Lincolnshire sees child sexual offences rise by nearly three-quarters over last five years
A UK charity has warned of a "crisis of child sexual abuse" after reported cases in Lincolnshire rose by 74 per cent over the last five years.
Figures provided to the NSPCC after a Freedom of Information request by the charity showed that 1,042 cases of sexual offences against under-18s were recorded by Lincolnshire Police in 2019-20.
This compares with 598 offences recorded by the county's police force in 2014-15.
Year on year, the number of recorded incidents fell by nearly four per cent from 1,081 in 2018-19 to nearly 1,050 cases last year.
NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said: "The crisis of child sexual abuse is not going away and behind these figures are thousands of children and young people who have reported crimes that can have a devastating impact on their lives.
"Urgent action is needed to prevent abuse and to ensure children are supported to recover when they bravely speak out.
"We need concerted leadership from governments across the UK to implement strategies on tackling child sexual abuse that put the experiences and needs of children at their heart and are effective in preventing abuse and helping young people recover."
Sarah Smith, operations manager for South Lincolnshire Domestic Abuse Service, said: "We have seen a huge spike in the number of families fleeing domestic abuse since March when the COVID-19 restrictions came into effect.
"As one of the refuges that have stayed open during this time our amazing team have certainly felt the additional pressure, but have risen to the challenges.
"Families arriving have demonstrated increased levels of trauma and we have seen instances of sexualised behaviour in children.
"Whilst we are not making a direct link, this behaviour can often be linked with sexual abuse."
Detective Chief Inspector Karl Whiffen, of Lincolnshire Police's Protecting Vulnerable People Unit, said: "Sexual offences against children are incredibly disturbing and have no place within our society.
"We have been working hard over several years to make sure that we identify such abhorrent offences, record them effectively and safeguard victims.
"This is paramount for us and, in recognising the importance of a multi-agency approach here in Lincolnshire, we have developed a Police Safeguarding Hub which collaborates with our partners to identify more victims than we previously could.
"Here we also receive reports through national referral mechanisms, including the National Crime Agency, and our ultimate aim is to identify every sexual offence committed against a child so we can investigate them, bring offenders to justice, and support victims.
"This ambition means that we do identify more crimes and we will continue to identify as many cases as possible.
"Preventing such shocking abuse in the first place is a priority for us and we want to hear from parents, carers, family members or anyone who suspects abuse.
"Our communities have a huge part to play in protecting our county’s young people so please make a report if you think something is not quite right."
Chris Cook, independent chairman of the Lincolnshire Safeguarding Children Partnership, said: "Keeping children safe is a priority for the partnership and, compared to five years ago, there is now much greater awareness of this issue.
"It is perhaps more likely that concerns will be reported, which could partly explain the rise in recorded offences.
"Protecting the vulnerable is never easy, but by working together we can make a difference.
"However, it is clear that there is still work to be done and we will continue with our efforts to prevent child exploitation and support those affected.
"We all have a responsibility to help tackle child exploitation and we would urge anyone who believes a child may be at risk of abuse or neglect to report their concerns by calling 01522 782111 (or 01522 782333 outside of office hours). "