The newly-released report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has recommended that adults who work with children who fail to report cases of sexual abuse to police or social workers should be prosecuted. This mandate would also apply to priests and members of other religious denominations. In addition, internet providers should be required to block child abuse material, and social media companies must bring in more robust age checks.
The long-running inquiry was ordered by then-Home Secretary Theresa May in 2015 following the Jimmy Savile scandal and allegations of a paedophile ring operating at the heart of government in Westminster. It claims that there are currently 3.1 million victims of abuse aged between 18 and 75 in England and Wales. The 460-page report contains findings from 7,300 victims of abuse, with 89% of the abusers being men. Allegations of abuse in schools were the most frequently reported, followed by abuse in children’s homes and religious institutions. Nearly 10,500 allegations of abuse have been referred to the police as a result of the inquiry’s investigations, leading to over 100 convictions. A further 40 cases are still to go to trial.
The report claims that it is too easy for under-age children to access inappropriate social media apps, noting that in many cases simply stating a date of birth is enough to enter a site. The consequent risk to children under 13 of being targeted for grooming was described as “particularly acute.” There had been an upsurge in online child sexual abuse during the Covid pandemic, with internet and social media platforms not doing enough to prevent offences occurring. The report recommends that in future all images should be screened “to prevent child sexual abuse images from ever being uploaded to platforms and social media profiles.”
Concluding that a cabinet-level minister for children should be appointed by the government to reflect the importance of this issue, the inquiry also recommends that a network of child protection authorities should be set up across the country to oversee their recommendations. Financial compensation should also be available for victims of institutional child sexual abuse, including a lower level payment to victims who do not want to relive their experiences in detail.
However, the report is not without it’s detractors, including those who criticise the £186 million cost as well as the eight years it has taken to produce. Others claim that loopholes will still exist even in the compulsory reporting of abuse. For example, police and social workers will not be required to intervene if the abuse is reported by a third party, such as a friend or neighbour. Exceptions will also be made in the cases of children aged between 13 and 16 who are deemed to be in a “consensual relationship” with an adult who is not in a position of trust. The well-publicised cases of teenage girls in Rotherham being groomed and abused by gangs of older men could easily fall into this category in future cases.
Commenting on the report, the inquiry chairwoman Professor Alexis Jay, said: “For too long, child sexual abuse has been considered a problem of the past, despite lifelong impacts on its young victims. The nature and scale of the abuse we encountered were horrifying and deeply disturbing.” She added: “As a society we simply cannot file it away and consider it a historical aberration when so much of what we learnt suggests it is an ever-growing problem.”
A reappraisal of child sexual abuse issues is long overdue. It can no longer be acceptable for powerful institutions such as the BBC, the Catholic Church and Church of England, as well as care homes and well-known schools across the country, to be able to put their reputations above the protection of children in their care. For too long staff and employees have failed to give sufficient credence to children who make allegations of abuse, preferring to believe the denials of the adults who are supposed to be protecting them.
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For further information go to: The Report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse | IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse