, social services, Trading Standards, and health agencies share information and coordinate responses for each report. Education packages are also delivered in many schools highlighting the dangers of sexual exploitation.
Lancashire Constabulary is continuing to battle the sexual exploitation and abuse of children.
The force has set up a dedicated team in each police division working with many different organisations who share information and coordinate a response for each report to which helps to identify offenders and put support in place for children, their families and carers.
DCI Simon Dent from Lancashire’s Public Protection Unit said: “The lasting impact of sexual abuse against children can be devastating and often stays with victims for their rest of their lives. “The public quite rightly expects us to protect children from being exploited, particularly as new threats emerge such as online grooming through gaming and chat forums, an area that we continue to promote during awareness campaigns.
“A rise in figures shows that our efforts and campaigns aimed at raising awareness are working, and that people feel confident that they can report and they will be listened to.
“Protecting the public, especially children, from harm and abuse is an absolute priority for us and with our partners we will continue to proactively target offenders who abuse children and help safeguard those children who have become, or are at risk of becoming, victims.”
Nest Lancashire has been set up to support young people aged 10 to 18 who have been affected by crime or subjected to bullying, threats or harassment. You can talk to them in confidence and all of the services are free of charge. Call them 0300 111 0323
Young person’s website Trust Ed contains helpful advice on child sexual exploitation, rape and relationships and a ‘report it online’ button.
Contact police on 101.
Operation Awaken (Blackpool, Fylde, Lancaster, Morecambe and Wyre): 01253 477 261
Operation Engage (Blackburn with Darwen, Hyndburn, Ribble Valley, Ribble Valley, Pendle and Rossendale): 01254 353 525
Operation Deter (Preston, Chorley, South Ribble, West Lancs): 01772 209 122