Working together to stop child sexual abuse

As set out in the new UK Government Communication Plan, one of our priorities for the year ahead is to make the United Kingdom a safer, more secure place to live and work.

In March, we launched a new campaign, Stop Abuse Together, to increase the disclosure and reporting of child sexual abuse. We want to help people take measures to protect children and prevent this terrible crime from occurring in the first place.

It’s sadly more common than you might think

Child sexual abuse is an extremely serious crime which harms millions of people across the UK. The Office for National Statistics estimates that 7.5% of the adult population in England and Wales experienced sexual abuse before the age of 16 (1). Shockingly, this equates to 2.5 million women and 700,000 men.

What are we doing about it?

Earlier this year, communicators from across government came together to discuss how we could combine our efforts and expertise to create a unified communication approach to tackling child sexual abuse.

Led by the Cabinet Office Campaigns Team and National Security Communications Team, we decided that our campaign would have 4 strands:

  1. Protect victims by increasing disclosure and reports.
  2. Prevent child sexual abuse by deterring [potential] offenders.
  3. Partner with third parties to maximise the sector’s impact.
  4. Encourage tech companies to better protect children on their platforms.

We immediately enlisted the support and expertise of the GCS Behavioural Science Team, mapping out the many complex behavioural barriers our audiences faced and devising a strategy to help achieve our objective of tackling child sexual abuse.

What stops people taking action?

At the time of their abuse, most children do not tell anyone what is happening to them – let alone report the abuse to the police. Children may lack the words to describe what is happening, not understand it as abuse, or may live in fear of their abuser and the consequences of speaking up.

And adults may lack a basic understanding of the signs to look out for, may be preoccupied with other commitments, may not want to make such a serious accusation based on limited information or just not know who to tell or what to do.

Making it as easy as possible to get help

The ‘Stop Abuse Together’ campaign aims to make key resources – such as helplines – as easy to access as possible to a range of audiences.

After extensive testing with partners and audiences, the campaign launched on National Child Exploitation Awareness Day on 18 March and the new website,, went live.

In its first week, campaign adverts drove 45,000 clicks to the site. The campaign also contributed to a 60% increase in average daily visits to the GOV.UK page for reporting child abuse to local social care teams.

This is only the start

Over the coming year, the cross-Whitehall team running ‘Stop Abuse Together’ will build on the successful launch of the website to develop a full-scale campaign, aimed at helping people disclose and report this appalling crime.

Read more about the campaigns we’ll be delivering in the year ahead in the new UK Government Communication Plan 2021/2022.

(1) Source: ONS, Child sexual abuse in England and Wales: year ending March 2019 (14 January 2020)

    Image credit:
  • Cabinet Office Campaigns Team (1)