Page last updated at 09:59 GMT, Monday, 9 February 2009

Sex abuse calls to ChildLine soar

Eastenders character Whitney Dean
Eastenders' Whitney Dean was raped - prompting a rise in calls to Childline

A record number of children told ChildLine they were sexually abused last year - with more than 30 such calls a day being made.

More than 13,000 youngsters told the telephone helpline that they were victims of sex abuse, a 50% increase on the figure three years ago.

ChildLine says it was only able to answer two-thirds of calls made to it.

Founder Esther Rantzen said the service needed to be expanded "so that every child's cry for help can be answered".

Our nightmare

Almost 6,000 of the children told ChildLine they had been raped - and 465 of those who called the helpline were aged seven or younger.

FROM BBC RADIO 5 LIVE

The charity says it cannot answer every call because of a shortage of funds.

Ms Rantzen, who is also the president of the charity, said: "Our nightmare is the child who plucks up the courage to ring, fails to get through, and never dares try again.

"Imagine the distress of a child who cannot get through to a counsellor before she is raped again that night."

Two-thirds of ChildLine's 13,237 callers were girls, most in the 12 to 15 age range.

Almost 60% of those who claimed to have been sexually abused said a family member was responsible.

Some 29% said they had been abused by someone else known to them, while just 4% said they had been abused by a stranger.

They will often ring us back time and time again before they are ready to speak out
Sue Minto, ChildLine

ChildLine head Sue Minto told BBC Breakfast the children who called were always offered help, but an investigation would only go ahead with their consent.

"They ring ChildLine because they know that they've got the confidentiality and they know that they can say how they want things to progress.

"And they will often ring us back time and time again before they are ready to speak out."

She said some children had been encouraged to speak out by a storyline in BBC soap opera Eastenders in which 15-year-old character Whitney Dean, played by Shona McGarty, was raped.

"More children now understand what sexual abuse is and are increasingly willing to turn to ChildLine for help, " she added.

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