Could Operation Yew Tree result in more child abuse offences being reported? 7 Jul 2015

Figures published earlier this month suggested that the number of reported sex offences have increased by 8500 in the last year. Experts in the field don’t think this is because more children are being abused, rather with so many high profile scalps being taken by the police, more people now have the confidence to speak out.

John Cameron, Head of Child Protection Operations at the NSPCC suggested to us, “One in nine children who are the victims of sexual abuse speak out about their experiences. Generally speaking, take the number of reported sexual offences and add a third.”  If Cameron is right, with 31,000 child sex offences being reported last year, 41,333 child sex offences were committed in the UK last year.

One in 20 children will have been sexually abused at some point. A typical Comprehensive school will have over 1000 pupils so anything up to 50 children will have experienced some form of sexual abuse in every upper school in the country. Knowing my own past, many of those kids will be disruptive and unable to achieve their full potential because they have difficult recent memories that they act out on to quell the pain. Drug and alcohol abuse and the effects of that on their young minds.

Operation Yew Tree raising profile

With the recent convictions of Gary Glitter and Rolf Harris, as well as the Jimmy Saville scandal, it seems that more and more people are starting to speak out. Lord Janner is now going to be put on trial for historic sex abuse, despite recently being found unfit to stand trial. Is the mood changing toward sexual abuse?

Cameron seems to think so. “Such trends in reporting can improve people’s confidence in statutory services. I don’t believe the number of sexual offences has actually increased, but the numbers reported have gone up.” The problem with trends is that where there are successes, confidence in the system goes up and, where there are major problems such as Lord Janner or the towns of Rotherham and Oxford, these gains in public confidence face reverses. You just need to see the outcry over Lord Janner who seems to have been found guilty by the court of popular opinion even before he stands trial…

Is this a fad like cervical cancer?

When Jade Goody died of cervical cancer, 400,000 extra women had themselves checked than would normally have the smear done. There was also the bipolar disorder fad brought about by Stephen Fry. Psychiatrists told me that thousands of people had gone to their doctors to try to be medicated because their celebrity hero had it. Thankfully for psychiatry, but not so amazing for oncology doctors, both celebrity fads died back.

Cameron is aware of these phenomenon and has said of the situation, “Public fatigue is always a concern. It is important for the media to keep up the pressure until attitudes genuinely change.”

Have attitudes changed?

Looking back over the years it is possible to see how attitudes have changed. Radio DJ’s, pop stars and others in positions of power got up to all sorts and the atmosphere of deference to those in power kept them out of trouble, even if the police didn’t deliberately ignore complaints.

The important thing that needs to change on the part of the police, according to Cameron is, “When someone reports a sexual offence, we won’t necessarily take it seriously until we have the evidence. By comparison, if we reported our car being broken into, we would be taken seriously immediately.” Should this change then Yew Tree may well bear fruit for years to come.

Where there is no doubt at all that a large number of celebrities and politicians will fall from grace in the coming years, it is important that the media doesn’t get bored of it, and that people get taken seriously when they do report it. If this continues, then the numbers of sexual offences reported should increase in the coming years – and importantly, fewer people will suffer in silence.

If you would like to speak in confidence with Stephanie Prior, head of child abuse claims, call Stephanie on 020 7485 8811, alternatively you can e-mail her on

Share this article