Cases of recorded child sexual abuse increased by a third last year according to figures released this week by the NSPCC*.
As the charity campaigns for more Government funding to support survivors, Norfolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) has been taking steps to ensure vital local support services for those affected by child sexual abuse aren’t lost.
There were 45,456 child sexual offences recorded across the UK last year, with 774 of those in Norfolk. The county’s Chief Constable Simon Bailey, who is also the national policing lead for child protection, says there has been an ‘exponential increase in reporting of abuse year-on-year’, with abusers being aided by the internet and other advances in technology.
Norfolk Police are responding to sexual abuse every day, safeguarding children at risk, investigating offences and bringing abusers to court. But by the time a report of abuse reaches police, the damage has already been done. Whether the abuse is recent or historic, the impact on the survivor can be devastating, and the availability of specialist support can play a significant part in how the survivor copes and recovers from what they’ve experienced.
In January 2015, Norfolk’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre, known as the Harbour Centre, officially opened its doors to children for the first time. To make this possible, PCC Stephen Bett provided the funding needed for specialist child advocates to join the Harbour Centre team.
Last year, 103 children and young people aged between 0 and 17 were supported by the Centre, and the PCC has now taken steps to extend his funding of the child advocate posts until 2018 at a cost of £230,000.
“This is an essential service led by victim need and, sadly, the individual in need is sometimes a child”, the PCC said. “These children and young people have experienced something truly horrendous and they deserve the best support we can offer to help them cope and recover from what’s happened to them.”
“While I very much wish its services weren’t needed, there is significant demand for the round-the-clock support services provided by the Harbour Centre, and it gives me some comfort to know that young victims of rape and sexual assault are able to access first-class help and support from the Centre’s dedicated and highly-skilled staff.”
Support organisations across the county have seen demand for their services increase dramatically, none more so than the Sue Lambert Trust. Over the last 3 years, the Trust has not only had to recruit additional counsellors and support workers, but it is also looking at expanding its current Norwich-based service to additional bases in Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn. A grant of £75,000 per year from the PCC is helping fund the Trust’s critical support and counselling services for men and women aged 11 and over.
The Harbour Centre has also seen more adults who have experienced childhood sexual abuse seeking help and support. 175 of the 297 referrals to the Centre last year related to historic abuse.
The Butterfly Project, another organisation which works with those affected by child sex abuse, delivers specialist support to survivors of historic abuse, helping them heal from the complex trauma of what they experienced in their childhood. Recognising the value of the Butterfly Project’s work, the PCC has joined with partners to fund delivery of its support programme to two cohorts of survivors.
While support for survivors is vitally important, the ultimate aim is to stop abuse before it happens, and this is the focus behind the PCC’s funding of Norwich-based The Magdalene Group.
The threat of abuse is particularly high for vulnerable children and young people, including those in care, foster placement or residential accommodation. In order to reduce the risk of harm, the PCC has funded a dedicated role within The Magdalene Group team to offer specialist support and protection to young people in care.
“The threat of this crime is such that, in the interest of protecting vulnerable children and young people, it is essential we understand the scale of the problem”, he said. “This work will inform a wider understanding of the issues whilst at the same time providing necessary and timely intervention and support.”
As shown by the NSPCC figures, child sex abuse is not a threat faced in Norfolk alone, with demand for survivor support services increasing across England and Wales.
The PCC’s help was enlisted by the Home Office during 2015 to distribute almost £5m of national funding to more than 70 organisations supporting victims of recent and historic sexual abuse. This funding enabled support services nationally to increase their capacity to meet the unprecedented increase in need, not least as a result of Child Abuse Inquiry launch.
Recognising that demand for these services won’t end when the year’s funding does, the Ministry of Justice is now working with PCCs across England and Wales to allocate £4.7m of funding for child sex abuse support services in 2016/17.
*National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children – It’s Time campaign https://www.nspcc.org.uk/fighting-for-childhood/campaigns/its-time/