Figures have been released which show a four-fold increase in recorded sex offences against children in the Northumbria Police force area.
Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird has commended victims of sexual offences for coming forward and having the courage to seek help, following the release of figures which show a rise in recorded sex offences against children from 171 in 2012/13 to 718 in 2013/14.
While this shows a dramatic rise, it follows the launch of Operation Sanctuary - the force’s investigation into crimes of a sexual nature against young women and girls - which is having a significant impact on figures.
High-profile cases nationally in the media have also resulted in more victims reporting incidents to police, whether historic or those that have occurred recently.
Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird said: “I completely understand these figures may come as a concern to people. However, it has to be acknowledged that our own Operation Sanctuary and nationally initiatives like Operation Yewtree have had a profound effect on the statistics.
“Knowing Northumbria Police are doing all they can to tackle offenders while also bringing them to justice, as has been seen in several Operation Sanctuary cases, is giving victims confidence and making them feel more comfortable in coming forward – I absolutely commend them for this.
“It takes immense courage to let another person know you have been a victim of a sexual offence and even more so if you’re a child, feel vulnerable and don’t know which way to turn.
“It’s an absolute priority for me that those who find themselves caught up in a situation where they are being exploited or subjected to a sexual offence and are fearful or too intimidated to do anything about it are identified and brought to safety and perpetrators are firmly dealt with.
“I would ask any child who has been a victim of a sexual offence to not suffer in silence – tell a friend, family member, teacher or another adult you trust so they can help you and make sure the police are contacted. Their report will be dealt with in the upmost of confidence and they will be believed.
“I will ensure Northumbria Police continues to take positive action and officers continue to receive training to ensure when people seek help, they are given the best available to them.”
Detective Superintendent Lisa Orchard, of the Protecting Vulnerable People department, said: “We take every reported allegation of sexual abuse against a child or young person extremely seriously.
“We will always ensure a thorough investigation is conducted using specially trained staff and that our department works hand in hand with the Crown Prosecution Service to bring offenders to justice.
“This increase in crime shows people in our region feel more comfortable about reporting sexual offences to police and we will continue to provide a safe environment for victims of crime.
“Victims are also more confident in reporting crime in light of the convictions under Operation Yewtree and Northumbria’s Operation Sanctuary.
“Northumbria has a high rate of convicting sex offenders so I want people to know their case will be pursued with vigour and skill by the force’s specialist unit of dedicated officers.
“All inquiries relating to sexual offences are dealt with in a highly confidential and sensitive way, with the welfare and safety of the young people being of paramount importance.
“Police, health and children services departments will continue to work closely with young people to encourage the reporting of these types of incidents.”