The report, entitled The Foundations of Abuse and carried out by the NCA’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Command, found that hierarchical structures in institutions such as churches can make it easier for offenders to abuse the children in their care by discouraging junior staff and members from reporting their suspicions.

The report also highlighted how, particularly in religious settings, victims and those around them are often in awe of offenders, considering the attention paid to them an honour.

‘There is something about institutions that can amplify both vulnerability and power to a point where sexual abuse of children within them can become endemic,’ said Peter Davies, director of the NCA’s CEOP Command. ‘There is no doubt that more needs to be done ? and this work has to be done by the very institutions which are allowing this abuse to take place.’

One third of the case studies in the report relate to abuse within faith environments, with five of those six relating to leaders who specifically targeted the children of the more devout.

Simon Bass, CEO of the Churches Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS), said: ‘It sounds harsh to suggest that the children of strongly committed parents are more at risk of being abused. However, this is not only true but it stems largely from the fact that they tend to buy in to the culture of their local church wholeheartedly.’

CCPAS says it welcomes the recommendations of the report, which include calling for the government to legislate to close a loophole in the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which currently does not deem ministers of religion (and some other roles) as holding ‘positions of trust’