Reports of historical sex offences now account for more than half of all sex offences reported to Cumbria police.

In the last year, 52 per cent of sex offences reported to police were classed as historic.

A total of 133 offences were reported within 12 months of the offence happening but 143 were reported after a year.

The majority of victims reporting historical sex offences said they were abused while they were children.

Detective Chief Inspector Neil Cooper said most crimes reported from January until July this year were committed against six to 12-year-olds.

He said of the increase in reports of historical offences: “It has to be down to the messages that are going out that you will be believed, you will be taken seriously and it will be investigated fully.”

Since 2012/13, Cumbria police has seen an increase in reports of sexual offences, a trend in line with national figures.

As well as increased confidence in reporting, DCI Cooper put the increase down to high profile sex abuse cases such as Jimmy Savile and Operation Yewtree.

Reporting within the first 24 hours of the offence is the exception and DCI Cooper wants that to change.

He said: “That creates its own challenges because the forensic window is quite small. It’s a challenge, it’s not an insurmountable challenge but it’s a challenge.”

The first 24 hours are crucial for collecting forensic evidence

DCI Cooper explained that after five days there is a very, very slim chance of getting any forensic evidence, which is a problem because it takes away a potentially key part of evidence that could be used in a prosecution.

Forensic evidence can be key in an offence where other avenues of evidence such as witnesses and CCTV footage are often unavailable.

Other challenges facing police as they investigate historic offences are that people, both witnesses and suspects, may have moved away out of the county and people’s memories.

DCI Neil Cooper “They forget things after 10 years so again that makes it a little bit harder,” DCI Cooper said.

However, despite the challenges faced with investigating both recent and historic sex offences, DCI Cooper is confident Cumbria Police is up for the challenge.

“I think we’re lucky in Cumbria,” he said, “I think we have got some of the best officers that I have ever seen working in this sort of area.”

The county’s conviction rate for sexual offences is around 14 per cent, higher than the national average of 12 per cent.

DCI Cooper said: “We put a lot of resources into investigating sexual offences and we put a lot of commitment to that. I think that’s why we have always been above the national average.”

From April this year, police in Cumbria have started talking to the Crime Prosecution Service and an expert lawyer right from the beginning of their investigation. The aim of this early liaison is to improve efficiency and speed up prosecution. DCI Cooper said it should also improve conviction rates.

While Cumbria is below the national average of adult recorded rapes, it is slightly above the average of rapes against children.

Figures earlier this summer revealed that the number of sex offences against children have more than tripled in the past four years.

Reports of rapes and sexual assaults against boys have seen the greatest rise, from 18 to 82 - a 350 per cent increase - in 2015/16.

Sexual offences against girls of the same age have risen threefold, from 49 to 146.

Cumbria’s crime commissioner, Peter McCall, has vowed that the force will not shy away the figures and is urging victims pf abuse to come forward.

And this week it emerged that 40 per cent of indecent image offences in Cumbria were committed by under-18s, prompting fears over the dangers of sexting.

DCI Cooper, who is the police lead against child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Cumbria, revealed that currently 24 children have been identified and risk assessed as CSE victims or highly vulnerable to CSE.

This has more than halved since last September when 53 children were identified as being at risk of CSE.

DCI Cooper estimated the amount of police intelligence for CSE had increased by 300 or 400 per cent over the last few years. “This year it’s gone up over 100 per cent because we’re looking for it far more,” he said.

Deborah Royston, children services senior manager for Cumbria Local Safeguarding Children Board, said over the last 18 months there had been a real push for raising awareness of CSE and more than 500 people who worked with children had been given relevant training.

She said: “We’re getting it much closer to right. When do you ever say we have got it right? That’s the hard question.”

The latest available figures show that from October 2015 to January 2016, 70 children at risk of CSE were receiving support. Police said the support provided to children was decreasing their risk of being exploited and groomed.

DCI Cooper said in his experience the child victims of sexual abuse tend to know their abuser. He also said the internet was one of the greatest threats to children and educating both them and their parents of the risks was critically important.

He said: “Children are the most vulnerable members of society in many ways and they don’t have a voice. Some people might think they are an easier target.”

Out of 173 offences reported in Cumbria during 2013, 2014 and 2015, 69 involved young people – many of which are said to involve ‘sexting’.

The figures - obtained by children’s charity the NSPCC under the Freedom of Information Act - also reveal the number of indecent image offences reported in the same period has increased by 150 per cent.

The NSPCC is urging parents to talk to children about the risks of sharing nude selfies on mobile phones and social media as this may be partly fuelling the rise in offences by under-18s.

A survey by the charity recently revealed only half of parents knew that children taking nude selfies were committing a crime.

It’s an issue that those working with young people are acutely aware of and raising warnings about.

Abi Reed, mentoring coordinator at Carlisle Youth Zone, said: “A lot of the time, they don’t realise the image could end up in the wrong hands. They think they’re sending it to their friends only, but soon enough it can end up going round school.

“That’s something that we try to teach them about – how to be more responsible and be aware of the consequences.”

Victims of sexual assault should report offences to the police or contact The Bridgeway, a dedicated sexual assault support service located in Penrith Community Hospital on 0808 118 6432.

Victims can also report offences to Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.