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Children aged under 10 suspected of committing more than 1,600 rapes in England and Wales since 2014

The NSPCC says children who rape may have been victims of abuse themselves, as NationalWorld reveals police have been unable to pursue prosecutions in hundreds of cases where the suspect was under the age of criminal responsibility.

Children aged nine or under have been suspected of committing more than 1,600 rapes in England and Wales since 2014, NationalWorld can reveal.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) said the “awful” incidents may be the result of abuse suffered by the child perpetrating the rapes – and that safeguarding, not punitive action, must be the priority.

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NationalWorld analysed the latest Home Office data on the outcomes recorded for almost 340,000 rape offences between April 2014 and September 2021.

During that time police forces across the two countries reported that they were unable to pursue a prosecution in approximately 1,660 cases (roughly 19 per month on average) because the suspect was under the age of criminal responsibility.

The age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is 10. Children younger than this cannot be arrested or charged with a crime.

The figures are based on the date a final outcome for a crime was recorded, rather than the crime itself.

In English and Welsh law, rape involves non-consensual penetration of a victim’s vagina, anus or mouth with a penis. It would not cover penetration with any other part of the body, or with an object, which is instead classed as sexual assault by penetration.

The Home Office data shows there have also been 5,280 outcomes with an underage suspect recorded for sexual assault (which would include assault by penetration, as well as other crimes) since April 2014.

Crime is devolved in Scotland and Northern Ireland, so they are not captured by the Home Office data.

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The majority of rape cases involving a suspect under the age of 10 involved male victims – unlike with rape cases overall, which are overwhelmingly committed against women and girls.

Around 55% of the offences involving an underage suspect were committed against male victims.

Hampshire Constabulary recorded the most offences involving an underage suspect, at 115. This was followed by Greater Manchester (111), West Yorkshire (95), Thames Valley (83) and Northumbria (72).

Clare Kelly, NSPCC associate head of policy and public affairs, said: “Younger children may display harmful sexual behaviour for a number of reasons such as being coerced into an act by an adult or being exposed to trauma and abuse themselves.

“In some of the most serious cases it may be deemed necessary for a child under 10 to be placed under a Child Safety Order, but it is absolutely essential that safeguarding and welfare of children involved in these awful incidents is the priority – rather than a punitive response.”

Seven police forces recorded cases involving suspects under the age of 10 where the victim was purportedly an adult, aged at least 16. They recorded 11 such cases between them.

NationalWorld contacted each force to check the accuracy of these figures. Five of them – London’s Metropolitan Police (one case), Hertfordshire Constabulary (one case), Warwickshire Police (two cases), North Wales Police and West Mercia Police (four cases) – said they had made an error when recording the crimes.

Kent Police, which recorded one case with an underage suspect and an adult victim, said the details were correct, and that it had involved “vulnerabilities”.

Suffolk Police said it could not verify its reported case involving a child rapist and adult victim without a crime reference number, but a spokesperson said: “When an offence is reported that involves an offender under the age of 18, special measures are utilised to ensure that they are dealt with appropriately, with partner agencies consulted to ensure the welfare of all concerned.”