Child sex abuse a national health epidemic, government adviser warns

Expert appointed to inquiry says there could be up to 11 million victims in the UK and calls for better support
  • The Guardian, Monday 8 December 2014 09.33 GMT
Theresa May
Theresa May has apologised for failing to find a suitable chair for the government’s historical sex abuse inquiry. Photograph: Neil Hall/Reuters
There could be as many as 11 million victims of sexual abuse in the UK – constituting a “national health epidemic” – an expert appointed to a government inquiry has said.
Graham Wilmer, founder of the Lantern Project, said his estimation was based on “prevalence rates published by the government”, and he called for better support for victims.
He was appointed by the home secretary, Theresa May, as an independent panel member on the historical sex abuse inquiry, which has seen the resignation of two chairs and anger from some victims.
Wilmer, an abuse victim himself, told Sky News: “There are potentially about 11.7 million victims out there at the moment who have not disclosed and many of those people will start to come forward in very significant numbers.”
“You are dealing with a massive, massive problem. From what we have seen, if you don’t provide the right level of support and intervention to support people when they come forward you see very significant health problems – mental health and physical health – which have a direct cost to us as a society.
“We look upon child abuse and its impact now as a national health epidemic.”
According to Sky News, statistics show one in six boys under 16 have been sexually abused, while for girls the figure is one in four. The children’s charity NSPCC estimates that one in 20 children in the UK have been sexually abused.
The government’s inquiry has been dogged with problems, mainly around finding a chair, since it was announced in July. May has apologised to victims for failing to find a suitable person to fill the role.
Lady Butler-Sloss stood down as chair in July amid questions over the role played by her late brother, Lord Havers, who was attorney general in the 1980s.
Her replacement, Fiona Woolf, the then lord mayor of London, resigned in October following criticism over her “establishment links”, most notably in relation to the former home secretary Lord Brittan.
Last week a number of alleged victims of child sexual abuse said they would withdraw from the inquiry unless the government made changes, including extending the period of time it will cover to further back than 1970.

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