Half of the reports of child sexual abuse in the county are now historic following the publicity of the Jimmy Savile scandal, Northamptonshire Police’s head of crime said.
Superintendent Steve Lingley said he thought young victims now had more confidence to come forward and talk to police after the recent media exposure of child abuse by high-profile celebrities such as Savile, Rolf Harris and Stuart Hall.
Last week the Chronicle & Echo reported the results of a Freedom of Information request by the NSPCC, which revealed the number of sexual offences against children recorded by police in Northamptonshire increased by 12 percent between 2013 and 2014.
The figures showed that, in 2012-13 the total was 383 but in 2013-2014 that figure was 432. Forty-nine of the victims were aged under five.
Mr Lingley said the reported cases of child abuse were likely to continue to go up in the next few years before “levelling off” once the backlog of cases had been dealt with.
He said: “The NSPCC figures in isolation do seem quite stark. But, for me, and what our partners are interpreting, is that the increase in reporting is a positive.
“This is about children having confidence at last to come forward. For a number of years children have been scared of coming forward and talking to us, particularly in historic abuse cases.
“But on the back of things like the Jimmy Savile scandal, children are now coming forward and talking to us.”
Mr Lingley said the reported cases of sexual abuse had also increased because the police were now recording more accurately all reports from victims, even if they did not come to them directly.
He said: “We are now recording reports of abuse that is reported to use from a different party. For example, we are recording the crime if it goes to a social worker or a health visitor because that is an allegation of an offence.”
After the report has ben investigated, Mr Lingley said the force’s priority was to try to get a criminal conviction but he said there were also other ways officers could offer support for victims.
He said: “Initially, our view it is just important that children get to tell their story. It is an opportunity for us to then share any information with partners to see if there are any current threats, because there could be other children at risk.
“We can also help some of the children who perhaps haven’t accessed the support services they need for a number of years.
“Quite rightly our role as the police is to bring offenders to justice. But sometimes the evidence that is required can be a challenge in the historic abuse cases but it does not stop us exploring all of that.”
Mr Lingley said he also believed that Northamptonshire Police officers and staff now had a better understanding of how to deal with victims of child sexual abuse after recent training. He said: “If you understand the way someone who has been subject to this abuse can act then you can deal with that complaint in a certain way.
“You can build up a rapport and build a victim-centred approach.
Despite the recent media exposure of gang-related abuse of young girls in other parts of the country such as Rotherham and Oxford, Mr Lingley said there were currently “no reports” of that type of criminal activity in the county.
He said: “The cases were are getting reported are very different and there is no consistent theme. We are not seeing any big gangs abusing children and we are not seeing any particular age or demographic standing out.”
Mr Lingley said Northants Police was in regular contact with other forces across the country to receive warnings of any suspected abusers who may be in the county.
Online safety should have the same priority as road safety: police chief
Bullying and sexual grooming of children on the internet in Northamptonshire has increased “dramatically” in the past couple of years, the county force’s head of crime said.
Superintendent Steve Lingley said the growing popularity of social media and different ways of communicating on the internet exposed young people to more risks than ever before.
He said: “The available media devices for young people and the use of social media makes children quite vulnerable to abuse unless they get the right information about how to use them safely.”
The results of a recent study by Northamptonshire Police and Crime Commission, which received responses from 13,000 children in the county, showed that one in four primary school-age children have seen something online that has upset them.
In March, the police and crime commissioner called on parents in Northampton to be more accountable for their children’s online activity.
Mr Simmonds said: “Parents need to play a bigger role in monitoring what their kids are doing online, they need to know what passwords their children use.
“They need to be quite intrusive in what their kids are viewing on the internet and not being concerned about doing that. Some kids are spending up to 16 hours a day, mainly playing online games.
“As a society we need a reality check as we are encouraging children to sit down in front of games that encourage users to slaughter and torture people. That is a real problem.”
Mr Simmonds said online safety should be given the same priority as road safety.