Failure to report child sexual abuse should be a crime, inquiry finds

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On Thursday, October 20, the final report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) was published which found institutions had repeatedly prioritised their own reputations over the protection of children. Across 15 investigations, a research programme, and the Truth Project – a unique feature that gave victims and survivors the chance to be heard and tell their story – the IICSA found appalling abuse had taken place at a number of institutions including the Catholic Church, the Church of England, and Westminster. The report has now set out 14 recommendations in a bid to tackle the weaknesses in organisations and practices, including that new law should make mandatory reporting of alleged child sexual abuse a legal requirement for those who work in a position of trust. 

The inquiry – which cost a total of £186.68million – was set up under then Home Secretary, Theresa May, in 2014 because of “serious concerns” that some institutions had failed and were continuing to fail to protect children from sexual abuse. From 2015, over the course of seven years, 7,300 victims and survivors engaged with the inquiry.

Speaking at the conference on Thursday, Professor Alexis Jay, chair of the inquiry who was previously a social worker for more than 30 years, said: “The whole subject of child sexual abuse is mired in euphemism, obfuscation, myth and stereotypes. So let me put this plainly – it is not uncommon, it is not contained within one sector of society, it is not always hidden, nor is it confined to girls. And nor is it true that it does not occur within ethnic minority communities.” 

According to the 2019 Crime Survey for England and Wales, there are 3.1million victims and survivors of child abuse in England and Wales – almost 8 percent of the population between the ages of 18 and 75. Victims are left feeling “damaged, worthless and ashamed”, but on average, do not disclose their abuse for 26 years. Some suffer life-long consequences affecting their careers, physical and mental health and relationships. In some tragic cases, victims take their own lives. 

The report noted that unfortunately the full scale of the extent of child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation cannot be known as data collection is poor with there being no consistent approach to recording it. As a result, one recommendation was for the UK and Welsh Governments to improve data collection and create a single core data set, compiled and published regularly. 

The Truth Project – which heard 6,339 accounts of child sexual abuse – found 18 percent of those who did not tell anyone at the time did so because they “did not have anyone to disclose it to”, 17 percent “did not know it was not ok” with 14 percent thinking they would “not be believed”, and 12 percent “not having the words to explain” what was happening to them. Less than 10 percent of participants who disclosed what had happened said that the police were informed about their allegation. 

The inquiry, which was set up in the wake of the revelation of the Jimmy Savile allegations, found that children are sexually abused in England and Wales every single day. It has been estimated that in 2020/21 there were 500,000 victims of sexual abuse. While 67,675 allegations of child sexual abuse were recorded by the police, only 4,649 offenders were convicted. 

The inquiry, which heard of the “sickening, painful and degrading sexual abuse of children”, found that one in six girls is abused before the age of 16. Amongst boys, this figure was one in 20. However, the report found boys were less likely to report sexual abuse in childhood than their counterparts. The inquiry covered all cases within “living memory” and heard from the likes of Bishops, Archbishops, and three former Prime Ministers during its investigations. 

The report examined 15 areas of institutional life and “repeatedly” heard how institutions would prioritise their own reputations and those of the individuals within them over the protection of children. Professor Jay continued: “Deference was often shown to people of prominence including counsellors, MPs, and leading clergy by those whose job it was to investigate allegations. Even when they tried to investigate thoroughly, they were often told by their superiors to back off.”

On Thursday, 14 further recommendations were published which included the call for both the UK Government and the Welsh Government to appoint a Cabinet Minister for Children as well as create a Child Protection Authority for both England and Wales. Its purpose will be, in part, to inspect institutions and settings as it deems appropriate. 

Not only this, but it recommends that the UK and Welsh Governments introduce laws requiring people to report child sexual abuse, making it a crime to fail to make a mandatory report in certain circumstances. 

The proposed law would require individuals in certain employments and professions to report allegations of child sexual abuse to relevant authorities. If they do not, in some circumstances, it would mean they could have committed a criminal offence. The inquiry also called for a national redress scheme for England and Wales which would see victims and survivors of child sexual abuse let down by institutions in the past receive some monetary compensation. 

The report reiterated its calls on the Government to ban any technique that induces pain, also known as a “pain compliance technique”, that is used in custodial institutions where children are detained. It also recommends that the Government change the law to remove the time limit for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse to make a legal claim for compensation. Currently, a claim must be submitted within two years of going to the police in most cases.

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Professor Jay wrote in the report: “For too long, child sexual abuse has been considered a problem of the past, despite lifelong impacts on its young victims. 

 “Its extent cannot be underestimated; the sexual abuse of children is an epidemic that leaves tens of thousands of victims in its poisonous wake and some will never recover… The nature and scale of the abuse we encountered were horrifying and deeply disturbing…

 “I urge the UK Government, the Welsh Government, and all other relevant institutions to implement the inquiry’s recommendations as a matter of urgency. Unless we are prepared to accept a world where our children, and their children, are always in danger of becoming victims of this terrible crime, action must be taken immediately.”

She told the conference on Thursday, in answer to whether the government, in its current state, has the capacity to enact the changes recommended, that it “must act” as both Government and society has a moral, ethical, and social responsibility to ensure children are not let down again. 

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