It has been widely reported today that over 1,400 people have been investigated by police probing historical child sex abuse allegations, a figure which included high profile individuals, such as politicians, musicians and sportspeople.

The figures were revealed by Operation Hydrant, set up by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), which explores links between child sex abuse by “prominent public persons” and are taken from police forces all across the United Kingdom. These figures relate to reports of abuse, or investigations of abuse, dealt with by police throughout summer 2014.

Of the 1,433 suspects identified, 216 are now dead and 261 are classified as “people of public prominence”, with 135 coming from TV, film or radio.

Of the remainder:

  • A further 76 suspects are politicians, 43 are from the music industry and 7 come from the world of sport.

  • A total of 666 claims relate to institutions, with 357 different institutions identified. Of this 666, 154 are schools, 75 are children’s homes, and 40 are religious institutions.

  • They also include 14 medical establishments, 11 community institutions, 9 prisons or detention centres, 9 sports venues and 28 other institutions, including military groups and guest houses. A further 17 institutions are classified as “unknown”.

Complaints on an almost daily basis

The NPCC’s lead on child protection, Norfolk Police Chief Constable Simon Bailey, said that complaints were increasing “on an almost daily basis” with the numbers released being a “snapshot in time” and that “We are seeing an unprecedented increase in the number of reports that are coming forward”.

He anticipates that police are projected to receive approximately 116,000 reports of historical child sex abuse by the end of 2015 – an increase of 71% from 2012 and that this vast increase “has brought about a step change in the way the [police] service has had to deal with it.”

He attributes this increase to “Savile Effect”. Many victims of historic abuse have kept their own counsel for many years. However, ex-DJ Jimmy Savile was revealed after his death to be one of the UK’s most prolific sexual predators. Following the investigations, many victims have found the strength to come forward regarding allegations of abuse.

Mr Bailey said that, whilst there was no figure for the number of victims of such crimes, it was likely to run into the thousands.

“These figures raise the question, is more abuse being perpetrated?” he said. “I don’t have the evidence at this moment in time to prove this one way or another.”

Operation Hydrant does not conduct any investigations itself, but gathers information from other inquiries.

There have been a number of high profile police investigations into historical sex crimes recently, including Operation Pallial, which is looking at claims of abuse in care homes in North Wales and an inquiry into Knowle View school in Rochdale, where the late MP Sir Cyril Smith is said to have preyed on young boys.

Perhaps the most high profile and wide ranging investigation is Operation Yewtree, which has already seen “prominent public persons” Rolf Harris and Max Clifford jailed for sex crimes.

Mr Bailey said police forces were now moving resources from other departments to focus on past sex crimes.

“More and more officers are being deployed into our vulnerability teams because of this surge in demand. And it’s right they should do that.”

Sea Change

The “surge in demand” has led to many more victims of abuse seeking legal advice about what can be done to help them through this traumatic period of their lives. David Gibbs, Chartered Legal Executive at Jordans Solicitors, who represent hundreds of victims of historic abuse has noted a vast increase in the number of enquiries received over the past 12-18 months.

“Since the revelations over Jimmy Savile’s prolific offending, we have seen a marked increase in people now willing to come forward and disclose the horrific events of their past. Victims have seen that there has been a sea change in how the police and society in general deal with these allegations.

“Victims of abuse now have more confidence that their complaints will be listened to and that there is a chance that their offender will be brought to justice.

This is a view shared by Jon Brown, head of the NSPCC’s programme to tackle sexual abuse. He described the figures as “astonishing” and said they showed abuse “permeates all parts of society”.

He added: “We are seeing a seismic shift in people’s willingness and preparedness to come forward now and talk about things that have happened sometimes many, many years or decades ago.

“What we’re beginning to see is a much more realistic picture now of the scale of the problem, and we now need to be looking at ways in which that can most effectively be dealt with.”

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