A leading child abuse lawyer has called for the urgent launch of a dedicated helpline for frontline public sector staff to report suspicions of child abuse.
Peter Garsden, partner at Simpson Millar solicitors and President of the Association of Children Abuse Lawyers has welcomed the consultation into reporting and acting on child abuse and neglect, but he says we cannot wait for a new law to take effect.
“I am relieved that the government has finally fulfilled its promise to consult in this area and I am optimistic it will result in a change in the law. However, we are talking about one of the most serious and sinister offenses, and action to help uncover abuse against children is needed urgently.
“There is a groundswell of support for a publicly funded and widely publicised child abuse helpline, and we need action now. Sadly, there is no reason to believe that paedophile rings operating in institutional settings are merely a thing of the past. Career paedophiles are organised and persistent, and their actions do not happen in isolation. Someone around them will know, hear or see something, and those people must have a safe and direct route for reporting it.
“Many states in America and Australia already operate dedicated helplines for people to report suspicions of child abuse. They are well-funded and expansive. The UK needs to follow suit – we can’t wait for the result of a consultation and a subsequent change in the law, years from now. It is a fact that the more contemporary child abuse cases are when investigated, the higher the chances are of a successful prosecution.
“I have seen cases where innocent members of staff were silenced either out of fear of what might happen to them, or because they were afraid of what their the abusers would do if they didn’t keep quiet. There is sadly no reason to believe that this doesn’t still occur and we need a simple and effective system for those people to safely and immediately report what they have seen or heard.
“This is an area that demands resources and focus from the government.”
For more than two decades, Peter has been representing victims of child abuse; in several cases the abuse was systemic and highly organised. The nature of these crimes means victims often won’t come forward for many years which makes prosecuting the offenders extremely challenging.
Peter says: “A legal obligation for frontline public sector employees to report any suspicions of child abuse, where a failure to do so triggers a possible criminal prosecution, may seem harsh, but it is absolutely necessary to ensure these crimes are never allowed to be swept under the carpet. Ideally, I would like to see a law that requires everyone to report suspicions or instances of child abuse immediately – not just public sector employees.”