More than 700 allegations of sex offences involving children were made to Merseyside Police in a 12-month period, a charity has revealed.
The shocking figures obtained by the NSPCC show 744 offences against young people under the age of 18 were recorded in the county in 2013-14.
Historically this type of crime has gone under-reported and it’s really encouraging to see that we’re seeing a rise in reports and that people are more confident in coming forwardDet Ch Insp John Middleton
The figures only cover the whole of Merseyside so it is unclear how many of the incidents involved St Helens youngsters.
The NSPCC described the figures, which nationally show the number of offences in 2013-14 rising by around a third compared to the previous year, as “disturbing”.
However, Merseyside Police said more cases are being recorded because officers are dealing more effectively with such crimes and victims have more confidence in coming forward.
Det Ch Insp John Middleton said: “Historically this type of crime has gone under-reported and it’s really encouraging to see that we’re seeing a rise in reports and that people are more confident in coming forward.
“We have had a large number of successful court cases that have dealt with both historical and recent sexual offences against children. These have most certainly given victims the courage and more confidence in coming forward as they illustrate how seriously both the police and the judicial system take these types of offences.
“This is reflected in the fact that more and more cases are coming to light as victims become confident that police and other services will listen to their story and ensure they get the help they need.
“Child sexual abuse is a terrible crime that can have a devastating impact on young people. Worryingly it can take a victim seven years to summon up the courage to tell someone what has happened to them, either because they are ashamed, have no-one they can trust to believe them.
“Although we are seeing an increase in the reporting of these offences, it is still under-reported. Young people cannot be expected to do this alone and we do not underestimate how difficult it is for someone who is being, or has been, abused to come forward.”
The force says it is now dealing with cases dating as far back as 1952 in Merseyside as people who previously have been wary of approaching the police make allegations of sexual offences.
Merseyside Police said more work still had to be done ensuring St Helens residents are aware of the signs which show young people may be at risk and know what to do if they have concerns.
There were also fewer cases in Merseyside in 2013-14 than neighbouring counties, with Lancashire Police recording 977 offences and Greater Manchester Police dealing with 1,825 allegations, the second-highest in England and Wales behind the Met Police in London.
Nationally there were 31,238 allegations in 2013-14, with the majority of victims aged between 12 and 16 but as many as 2,895 estimated to be five or under.
More than three quarters of the reported abuse cases were against girls.
To find out more or speak to someone about child sexual abuse, visit listentomystory.co.uk or www.victimcaremerseyside.org.uk