1 in 5 adults abused before 16

Around one in five adults in England and Wales experienced a form of child abuse before they turned 16, official figures from the Office for National Statistics show.

The ONS has worked with the Department for Education, Home Office, National Association for People Abused in Childhood, National Crime Agency, National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, NHS Digital, Violence Research Group at Cardiff University and the Welsh Government to provide a more complete picture of child abuse in England and Wales for the first time, and the results are shocking. It makes us wonder what society and family are actually all about.

The first compendium of statistics on abuse suffered in childhood in England and Wales includes data on sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect and emotional abuse.

The ONS has found that in the year ending March 2019, the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) estimated 8.5 million adults aged 18 to 74 years had experienced abuse before the age of 16. This covers a range of offences and could include the emotional abuse of someone saying they were threatened as a child, through to experiences of rape.

It also estimated that 3.1 million adults aged 18 to 74 years were victims of sexual abuse before the age of 16 (2.4 million women and 709,000 men). This is equivalent to around one in 13 adults aged 18 to 74 years.

However, many cases of abuse remain hidden. Around one in seven adults who phoned the National Association for People Abused in Childhood helpline said they hadn’t told anyone about the abuse before.

Alexa Bradley, of the Centre for Crime and Justice at ONS, said:

“Child abuse is an appalling crime against some of the most vulnerable in society, but it is also something that is little discussed or understood. Today’s release is ONS’s first attempt to fill an important evidence gap on this critical issue.

“Measuring the extent and nature of child abuse is difficult because it is usually hidden from view and comes in many forms. Bringing data together from different sources helps us better understand both the nature of child abuse and the potential demand on support services.”

Today’s publications also show that:

  • There were 19,847 counselling sessions delivered to children by Childline in the UK where abuse was the primary concern in the year ending March 2019.
  • At 31 March 2019, 49,570 children in England and 4,810 children in Wales were looked after by their local authority because of experience or risk of abuse or neglect.
  • Around half of adults (52%) who experienced abuse before the age of 16 also experienced domestic abuse later in life; compared with 13% of those who did not experience abuse before the age of 16.
  • Around four in 10 adults who were abused before the age of 16 years experienced more than one of emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or witnessing domestic violence or abuse.

The CSEW questions estimate the prevalence of adults who experienced abuse before the age of 16. Although these data fill an important evidence gap, they do not provide a measure of the current level of abuse experienced by children in England and Wales. The ONS is undertaking a feasibility study to determine whether a new survey could be an effective source of data on the current scale and nature of child abuse and neglect. Findings from this feasibility study will be published later in 2020.

Later this year, the ONS will also release statistics on child abuse and the criminal justice system.

Finding help
If you or someone you know has experienced abuse, help is available:


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