‘Government Can’t Ignore Child Sex Abuse Inquiry Recommendations Without Looking Like It Doesn’t Care about Safeguarding Children’
Abuse survivors insist that the Government cannot ignore the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse’s recommendations to ensure young people are protected from ‘a national epidemic’
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After seven years and 725 witnesses – including ex-prime ministers, archbishops and a former MI5 head – the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has finally reported. Launched by then Home Secretary Theresa May, it found that children were failed horrifically by institutions such as local authorities, religious organisations, the armed forces, politicians and schools.
The true scale of sexual abuse of children is likely to have been much higher than official estimates, according to the inquiry – indicating that one in six girls and one in 20 boys experience child sexual abuse before the age of 16. “The impact of past failures to protect children from sexual abuse and to support those who have been harmed is incalculable,” it concluded.
Launching the report, its chair Professor Alexis Jay, warned that “this is not just a historical aberration which happened decades ago, it is an ever-increasing problem and a national epidemic… the age at which children become victims is getting younger”. Police reports in which the victims are aged under four have risen by 45%.
The inquiry, she said, “heard repeatedly how institutions prioritised their own reputations, and those of individuals within them, above the protection of children” and that “deference was often shown to people of prominence including councillors, MPs and leading clergy by those whose job it was to investigate allegations”. When it came to the local councils investigated, “politics was more important than their statutory duty to protect children”.
A former social worker, Prof Jay took over the helm of the inquiry after three previous chairs – Lady Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, Dame Fiona Woolf and Dame Lowell Goddard – resigned amid controversy.
Abuse survivors who testified – often reliving horrific childhood abuse at great personal expense – have patiently waited for it to report since July 2014, when May promised “no stone would be left unturned”. At the time, Boris Johnson infamously sneered that millions were “being spaffed up a wall on some investigation into historic child abuse”.
One core participant to the inquiry, 60-year-old Paul Sinclair – who waived his right to anonymity – warned that, if the findings are ignored by the next Prime Minister and their Government, its £186.6 million cost will indeed have been wasted.
“We were told today that recommendations will go to the House of Commons and into a queue for perhaps two years,” he told Byline Times. “We have waited long enough for justice. We can’t be waiting for years and years because many of us won’t be alive for the inquiry’s findings to be implemented. We have already lost too many survivors during this process to let Boris Johnson’s cruel words come true.”
He also criticised Liz Truss’ decision to overshadow the inquiry, after millions had been spent and thousands courageously testified, by choosing to resign on the day it finally reported. “Either she did not know it was going on or she did not care,” he said.
Mr Sinclair has suffered periods of ill health, following alcohol problems and homelessness brought on by the abuse he endured at the notorious Forde Park School in Devon between the ages of 11 and 14, and then by the trauma of revisiting it in court cases that followed, as well as in his testimony to the IICSA.
It took 30 years for some of the main abusers to be jailed after a £3 million police investigation – but he says he was retraumatised by the criminal justice system and the local council limiting any responsibility using any means at its disposal. He left Forde Park with physical and psychological scars from his abuse and not one school qualification, yet received just £2,700 in compensation. “I took the money and went to London to drink myself to death,” he added. Mr Sinclair ended up in a homeless shelter for veterans.
Some of the inquiry’s most important recommendations tackle the lack of reparations for the “life-changing consequences” of child sexual abuse. It is calling for the establishment of a national redress scheme for England and for Wales for those who were let down by institutions in the past, which would help survivors secure access to the help they need.
The Government, the IICSA recommends, should “seek contributions to the scheme from the institutions affected”. This, it is understood, would include insurance firms which, the inquiry heard, had put pressure on the institutions they insured not to apologise to victims and to limit the compensation they received – as their first duty was always to their shareholders.
The inquiry also found that the statute of limitations was used to restrict access to compensation, as anyone who had let three years elapse after their eighteenth birthday currently cannot claim compensation for the child abuse they suffered.
Core participant David Harries also waived his anonymity to speak to Byline Times. Now 46, he was sent by Rochdale Council – which was responsible for his care – as a 12-year-old to the Bryn Alyn Community, a notorious group of privately-run children’s homes set up in North Wales in 1969 by John Allen. Allen went on to be convicted of multiple counts of sexual abuse of the children in his care.
“It was hell every night,” Mr Harries said. “Saturday and Sunday were the only days we were safe from abuse as the manager would go home.” He left school without one qualification, suffering complex PTSD and depression.
“We were all classed as ‘naughty boys’,” he added. “We were abused and beaten up for nothing – so, after leaving school with no qualifications, it wasn’t surprising I fell in with the wrong crowd and ended up in prison for various thefts. There I had a breakdown and finally told a prison officer what had been done to me.”
But Mr Harries was later told he was just three months too old for the 21-year-old cut-off for compensation from those that should have protected him as a child. He applauded the inquiry’s findings on removing victims’ barriers to redress.
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Other recommendations include the creation of a Child Protection Authority in England and Wales to stop institutions and agencies that should protect children from failing them; and for mandatory reporting for those working with children or in a position of trust to report child sexual abuse – unlike Canada or Australia, there is no legal requirement for teachers, for instance, to report child sexual abuse that comes to their attention.
All of the core participants Byline Times spoke to following the publication of the inquiry’s report said they believed that, had mandatory reporting been a requirement in institutions that failed them, they would not have been helpless in the face of the sexual abuse they endured as children.
Deborah (not her real name) testified to the inquiry about how she was abused by an older man, coerced into a religious marriage by him and let down by various authorities, culminating in the family courts handing the child he had fathered to her abuser.
“I was let down by social services, the NHS, police – all of whom should have recognised the abuse – and then ultimately by the family court,” the 41-year-old told Byline Times. “I welcome the findings that, for far too long, such institutions have failed children and blamed children. Had there been mandatory reporting when I was a schoolgirl, my life wouldn’t have turned out the way it did.”
Deborah added that it had taken immense courage for survivors of abuse to testify and that the Government could not ignore their testimony. “Far too many people have come forth and given difficult testimony and voiced their concerns for the Government to ignore the inquiry’s recommendations without looking like they don’t care about safeguarding children,” she said.