Police are recording 85 sexual assaults on children each day after an increase of more than a third in reports of abuse and exploitation, new figures have revealed.
A total of 31,238 allegations of sexual offences against children, including rape, assault and grooming offences, were made to forces in England and Wales in 2013/14, research by the NSPCC has found. The figures show an increase of 38% â€“ more than a third â€“ on the previous year.
The majority of the victims were aged between 12 and 16 but more than one in four â€“ 8,282 â€“ were younger than 11, the charity said. Of those, 2,895 are estimated to be aged five or under, including 94 babies.
More than three-quarters of the reported abuse cases were against girls (24,457). Britainâ€™s largest force, the Metropolitan police, recorded the highest number of sex crimes against children, with 3,523.
The data, obtained through freedom of information requests, reveals a significant year-on-year increase in the number of sex offences against children. In 2012-13, the same research showed that a total of 22,654 sexual crimes against children were recorded by 41 police forces. All 43 forces in England and Wales responded in the latest study.
The NSPCC said that until now the total had largely remained steady and the 38% rise was the biggest increase in six years of requesting the figures. Since 2008/09, the number has increased by almost 50%.
Last year the charity helped 2,400 young victims through its therapeutic recovery programme, but it says there are not enough services to support every child who has experienced abuse.
Jon Brown, senior policy officer for the NSPCC, said: â€œOur estimate is that there are 50,000 children in the country who need help and support for abuse who are not getting it.
â€œWe need the government to step up and breach this gap. It cannot be right that so many children are going without support. We should be treating this as a public health problem given the damage done into adulthood to individuals who have been abused as children.â€
Police experts say the effect of the case has been to encourage more victims, both those reporting abuse in the past and ongoing abuse, to come forward because they are now more confident they will be believed.
But improved recording methods by police have also been cited as a possible reason for the increase.
Brown said it was not clear whether the increase in reports of abuse was due to an actual rise or increased confidence of victims coming forward.
He agreed with comments made last month by Simon Bailey, chief constable of Norfolk and the national police lead on child abuse, that there was a real increase in abuse taking place, much of it facilitated by the internet.
Responding to the new figures, Bailey said they still represented the tip of the iceberg.
â€œMany, many, more victims have found the confidence to report abuse, knowing they will be treated with sensitivity and respect, that we will listen to them and that we will take their allegations seriously,â€ he said.
â€œIncreased reporting means we are dealing with unprecedented number of investigations but it is my belief that more abuse is being perpetrated. The internet has given people the ability to sit in their room and indulge fantasies in a way that simply was not available to them two decades ago.â€
Last month Bailey revealed that the police are investigating more than 1,400 prominent men, including politicians, celebrities and those linked to institutions, over allegations that they have sexually abused children in the past. The investigations are being carried out by forces across the country and coordinated by a team running Operation Hydrant.
The NSPCC is publishing its report on the safety of children on Wednesday at its annual conference in London which will be attended by leading figures from the world of child protection.
Peter Wanless, the charityâ€™s chief executive, said: â€œThese figures are disturbing and clearly illustrate child sexual abuse is a continuing and widespread problem that needs urgent action. But we know this is still only a fraction of the true number of victims because some endure an agonising wait of many years before telling anyone â€“ and others never reveal what has happened to them.â€