Fear is preventing huge numbers of 16 and 17 year olds from reporting sex crimes, according to The Children’s Society.
A new report published by the charity has found that thousands of sex crimes committed against older teenagers are going unreported and unpunished because the victims are afraid.
Figures obtained through Freedom of Information requests for the charity’s Seriously Awkward campaign and analysed in the new publication, found that in England the police had recorded 4900 sexual offence cases, such as sexual exploitation, rape and sexual assault.
However, the report, entitled Old Enough to Know Better? Why sexually exploited teenagers are being overlooked, reveals that an estimated 50,000 girls alone say they have been victims of these crimes.
This is more than for any other age group.
The study estimates that half of those who did not report sexual crimes to the police either did not consider it worth reporting, feared going to court, or they did not want the perpetrators punished.
Others fear that they will not be believed or that they will be judged. And still others are scared of the perpetrators or are uncertain about what constitutes crime, consent and sexual exploitation.
Of the cases reported to the police, according to the charity’s research, fewer than one in five resulted in a charge or summons.
Sexual abuse against older teenagers is frequently overlooked because, having reached the age of consent, they are seen as ‘old enough to know better’ and are therefore blamed for putting themselves in risky situations.
The charity calls on the Government to recognise how vulnerable older teenagers are. It also highlights the fact that those in care, recovering from trauma and those with mental health and learning disabilities are particularly at risk of sexual exploitation.
Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said: 'Too many children are being left to suffer sexual exploitation in silence. Despite 16 and 17 year olds being at the highest risk, they often receive the least support. Dangerous inconsistencies in the law and services need to be changed. These young people are still children and the Government must make sure that the police and other agencies have the means they need in order to keep them safe.'
In February this year Rotherham Council was found ‘not fit for purpose’ after it emerged that local child exploitation had been systematically denied and suppressed. The following month it was revealed that 488 young people had either been sexually exploited or were at ‘serious’ risk during the first six months of 2014.