Reports of child-on-child sexual abuse more than doubled in the two years to 2019, police statistics have revealed.
Figures obtained by the BBC Panorama programme showed there were 16,012 reported cases of sexual abuse between people under 18 from April 2018 to March 2019.
This was more than twice the amount in 2016/2017, when 7,866 cases were reported to police.
In one in 10 cases, the alleged abuser was aged 10 or under.
There were 14,915 cases in 2019/2020, and there were still 10,861 reports of child-on-child sexual abuse in 2020/2021, despite months of school closures because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The BBC said 34 out of 43 police forces in England and Wales responded to a Freedom of Information request asking for the number of sexual offence reports, including rape and sexual assault, where both the alleged perpetrator and victim were under 18.
The online offence of non-consensual sharing of private sexual images or videos was not included in the figures.
The alleged perpetrator was aged 10 or under in 10% of the reported cases, with boys the alleged abusers around 90% of the time. Eight of 10 alleged victims are girls.
Labour MP and former teacher Emma Hardy told the programme: “I still think that those figures might be an underestimation of the extent of the problem, because not all cases ended up going to the police.
“Not all things are reported."
Dr Rebekah Eglinton, chief psychologist for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, told Panorama that unwanted touching, as well as being pressured into sharing nude photos, had become a part of everyday life for children "to the point where they wouldn't bother reporting it".
She said sexual violence is “now completely normalised through social media platforms” and “through access to online pornography”.
Children’s minister Vicky Ford told Panorama: “We’ve strengthened (guidance) every year, specific advice on keeping children safe and education from sexual abuse.”
She said the government had also launched safeguarding partnerships between schools, the police and social services to help schools tackle the problem.
The Welsh government told the broadcaster that guidance had been issued to support schools in creating a safe learning environment for children.
Panorama: Who’s Protecting Our Kids? will be broadcast on BBC One on Monday at 7.35pm.
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