It seems doubtless to me that the staggering rise in reported sex assaults in primary and secondary schools – more than 5,500alleged sex assaults, on boys as well as girls, in three years – goes hand-in-hand with the unfettered availability of extremely hardcore pornography to minors.
I spelled out a lot of this last time, but let me bring it together with a bit more info, because it is really quite remarkable that one single sentence can be so wrong in so many ways.
Some straightforward points of fact.
1. The statistics Grace Dent refers to did NOT report a rise in sexual assaults of any kind, ‘staggering’ or otherwise.
No trend was reported, and there is no way of knowing whether equivalent statistics from any time in the past would have been lower or indeed higher. (As it happens, all official statistics on sexual offending by children and young people show a significant long term downward trend. See below.)
2. The figure of 5,500 offences included current and historical offences committed in schools by adults against children.
Only 20% of the offences described were known to have been committed by children (the topic of Dent’s concern), in truth a little over 1,000 reported sexual offences are known to have been committed by children on school premises over a three year period. As there are approximately 30,000 schools in the UK, this means that the typical British school would be the location for a reported sexual offence approximately once every 82 years.
3. Those offences are wrongly described here as “sex assaults.” They also include all other sexual offences, such as those relating to so-called “sexting” and other pornography-related crimes, voyeurism, indecent exposure and several other offence-types which can be categorised as sexual offences.
Bearing those three points in mind, to use terminology such as the “staggering rise in reported sex assaults” in respect of these statistics is demonstrably false, needlessly alarmist and sensationalist. It is profoundly misleading to readers and risks causing disproportionate fear to both parents and children.
As it happens, Dent then goes on to make a load of points about the importance of good sex education in schools and about talking to your own children about sex and relationships, all of which, once again, I wholeheartedly endorse and applaud. That does not excuse some really quite outrageous falsehoods and mythmaking in her introduction
As for whether there is a rise in sexual offences that can be attributed to hardcore pornography, or anything else, as I always stress, figures of incidents reported to police are a very, very poor guide, as only a small proportion of such offences will be reported to police. However, since we are in the realm of reported police statistics anyway, I thought it would be worth checking the MoJ/YJB stats to see how many sexual offences have been reported involving juvenile perpetrators over the past 10 years (note these will include, but not be restricted to offences on school premises.) I had to collate the figures myself and make a quick graph. I didn’t waste time prettifying it.
As you’ll notice, there was a rise last year. I’d suggest that is likely to be part of the recent (and very welcome) upsurge in willingness of victims to report sexual offences that has happened in the wake of the Savile revelations and everything else that has happened since. For comparison, over the same 10 year period the numbers of rapes being reported to police has more than doubled.
Even allowing for that, the past two years have seen the lowest, and second lowest numbers of reported sex offences perpetrated by young people since records began.
To coin a phrase, it might seem doubtless to you that this goes hand-in-hand with the unfettered availability of extremely hardcore pornography to minors. My hunch is that the two phenomena have little if anything to do with each other.