Three in ten female victims of rape are under 16 years old, new figures reveal.
Boys under 16 make up 60% of male victims, data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found after breaking down the age and gender of victims for the first time.
The data, based on statistics gathered by 13 forces across England and Wales in the last 12 months up to March, showed sexual violence victims of both sexes were most likely to be aged between 15 and 19 years old.
Gabrielle Shaw, of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC), called the numbers “shocking” but cautioned it was time society recognised this as “the new normal”.
“What leapt out is that a lot more abuse is being reported, and this is a huge change,” she told BuzzFeed News.
“What it shows is that society is starting to recognise the scale and scope of abuse and that young people are more willing to come forward.”
She continued: “There needs to be a recognition that this is not a weird spike, this is the new normal and what these figures demonstrate is the sheer scale of it. It is a public health issue and we as a society need to recognise this and treat it accordingly.”
On the issue of men who are raped, Shaw said the figures bore out what NAPAC helplines heard every day. “We know from that it is more equal numbers of men and women disclosing, and men will not disclose to police but they will talk to us.”
Sarah Green, of End Violence Against Women, called the statistics of violence against young women and girls “extremely alarming”.
“These numbers have to be taken as a wake-up call to the government and all people who work with young people,” she told BuzzFeed News.
Green said the numbers were particularly shocking given education secretary Nicky Morgan’s decision this week not to make sexual education compulsory in schools despite a “range of people, across the board” calling for it.
There needs to be actions in schools, Green said, “in the face of these figures, which show a disproportionate targeting of young women".
She added: “If you are going to solve this problem you have to get in and try and prevent it. The case is absolutely clear for it [sex education in schools].”
Although Green welcomed the more detailed statistics, long called for by campaigners, she said there was a need to record the gender and age of alleged perpetrators.
There were 88,106 recorded incidences of sexual violence last year, the highest number since the introduction of the National Crime Recording Standard in 2002.
Improvements by police in recording sexual crimes are believed to be partly responsible for the increase, the ONS said.
It comes after another report found 50% of young people said they did not know where to turn for help should they experience sexual abuse.