20 October 2022, 19:10
The sexual abuse of children in England and Wales is an “epidemic that leaves tens of thousands of victims in its poisonous wake”, a stark and damning report said today.
The lead author of the seven-year, £186 million independent inquiry into child sexual abuse (IICSA) said researchers heard how “time and time again how allegations of abuse were ignored, victims were blamed and institutions prioritised their reputations over the protection of children.”
The report called for a “national redress scheme” to get compensation for victims “let down by the state and non-state institutions in the past”.
The government should bring in laws making people in positions of trust report child sexual abuse, the report authors also said, alongside 12 other recommendations.
Some 3.1 million children are victims of sexual abuse in England and Wales, according to the 2019 Office for National Statistics, accounting for 7.5% of the population aged between 18 and 75.
According to the Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse, in any year group of 200 children, ten boys and more than 30 girls will be sexually abused before the age of 16 – a fifth of the total.
The latest statistics suggest the age at which children become victims is getting younger, with sexual abuse offences recorded by police where the child was under the age of four rising by 45% in recent years. On average, victims only disclose their abuse after 26 years, the IICSA said.
Professor Alexis Jay, chairwoman of the inquiry, said: “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.
“Across our investigations … we heard time and time again how allegations of abuse were ignored, victims were blamed and institutions prioritised their reputations over the protection of children.
“The nature and scale of the abuse we encountered were horrifying and deeply disturbing. As a society, we simply cannot file it away and consider it a historical aberration when so much of what we learned suggests it is an ever-growing problem, exacerbated by the current and future threat of the internet.
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“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.”
When asked about the implications of the Prime Minister Liz Truss’ resignation on the findings, Prof Jay later told the PA news agency: “Perhaps from a rather selfish perspective it’s unfortunate that it may perhaps take attention away from this hugely important report.”
The inquiry looked at 15 areas scrutinising institutional responses to child sexual abuse – including investigations into abuse in Westminster and the church – and more than 7,000 victims took part.
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Some 325 days of public hearings saw testimony from 725 witnesses – including three former prime ministers, an ex-director general of MI5, victims, senior police officers and church leaders – while 2.5 million pages of evidence were processed and scores of reports published with 87 recommendations already made as a result.
Six previous recommendations put forward by the inquiry were reissued in the final report as they had not been “properly addressed or acted upon by those to whom they were directed”.
Meanwhile NSPCC chief executive Sir Peter Wanless said: “This must be a defining moment for child protection. We now need political leadership to turn this inquiry into lasting change.”
In his first full day in the job, Home Secretary Grant Shapps said his department would act on the report, saying “there is much more to do”.
The government will respond within six months, when all of the recommendations have been considered, the Home Office said.
Mr Shapps praised the victims who came forward as part of the inquiry and said their “bravery will not be forgotten”, adding: “I will keep their voices front and centre in everything I do and I will ensure that the findings of the inquiry, and their invaluable testimonies, are acted upon.
“To date, we have already taken action to tackle this abhorrent crime and learn from the lessons of the past, but I know there is much more to do. This is the start of a new chapter in our efforts to put an end to this terrible crime.
“I want to give assurances – where we can act quicker, we will.”