A 20% rise in the number of sex crimes recorded against children under-11 has prompted the NSPCC to issue new guidance to parents.
Last year, 41 police forces across England and Wales recorded 5,547 sex crimes against those under-11, a near 20% rise on the figure of 4,772 for 2011/12.
On average, at least one in five of all recorded sexual offences against children involve those too young to attend secondary school.
Peter Wanless, Chief Executive of the NSPCC, said: "Sexual abuse continues to be a terrible scar on our society which won’t heal by itself. Our campaign has started to make inroads in giving children the protection they need but there is obviously still a long way to go.
"The police figures are worrying because they should be going down not rising, although the ‘Savile effect’ may be resulting in more people reporting abuse. Whatever the reason this highlights the urgent need to tackle this problem from an early age. And parents and carers can play an important role by ensuring their children are armed with the knowledge to recognise the wrong kind of behaviour and keep themselves safe."
Girls remain at more risk
In response to the findings, the children's charity is launching the second phase of its ‘Underwear Rule’ campaign which encourages parents of children aged 5-11 to talk to them about staying safe from sexual abuse.
The campaign, which originally launched last summer, saw over 2.3 million people view the online video and nine out of ten parents who were aware of the campaign said they now knew how to broach the subject.
Last year, 22,654 sexual offences against under-18s were reported to police with four out of five cases involving girls. The majority of these offences, which included, rape, sexual assault, abuse through pornography and grooming, were committed against children of secondary school age. But some of the victims were only one-year-old.
The figures, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, show girls are still at least four times more likely to be sexually abused, with 17,354 crimes reported.
In 2011-12 there were 22,664 offences recorded by 41 police forces in England and Wales. Of these, more than 18,000 involved girls.
For more information on the Underwear Rule campaign visit www.nspcc.org.uk/underwear