In a report by the Children’s Commissioner for England it has been alleged that victims of child sex abuse are being let down by the very systems and procedures that are designed to protect them from harm.
The findings highlighted that warning signs are being missed, investigations are being delayed unnecessarily and, perhaps most concerning of all, abused young people have to wait for therapy and are not permitted counselling before taking part in traumatic court cases.
Responding to the findings, Peter Garsden, child abuse solicitor and strong advocate for the rights of abuse survivors, argues that with the recent increase in awareness of sexual abuse crimes there has to be a better understanding of how to help those who have suffered abuse at a young age.
The focal point of the report was how child abuse cases were investigated, with the overarching conclusion that an increase in reports of sexual offences is placing strain on police forces and is resulting in investigations into abuse cases taking longer than other crimes.
Using the latest Home Office statistics the watchdog found that the average length of time spent investigating child sexual abuse cases was 248 days, in comparison adult sexual abuse cases had a median investigation time of 147 days, over 100 days less than the average for cases involving children.
Even beyond adult abuse cases, abuse crimes involving children took longer to investigate that all other crime types.
The 248 days it took, on average, to record and charge a suspect is longer than in cases that related to drug offences (which average at 90 days), theft (73 days), and violence against a person (72 days).
Further analysis of Home Office data showed that in 25% of child sexual abuse cases investigations took considerably longer than the average, with a quarter of cases in 2015/16 taking 393 days or longer to bring a charge.
Worryingly, investigations into child abuse cases have been increasing in time over recent years:
- In 2013/14 the average length of investigation was 179 days;
- In 2014/15 this figure sat at 236 and;
- The most recent figures, for 2015/16, suggest the average investigation lasts 248 days.
While these figures are increasing, the time taken to investigate other types of sexual offences has been falling year on year.
It could be argued that cases of child sexual abuse are more complex and thus require longer investigations – but even with this reasoning, it is clear that survivors of child sexual abuse are waiting longer to see their perpetrator face prosecution.
Failing to spot symptoms
In another report released by the Children’s Commissioner for England, who published three investigations simultaneously, it was found that young people are often left to report abuse themselves as authorities miss the warning signs of abuse.
In a report that focussed on children’s experience when seeking help and support after sexual abuse in the family environment, the Commissioner found that many abuse survivors faced long waits for therapy and were often blocked from having counselling before court cases.
Even in instances were victims did access counselling services, they were often forced to attend on their own, with family members not able or encouraged to join sessions; many respondents to the investigation explained that they felt it would have been beneficial for some family members to attend sessions alongside them, so that they had a better understanding of how they were feeling.
A third report from the Commissioner highlighted the role of schools in preventing child sexual abuse; this revealed that many teachers claim that they are confident that they would be able to spot the signs of abuse, however as schools do not educate children about seeking help they do not fulfil their potential in preventing child sexual abuse.
Discussing the main findings from the three reports, Peter said:
“These reports reveal some telling figures about how child sexual abuse cases are investigated, how survivors are supported, and how schools are empowering children to seek help in these incidents.”
“Most worrying is the length of time child abuse cases are taking to investigate, as throughout the prosecution process victims will be going through unimaginable emotional torment and for them to be waiting longer than any other crime victims to find out if their perpetrator will be brought to justice is hugely disconcerting.”
“Likewise, it is very disappointing that children are still not receiving therapy and are being blocked from counselling before court cases, as this is probably the most stressful part of the process, where they will feel anxious about facing their abuser again.”
“It is only right that children should be better supported through this process and with the increased understanding and awareness of these crimes, it’s crucial that there’s also a greater appreciation of the support that abuse survivors require when going through the process of prosecuting their abuser.”
“We’ve been through the decades of abuse victims not being believed when they disclosed their experiences and in today’s era, where we have of increased awareness of the psychological effects of abuse, it is inconceivable that survivors are unable to access the support they need.”