SEX crimes against children are on the rise in Essex, according to new crime statistics released last week.

There were 143 more cases reported to police in the last year compared with 2014-2015.

While some categories, such as sexual exploitation, have more than halved, sexual assaults on children under 16 have risen sharply.

An NSPCC spokesman said the figures were “grim”.

He said: “Recent investigations have exposed a dark underbelly of abuse that went on for far too long with the impact only now becoming tragically clear.

“Sexual abuse has a devastating impact on a child, and we urge all victims to come forward as soon as possible so they can get the support they need and offenders can be brought to justice.”

There were 356 reports of sexual activity involving a child under 16, an increase of 30 per cent on the previous year.

The number of male children reporting rape also more than doubled, from five to 13 in 2016.

In total, there were 1,101 sexual offences reported against children in the county last year.

The figures include:

• Abuse of children through sexual exploitation: 6

Rape of a female child under 13: 132

• Rape of a female child under 16: 127

• Rape of a male child under 13: 55

• Rape of a male child under 16: 13

• Sexual activity involving a child under 13: 196

• Sexual activity involving a child under 16: 356

• Sexual assault on a female child under 13: 169

• Sexual assault on a male child under 13: 47

There were also 15 newly reported FGM cases in Essex, between April 2015 and March this year.

The spokesman added: “It is of real concern that there are 15 recorded cases of women who have suffered FGM in Essex – particularly when we know that many victims of the procedure endure it at a young age.

“Parents should be fully aware of the fact that FGM is against the law in the UK and causes serious and long lasting physical and emotional harm to the children it is inflicted upon.

“There is also a requirement for all professionals, families and members of the public to share information about FGM and the terrible damage it can cause on young women living in our communities.

“Only by being open and talking about this issue can we really start to reduce the number of women who are exposed to what is a barbaric act.”

Any child who has been a victim can call Childline on 0800 1111.”