By Kieran McCartan, PhD.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICCSA) has released its final report, in which it outlines the scale and nature of Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation in England and Wales. The IICSA was created by Teresa May, MP, in her role as Home Secretary. Over the 7 years that it was in existence, its role was to understand the roles and responsibilities of government, state, and private institutions duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation, and why they failed to do so. Over its life the inquiry held more than 300 days of public hearings, processed over two million pages of evidence, heard from over 700 witnesses, and engaged with over 7,000 victims and survivors. The Inquiry, through 15 investigations identified, as the Australian Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse (2013 – 2017) had before it, that:
- “Child sexual abuse and exploitation takes many forms including contact and non-contact offences.
- Children, particularly those who are sexually exploited, are often degraded and abused by multiple individuals.
- Historically, inadequate measures were in place to protect children from the risk of being sexually abused – sometimes there were none at all.
- Children were believed to be lying when they tried to disclose their experiences of abuse.
- Those who had been victimized were frequently blamed as being responsible for their own sexual abuse.
- Within statutory agencies with direct responsibility for child protection, there was too little emphasis on the complex and highly skilled work of child protection. Decisions about children were not unequivocally based on the paramount interests of the child.
- Multi-agency arrangements still lack focus on child protection.
- There is still not enough support available to both child and adult victims and survivors.
- Child sexual abuse is not a problem consigned to the past, and the explosion in online-facilitated child sexual abuse underlines the extent to which the problem is endemic within England and Wales.
- The devastation and harm caused by sexual abuse cannot be overstated – the impact of child sexual abuse, often lifelong, is such that everyone should do all they can to protect children.
- Finally, this is not just a national crisis, but a global one.”
- The UK government should collect a single database on all data collected in respect to child sexual abuse and exploitation.
- The development of Child Protection Authorities for England and for Wales which work to improve child protection practices.
- Creation of a cabinet minister for Children, which is significant as they would have a government portfolio for child safeguarding and protection.
- Improving compliance with the statutory duty to notify the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). (DBS helps employers in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland make safe recruiting decisions and prevents unsuitable people from working with vulnerable individuals).
- There should be an extension of the disclosure regime to those working with children overseas.
- Increase Pre-screening to require regulated providers of internet search services and user-to-user services to pre-screen for known child sexual abuse before material is uploaded.
- Increase Mandatory reporting of Child Sexual Abuse and Sexual Exploitation.
- Increase specialist therapeutic support for child victims of sexual abuse
- Introduce a code of practice on keeping and accessing records which relate to child sexual abuse.
- The development of a single redress scheme for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse and exploitation.
- The UK government should change the law to make sure that internet companies that provide online internet services and social media introduce better ways to check children’s ages.
The recommendations highlighted here reflect ongoing discussions in the fields of sexual abuse prevention, risk management, public safety, and reintegration. A lot of them are not new and have been discussed previously, like greater regulation of the internet and age verification, often not reaching a satisfactory conclusion or agreement. The creation of the policy roles and organisations is important in developing as well as maintaining other recommendations like the creation of a single database, better use of DBS checks and greater regulation, as well as compliance. However, the biggest gauntlet laid down is around the expectation that all suspected child sexual abuse and exploitation is reported, recorded, and (potentially) investigated which will place a range of services under pressure. The investigation of suspected Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation is important, and necessary but it means that that the services that do this (i.e., police, social care, social work, etc) need the resources to do this in an appropriate and systematic fashion needs resources, which at the current moment with the looming financial crisis and potential cuts to public services will be a challenge. All these recommendations will take significant political commitment. This will be quite challenging in the UK now having lost its 2nd Prime Minster in less than two months. Hopefully seven years of work has not landed at the wrong time and on deaf ears; this report is significant needs to change the child protection landscape but whether it will remain to be seen.