What do we currently know and not know?

The first steps in this strand of the CSA Centre's work have been an analysis of what we currently do and do not know from existing prevalence studies and data from statutory services, and an exploration of the different methodologies used in studies of child sexual abuse around the world.

Measuring the scale and changing nature of child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation

Analysis of 2017/18 official and agency data

Sherrelle Parke and Kairika Karsna

This report looks at data from local authority children’s services, where child protection plans and social care initial assessments record where a child has experienced sexual abuse or is considered at risk of it, and data from criminal justice agencies, including the police and courts, that tells us about child sexual abuse offences and prosecutions. While this data provides an important insight into the practice of key agencies in relation to child sexual abuse, it is important to remember that this is not prevalence data (experiences of child sexual abuse in the general population): it is annual case management information as recorded at local and national levels. As such, what is and is not recorded reflects the varying needs and priorities of different agencies.

It remains the case that the majority of child sexual abuse is neither reported nor identified during childhood and will therefore not appear in official agency data. However, the extent to which agencies recognise and respond to concerns of child sexual abuse is important, and this report pulls together available public data relating to child sexual abuse in one place. We hope it enables those in the field to better understand the bigger picture and changing context of the issue.

Download the 2019 report (PDF, 382KB)


At-a-glance summaries of what we currently do and do not know (updated July 2019)

Infographics (PDF, 305KB)

Scoping report

Professor Liz Kelly and Kairika Karsna

This report has been produced in partnership with London Metropolitan University, and informed by two expert workshops. The report was first published in July 2017 and was revised in August 2018. It includes current best estimates of the prevalence of child sexual abuse (including exploitation) and sets out how we can improve the data and our understanding.

Scoping report (PDF, 2472KB)

Briefing: Improving understanding of the scale and nature of child sexual abuse

This briefing summarises key points from the scoping report and sets out next steps in working towards better and comparative data.

Briefing in English (PDF, 1351KB)


Papur briffio: Gwella’r ddealltwriaeth o raddfa a natur cam-drin plant yn rhywiol

(Briefing in Welsh)

Briefing in Welsh (PDF, 1366KB)


The CSA Centre data collection template

Despite many agencies working with children who have experienced sexual abuse and people who have committed CSA, the data that is readily available from these services is limited, uses variable definitions and is difficult to extract, analyse and compare.

Having previously highlighted the limitations of available data, the CSA Centre has worked with key stakeholders in statutory and voluntary services to develop a specification for core data fields to be collected by agencies delivering services in response to CSA. These core data fields are presented in our ‘data collection template’.  

The CSA Centre and the participating stakeholders believe that the integration of the data collection template into existing data systems will improve our collective ability to extract and analyse service data and enable us to make comparisons over time, between localities and in response to interventions and policy changes. In order to test how these data fields can be populated, analysed and reported on we have applied them in a number of contexts: 

  • application to data collected by the St Mary’s SARC;
  • piloting of application in four local areas.


Characteristics and experiences of children and young people attending Saint Mary’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre, Greater Manchester: A review of 986 case files

This report presents the findings and learning from extracting and analysing the narrative data collected in case files held by St Mary’s SARC using a set of core data fields developed by the CSA Centre. The study sought to explore the value and practicability for agencies to collect core data systematically about the nature of CSA, the people involved in and affected by it, and associated services.

This study shows that the introduction of consistent and comprehensive data collection would be unlikely to add additional burden to the existing data recording. Much of this data already exists in the narrative case files; collecting the information in a way that is extractable and easier to interpret and analyse will allow for better monitoring and comparison across services, localities and interventions.

The report tells us about the people who are accessing the SARC’s services, and just as importantly, the people who aren’t accessing them. For example, compared to the local population, minority ethnic groups were under-represented in the sample and boys were more likely than girls to attend the SARC after long periods of abuse. This information provides valuable insights which can be used to inform improvements in future practice and service reach, such as by testing interventions and outreach activity aimed at identifying boys earlier and being more accessible to BAME children and communities.

A review of CSA case files at St Mary’s SARC (PDF, 3260 KB)

Welsh summary (PDF, 1050 KB)


The findings from the piloting in five localities will be published alongside the data collection template this Summer.


What can we learn from the methods used in international surveys? 

Professor Lorraine Radford

This rapid evidence assessment has been commissioned to inform work on improving the collection of data in England and Wales. It looks at the differences in victim and perpetrator self-report survey methodologies used internationally to measure the prevalence of CSA and CSE, in order to identify good practice that could be replicated here (and which might facilitate comparisons with studies in other countries).

International survey review (PDF, 2.4MB)