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UK police investigating 1,400 alleged perpetrators of child sex abuse -

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MARK COLVIN: In Britain, with the names of Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris already synonymous with historic child abuse, more than a thousand other prominent suspects are now in the frame.

Politicians, musicians and people in the sporting world are among those implicated in reports of abuse dating back decades and police are reporting a massive increase in the number of victims coming forward.

Thomas Oriti reports.

THOMAS ORITI: It started with the sordid life of the BBC star Jimmy Savile. In death, he was exposed as a sexual predator, and one of the most prolific sex offenders in British history. Then Australian entertainer Rolf Harris fell. And now the investigation that's followed has uncovered a large number of child molesters who potentially targeted thousands of victims across the UK.

Constable Simon Bailey is the head of Child Protection at the National Police Chiefs Council in London.

SIMON BAILEY: It means that victims more so than ever before are having the confidence to come forward, and they can be reassured that when they come forward and report their abuse that we are now responding differently.

THOMAS ORITI: In the wake of the Savile scandal, the National Police Chiefs Council set up Operation Hydrant to examine historic child sex abuse. It doesn't conduct its own investigations, but gathers information from other operations such as Yewtree, which led to the conviction of Rolf Harris.

And the detectives behind Operation Hydrant have now provided a disturbing snapshot of the challenges ahead. In less than a year, they've identified more than 1,400 suspects who were allegedly involved in more than 110,000 cases of abuse. That number's expected to rise.

Theresa May is the British home secretary.

THERESA MAY: This is a really difficult issue for us, but it's important that we uncover it, that we identify what went wrong in the past, that we learn lessons from it.

THOMAS ORITI: Operation Hydrant has described about 260 of the suspects as people of public prominence, more specifically 76 politicians, 43 people from the music industry, and 7 from the world of sport. The abuse took place in hundreds of institutions, most often in schools. But what stands out from the report is the spike in the number of people coming forward - a 71 per cent increase in just three years.

Graham Wilmer is a victim of abuse, and now works to assist others who face the same trauma.

GRAHAM WILMER: The 1,400 suspects that are being talked about today are literally the tip of the iceberg. We are working with hundreds of survivors. So over the next months and years you will see many thousands more survivors will come forward.

THOMAS ORITI: As the investigation gains momentum, the child abuse royal commission continues back home, and prominent figures are behind bars. Support networks are reporting that the public attention has compelled more victims to speak out, creating what's been described by lawyers in the UK as a seismic shift.

Carol Ronken is a criminologist with the Australian child protection group Bravehearts.

CAROL RONKEN: We certainly are seeing the same thing here. Of course we had the Robert Hughes case, the Hey Dad actor, and of course Rolf Harris, so I think that what we're actually seeing are a lot of survivors who for many years felt as if they had to hold onto that secret.

THOMAS ORITI: After the royal commission was first announced, Bravehearts reported a 300 per cent increase in calls to its support line. And Carol Ronken says victims are still coming forward at a rapid rate.

CAROL RONKEN: We certainly do, on a daily basis, have people contacting us who have never spoken about their own histories before and, you know, wanting to talk to someone. It might not necessarily be that they want to go through the criminal process, but it's just you know, for whatever reason they're wanting to reach out and talk to someone and just get some support.

MARK COLVIN: Criminologist Carol Ronken, ending that report from Thomas Oriti.