Child sex abuse prosecutions more than halve in four years

Child sex abuse prosecutions more than halve in four years


Child sex abuse prosecutions more than halve in four years as convictions fall 45% – while courts backlog sees victims waiting nearly two years for cases to be heard

  • Child sexual abuse prosecutions and convictions have roughly halved in 4 years 
  • Prosecutions in England and Wales fell from 6,394 in 2016/17 to 3,025 in 2020/21
  • The number of convictions dropped from 4,751 to 2,595 in the same period
  • The figures were obtained by the NSPCC under Freedom of Information Act

Prosecutions and convictions for child sexual abuse have fallen by around half in four years as victims are left waiting nearly two years for cases to be heard amid ‘increasingly long and distressing court delays’, research by a children’s charity suggests. 

The total number of prosecutions in England and Wales more than halved from 6,394 in 2016/17 to 3,025 in 2020/21, while the number of convictions dropped by 45% – falling from 4,751 to 2,595 – in the same period, data obtained by the NSPCC reveals. 

Additional figures provided by the Ministry of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act showed that cases were taking longer to resolve, with the median number of days from offence to completion rising from 526 in 2017/18, to 668 in 2020/21.  

England and Wales have experienced court closures, a drop in court staff, a shortage of registered intermediaries and a 57% increase in police reports of child sexual abuse in five years, the charity revealed. 

Prosecutions and convictions for child sexual abuse have fallen by around half in four years (stock image)

The NSPCC revealed the experience of two young people who had experience of the justice system. 

One said: ‘I was sexually assaulted over a year ago. I ended up reporting it as I knew what happened wasn’t right. It’s been months since then and I’m only now having to give evidence in court, just when things were starting to get back to normal. 

‘Being in court was harder than I thought – they kept asking loads of questions. I get that’s what they have to do, but I felt like they didn’t believe me. 

‘Since then, I keep replaying the events in court over in my head, wondering if I said the wrong thing. To be honest, I’m not bothered about the outcome anymore – I just want it to be over quick, and for people to stop worrying about me.’

Another said: ‘Today I had to appear in court to give evidence after I was sexually assaulted last year. If I’m honest, I didn’t think my case would even go to court, and I’m finding the whole process overwhelming. 

‘I was on a video link, so the person who assaulted me couldn’t see me. My mum was there with me along with a victim support officer – but I still felt so nervous the whole time. 

‘I’d prepared a statement in advance but then I was asked a load of follow-up questions. I struggled to give detailed answers as it happened so long ago – plus I’ve blocked most of it from my mind anyway. 

‘In the end, the session had to finish early because I was struggling to speak. They’ve said I have to go back tomorrow, but I really don’t want to do it.’

Anna Edmundson, NSPCC head of policy and public affairs, said: ‘Young victims of abuse have often lived through unimaginable trauma but many want to share their evidence with a court and prevent perpetrators from causing further harm.

‘These figures show young witnesses are being denied this opportunity and those who do go to court experience long delays and inadequate support, which risks retraumatising them further.

‘This is utterly unacceptable.

‘We call on Dominic Raab to review and reverse the decline in prosecutions and convictions and use the Victims’ Law to tackle the delays affecting child sexual abuse cases going through court, and provide much better support for young witnesses and victims.’

The NSPCC wants increased use of specialist sexual violence advisers who are trained to work with children, of special measures such as pre-recording evidence for court, and of intermediaries to help children while giving evidence.

It is calling for a guaranteed share of the £477 million received by the Ministry of Justice in the Spending Review to tackle the backlog of child sexual abuse cases, and to ensure that a proportion of the £185 million funding for Independent Sexual Violence Advisers pays for ‘a significant number’ who are trained to work with children.

The NSPCC also wants a boost in funding for child houses – centres where a number of specialist workers such as police officers and social services staff are based together.

A Crown Prosecution Service spokesman said: ‘Child sexual abuse cases are some of our most challenging, complex and sensitive cases. They are dealt with by specially trained prosecutors working closely with the police to build the strongest possible cases that meet our legal test.

‘The number of these cases prosecuted has increased by 22% in the past year, with most resulting in a conviction.

‘We recognise, however, there is more work to do to increase the number of cases going to court. The CPS is working collaboratively with partners across Government to address challenges that arise from when an allegation is made to prosecution.’

The CPS said that, between July 2020 and June 2021, it prosecuted 4,347 individuals for child sexual abuse offences, with an 84.2% conviction rate.

Between July 2019 and June 2020, there were 3,556 completed prosecutions, with an 84.4% conviction rate.

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