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Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA)

Thursday March 12th 2015 witnessed the Home Secretary establishing a statutory inquiry with the aim of conducting an overarching national review. The aim of the review, to explore the extent “to which institutions in England and Wales have discharged their duty of care to protect children against sexual abuse.”

The Home Secretary then announced the appointment of the four members of the Inquiry Panel: Professor Alexis Jay, Dru Sharpling, Ivor Frank and Professor Malcolm Evans.

Why Is The Inquiry Being Conducted?

The Inquiry is the result of public concern and  fears that the level of institutional failure to protect children from sexual abuse, has increased. This increase is attributed to the heightening level of awareness of the vast scale of this issue.

The problem was exacerbated by the fact that the data currently available by no means portrays a complete picture of the levels of sexual abuse in both England and Wales. The most recently available statistics available before the launch of the inquiry were those published in 2014. These statistics revealed that police in England and Wales had recorded over 28,000 sexual offences in which the victim was under 16 years of age.

Police caseloads for reports of child sexual abuse has increased dramatically over the preceding two years. Estimates produced with the launch of the inquiry projected that there would be an increase of 71% by the end of 2015.

The increase has not been reported by the police alone. Other areas have witnessed the same shift, most notably the social services departments and voluntary organisations. This can be demonstrated by the 124% increase in child sexual abuse referrals that resulted from ChildLine.

As with any statistics, those gathered above are an incomplete picture. This is due to the known, yet unquantified, fact that numerous children are the victims of sexual abuse by adults but do not tell anyone what was done to them. In some cases, children do tell adults what has occurred but their reports can and do go unheeded.

Additionally, there is strong evidence to suggest both systematic under-recording and misreporting by the police and other agencies. All of this suggests that the true issue is likely to be far greater in scope than current statistics would suggest. Shortcomings of the Police in this area are a key tenant of the inquiry’s launch. One of the Panel members, Dru Sharpling, examined policing responses to child abuse prior to joining the Panel. One week prior to the joining the panel, she launched a series of reports assessing how well the police were keeping children safe and investigating child abuse. She found that 38% of the sample police files on child abuse were judged to be inadequate.

The increase of public awareness of the issue and subsequent concern has resulted in calls for an overarching inquiry to be conducted. An inquirer which has the powers, resources and breadth to review the picture in its entirety. It is the hope that the inquiry will learn lessons from the past, take stock of current child protection procedures and to set a future course which is both new and safer than those previous.

What Areas Will The Inquiry Cover?

Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) PanelIt was decided, that in order for investigations to be managed effectively the various institutional sectors would be split into five distinct, yet complementary, workstreams. Each of the workstreams will be led by a member of the Inquiry Panel, with the support of two junior counsel, a solicitor and a team of professional researchers who are experienced in both qualitative and quantitative data analysis. These workstreams are as follows:

  • Allegations of Abuse by People of Prominence in Public Life: This workstream will cover all enquiries relevant to people involved in the security and intelligence services, political parties and central government. In addition, enquiries regarding both present and past members of the special branch will be covered by this workstream. A further facet of this workstream will be addressing the phenomenon of sexual abuse by those prominent in the media. This workstream will include liaison with current and ongoing police investigations. This workstream will be headed by the inquiries leader, Hon. Dame Lowell Goddard DNZM.
  • Education and Religion: The scope of this second workstream will encompass abuse in religious settings (including all faiths and religious traditions), religious or faith-based education, secular private education, state education at all levels and additionally specialist forms of education including arts tuition and vocational training. This workstream will be led by Professor Malcolm Evans.
  • Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement: The aim of this third workstream will be the exploration and reviewing of past and present policing strategies and priorities. This will include, historical failures in policing child sexual abuse, prosecutorial conduct- the failures and successes of the CPS and prosecuting counsel in child sex abuse cases, the role of the National Offender Management Service- including the Probation Service, the issues surrounding the sexual abuse of children (which includes those aged up to 18) in custodial settings. Additionally, this workstream will also cover the adequacy of responses to historic and present complaints about police conduct in this context. This will cover both those within the police forces themselves and also those of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). This workstream will be led by Dru Sharpling.
  • Local Authorities and Voluntary Organisations: The scope of this workstream will include local authority children’s services, state-run children’s homes, local authority members and staff, looked-after children in foster care or private institutions, children at risk but not in care and adoption selection services. Additionally, the workstream will encompass, voluntary organisations and children’s charities, private care homes and private fostering and adoption services. Further scope of this workstream will include other local authority functions relevant to child protection, including youth services, leisure services and relevant regulatory activities. This fourth workstream will be led by Professor Alexis Jay.
  • National and Private Service Organisations: This workstream will include the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces, the Immigration Service and the National Health Service. A number of key additional public and private sector services will be covered by this workstream will include internet service providers, the insurance industry and media organisations. The final workstream will be led by Ivor Frank.

How will the Inquiry Work?

Three Core Projects

The Inquiry will be divided into three Core Projects:

  • the Research Project
  • the Truth Project
  • the Public Hearings Project

Together, the evidence received in all three projects will inform the overall conclusions and recommendations of the Chair and the Panel.

The Research Project

The Research Project will involve a comprehensive literature review to bring together, for the first time, analysis of all the published work addressing institutional failures in child protection.

The Inquiry will also commission sector specific research to better understand the scale of the problem and to identify recommendations for change.

One of the areas being considered by the Research Project, for instance is the proposal that Mandatory Reporting should be introduced to make it criminal offence for professionals not to report child abuse that they either know about or suspect.

The Truth Project

The Truth Project will allow victims and survivors of child sexual abuse to disclose what happened to them in private and anonymously.

Those who wish to take part will attend a private session at one of the regional offices in England or Wales to share their experience with a member of the Inquiry. Their accounts will not be tested, challenged, or contradicted. The information supplied will be anonymised and will be considered by the Chair and Panel members when reaching their conclusions and making recommendations for the future.

As part of the Truth Project, victims and survivors will be given an opportunity to write a message to be published together with the Inquiry’s annual reports.

More information about the Truth Project is in our guide for those who wish to share their experience.

Watch the Truth Project video to find out more, or visit our share your experience page to find out more, or to take part.

The Public Hearings Project

The Public Hearings Project will resemble a conventional public inquiry, where witnesses give evidence on oath and are subject to cross examination.

The Inquiry has already selected case studies from a range of institutions that appear to illustrate a pattern of institutional failings. Each hearing will last for around six weeks.

The Investigations so far announced – for an up to date position see the Inquiry's Investigation Page are:-

A hearing may relate to a particular individual who appears to have been enabled to sexually abuse children in institutional settings. Or it may relate to an institution that appears to have demonstrated repeated failings over a number of years. Evidence is likely to be taken from both representatives of the institutions under investigation and from victims and survivors of sexual abuse.

The Inquiry does not have the power to convict abusers of criminal offences or to award compensation to victims and survivors. However, it will use its fact-finding powers fully to make findings against named individuals or institutions where the evidence justifies it.

The first Public Hearings will commence in 2016.

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