Child abuse victims 'let down by system', children's commissioner claims

Neil Puffett
Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Children who are the victims of child sexual abuse are being let down by the system, with professionals often failing to pick up signs of abuse, England's children's commissioner has said.

Research commissioned by the children's commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, found that although many children feel unable to disclose that they are victims of sexual abuse, professionals are often unfairly placing the responsibility on them to make sure their abuse is identified.

Researchers also found that many victims of child sexual abuse are waiting months or years before accessing support. Meanwhile, schools are frequently not fulfilling their role in giving children the knowledge to recognise abuse and seek help where necessary, making the early identifications of victims harder.

Longfield commissioned a total of three reports looking at the experiences of children who are victims of child sexual abuse - one on support available, one on the role of schools in preventing abuse, and one on the investigation of abuse.

The reports found that victims are frequently having to wait months or years for therapy following abuse, some schools are failing to offer children any lessons on sexual abuse, and children wait 100 days longer than adults for sexual abuse investigations to go to court.

"It is clear from this research and the heartbreaking stories told by young people within it, that many child sexual abuse victims are being let down by the system," said Longfield.

"Too much is being expected of victims themselves. Not only do many feel unable to disclose abuse, they are waiting too long to see their abusers charged and jailed. Often they have to wait months and years for therapy following abuse.

"Professionals remain dedicated to supporting the victims of abuse, but urgent changes need to be made to the way it is reported, the role of schools in preventing it and the criminal justice process in child sexual abuse cases.

"The Icelandic ‘Barnahaus' approach, where services ranging from medical examination to therapy are provided to victims under one roof, has been proven to be successful in overcoming some of these hurdles and I hope it will be trialed in England."

Camille Warrington, of the University of Bedfordshire, who was lead author of the Making Noise report, which looked into the support on offer, said: "We know that child sexual abuse flourishes in cultures of silence. Undertaking the Making Noise research project highlighted only too well children's own appetite and ability to help break that silence.

"It also emphasises the need for us as adults and professionals to improve the way we listen to and talk with children to prevent and respond to abuse - and the benefits that come from doing so."

A DfE spokeswoman said: "We want every child to feel able to speak out if they are a victim of this crime and be confident they will be listened to and supported when they do.
"We are improving the way the police, social services and other agencies work together to keep children safe, including from organised grooming and sexual exploitation - as well as giving £20m to the National Crime Agency to target online child sexual exploitation.
"We have also changed the law to make sure young people get taught about safe and healthy relationships at school, giving them the life skills they need to help them stay safe and face the challenges of growing up in today's world."

CYP Now Digital membership

  • Policy and research analysis
  • Evidence-based case studies
  • Leadership advice
  • Legal updates
  • Local area spotlights

From £15 / month


CYP Now Magazine

  • Policy and research analysis
  • Evidence-based case studies
  • Leadership advice and interviews
  • Legal updates

From £12 / month