Almost 100 children under the age of 12 report being sexually assaulted in the Bay of Plenty every year - and experts say this is only a fraction of the problem.

New figures revealed to The Bay of Plenty Times showed in the year to June there had been 57 reported cases of children being sexually assaulted. Ninety six children under the age of 12 were reported as being sexually assaulted in 2015.

One Bay organisation is doing its part to help those who have been affected deal with the long-lasting effects.

Bay of Plenty Sexual Assault Services chief executive Kylie McKee said more than 50 per cent of sexual assault victims would develop some form of mental illness later in life.

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"The effects are devastating and traumatising for a person with the complexity and ugliness of the assaults increasing dramatically."

Bay of Plenty Sexual Assault Services chief executive Kylie McKee. Photo/Ruth Keber
Bay of Plenty Sexual Assault Services chief executive Kylie McKee. Photo/Ruth Keber

People who had been sexually assaulted were more likely to self harm, suffer from psychiatric disorders, PTSD, depression, commit suicide, turn to substance abuse and be revictimised after the first instance of abuse, she said.

Abuse across all age groups was rising too. In 2013, 264 people sought help for sexual abuse, 392 in 2014, and 515 in 2015.

Ms McKee said it was an indication that more people were reporting the abuse when it happened, instead of staying silent.

Nationally it was believed that between seven to nine per cent of sexual assaults were reported. The Bay of Plenty had better statistics with about 15 per cent of the crimes being recorded, she said.

"There is more awareness that services are here. We are getting more calls from parents, schools and kindergartens directly when they are concerned there could be a problem.

"The earlier the intervention for young people, the better the long term outcomes can be."

A Bay of Plenty sexual assaults counsellor said there was no single factor motivating abusers.

In the past few years access to smart phones and the internet had made pornography more accessible, she said.

The assaults could also be brought on by learnt behaviour, inter-generational trauma, a history of previous sexual assaults and social learning.

"Sexual assault is often done within the family or by somebody who is known to the family. The incidents of somebody walking through a park and being raped isn't that high."

A perpetrator picked a victim for a whole host of reasons, but could generally tell the victim was vulnerable, she said.

The counsellor, who would not be named to protect her clients, said there was healing and hope for victims if the right interventions were in place.

"I am humbled every day by the people I meet... what they struggle and grapple with but they can come right. People turn around their lives."

Officer in charge of the Western Bay of Plenty child protection team Detective Sergeant Darryl Brazier said the increase in numbers was more likely to indicate an increase in the reporting by victims rather than an increase in offending.

This could be because of services available such as BOPSASS and an increase in the trust and confidence in the police, he said.

Mr Brazier said work had been done in recent years to improve police response to anyone reporting a sexual assault. Police encouraged victims to report a sexual assault as soon as they could, however, they could still report an assault if it happened a long time ago, he said.

Mr Brazier said the increase in the reported number of offences on young children was concerning.

"It is important that these matters are reported so the victims receive appropriate support, counselling and follow up help."

Mr Brazier said the Tauranga community needed to look out for children and young people.

"Ensuring that we are across who they are associating with, where they are at and that they have the necessary support at home to stay safe and make good decisions.

"One child victim of sexual abuse is one too many."

Do you need help?

If you are in danger and need help now ring 111 from any phone at any time. Ask for the police and tell them where you are.

24/7 Crisis Phone Support
If you've ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone call the confidential crisis helpline on: 0800 227 233 (0800 2B SAFE)

Or visit, the Bay of Plenty Sexual Assault Services website.