In a move that has been widely derided, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has taken its truth project to prisons in a hope to take reports from inmates who were allegedly abused as children.
The move will see inquiry staff enter prisons and talk to inmates who were allegedly abused as children, in the hope that they gain a better understanding of how the institutions that should have protected them as children failed in their duty of care.
Some commentators have claimed that this will encourage false allegations, especially amongst inmates who they immediately dismiss as distrustful.
Responding to this commentary, Peter Garsden – Head of Abuse Law at Simpson Millar LLP – explains how the inquiry’s truth project seems to have been misunderstood and underlines the fact that abuse survivors are disproportionally represented in prisons, highlighting the relevance of the IICSA listening to the experience of inmates.
Misunderstanding The Truth Project
The IICSA’s truth project gives abuse survivors the opportunity to share their experiences with a member of the inquiry staff unchallenged.
Inquiry staff will not question or challenge the survivor’s account of events and will simply listen and record their story.
A record of the conversation can then be passed on to the police if requested, who will investigate with the usual due process and will interview the survivor and gather evidence as in any other criminal case.
The crucial aspect of the truth project is that it gives abuse survivors a safe and confidential environment to share harrowing experiences without being quizzed, questioned, or challenged as they have likely been for decades prior when they have tried to report abuse.
The truth project is a significant part of the IICSA for abuse survivors who have been ignored and dismissed for decades, for them it is a chance to finally speak out and share their experience.
Once they have made their initial submission, the police will investigate using due process and survivors’ accounts will be questioned and quizzed, it is only the initial submission to the inquiry staff that is recorded unchallenged as a way of encouraging those who were previously ignored to come forward and speak out.
Critics of the IICSA that say that seeking out abuse survivors in prison will allow them to make false allegations without challenge, however with most instances of claiming that reports of abuse are false these critics fail to realise that if these survivors wish to pursue their abuser and criminal charges or a civil claim is brought then usual investigations and evidence gathering is required and will take place.
Essentially, giving false information to the truth project will not be of benefit to those trying to cheat any sort of system, while for those genuine abuse survivors this branch of the IICSA is an unprecedented chance to speak freely about how they were failed as children, a chance that they have not had in the past.
Significant Effect Of Abuse
The IICSA would not have taken the consideration of entering prisons lightly and it is likely that they considered the implications and value of entering jails extensively before extending the truth project to the prison system.
A high proportion of prisoners were abused in care, a fact that justifies IISCA conducting interviews in prisons.
In most instances, inmates will be incarcerated for entirely different matters to those being investigated by the IICSA, but it is important to note that in many cases of child abuse survivors do struggle to cope with their experience and can act out as a result – this is especially prevalent if the abuse was reported but ignored in the past.
Discussing the truth project visiting prisons, Peter said:
“To vilify complainants without justification is entirely wrong and slanderous to the many thousands of complainants of abuse.”
“To pre-judge the veracity of allegations in general terms is tantamount to silencing victims in the same way as abusers behaved at the time of the abuse, which thus compounds the abuse which has already taken place.”
“Most victims of abuse remain silent for many years, and do not disclose abuse out of shame. It is very important that they have the trust of those to whom they are making their complaints.”
“Just because the victims are in prison, does not make the allegations any less truthful.”
“Prisoners are an easy target for those who campaign on the false allegations campaign because of their criminal record, which sometimes include offences of dishonesty.”