More than 2,000 child sexual abuse crimes have been recorded in Lancashire, new figures reveal.
Office for National Statistics data shows that Lancashire Constabulary recorded 2,205 child sexual abuse crimes in 2019-20.
Of the total, 716 were cases of sexual exploitation against children.
Child sexual exploitation is a form of sexual abuse where a child is coerced into sexual activity. It does not always involve physical contact and may occur through the use of technology.
The children’s charity NSPCC says while the Government’s recent Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy puts the emphasis on early intervention, it must be backed up with action and funding.
The number of child sexual abuse crimes in Lancashire increased by 15 per cent compared to two years earlier, when 1,924 cases were recorded. Exploitation offences went down – in 2017-18 there were 911 cases recorded by the force, a 21 per cent decrease.
Across England and Wales, 61,800 child sexual abuse crimes were recorded in 2019-20 – 12 per cent more than in 2017-18.
The number of child sexual exploitation crimes fell by 16 per cent across the period, with 12,600 cases recorded by the end of March.
The ONS cautions that the figures are experimental and variations between years could reflect changes in recording rather than changes in the number of offences.
Anna Edmundson, head of policy at the NSPCC, said: “Behind these figures are thousands of children and young people who have suffered sexual abuse which can have a devastating impact on their lives.
“We know the risks of young people experiencing certain types of sexual abuse, particularly within the home and online, have increased since the pandemic began while access to support has been severely reduced.
“The Government’s Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy is an important first step in protecting and supporting children.”
She added that the Government should also invest in a multi-agency model of care for child sexual abuse, known as the Child House approach.
A Home Office spokesman said: “Child sexual abuse is a sickening crime that can devastate lives.
“The publication of the Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy builds on the Government’s commitment to ensuring there are no safe spaces online or offline for offenders to abuse and exploit vulnerable children.
“It will ensure offenders of these horrific crimes are swiftly brought to justice.
“This includes equipping police with enhanced powers and tools, including investing in the UK’s world-leading Child Abuse Image Database, introducing the ground-breaking Online Safety Bill and GCHQ collaborating with the technology industry to identify and develop solutions to crack down on large-scale online child sexual abuse.”