THE SHOCKING prevalence of child sexual abuse has been outlined in a new study which estimates only one in eight victims come to the attention of the authorities.

The Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield has gathered data from police forces and councils across the country, as well as surveying 750 survivors of abuse, to create a picture of the scale of the problem.

The report estimates that between 2012 and 2014 as many as 450,000 children were victims of sexual abuse - but the vast majority didn't receive the help and protection they need.

The "Protecting children from harm" report focuses specifically on sexual abuse in the family environment which it says accounts for two thirds of sexual abuse cases.

The report identifies that authorities rely on children themselves disclosing the abuse, but many do not know what is happening to them at the time. Feelings of guilt and shame and fear of the consequences can also stop them speaking out.

Child sexual abuse survivor Sue Crocombe, a nurse from Dorset, spoke on BBC Radio 4's Today programme following the publication of the report yesterday. She was abused by a family member from the age to four to just before her 13th birthday and told how for years she felt it was her "terrible guilty secret" that she tried to "shut the door on".

"It comes back to haunt you - it never goes away," she added: "It's taken counselling to see I'm not at fault but the shame and the guilt you feel is huge."

She said abuse is something "children don't readily disclose on their own", and added: "We need to be asking those questions when children display signs."

The Commissioner recommends schools give children compulsory lessons about healthy and safe relationships and it calls for all school staff to be trained to identify the signs and symptoms of abuse.

Mandy Gulliver, service director at ACTS FAST, a Bournemouth charity which supports families where a child has been sexually abused, called the report "a positive step" in tackling the problem.

"Of course it is scary to start talking about it - but it is far more scary to have to talk about it after it has happened. People are very fearful and don't want to think it's happening in their own family - but sadly that is the reality.

"By seeing the scale of it, being able to open this up, we have some chance of being able to protect our children."

The report also recommends a tailored support for victims, and calls for agencies to ensure they are not re-traumatised by any investigation process.

Detective Chief Inspector Chris Naughton, of the Dorset Police Public Protection Unit which is dedicated to dealing with all reports of sexual abuse involving children, said police training and awareness campaigns had helped people, including parents and teachers "to spot signs of child abuse and to report these," and officers worked with professionals from both the statutory and voluntary sector "to identify and safeguard those who report any incident of sexual abuse."