Generation of children ‘revictimised’ by authorities not believing accounts of abuse

Authorities “revictimised a whole generation of children that have been abused” by failing to believe their accounts, the detective leading a national probe into historical sexual abuse said.

Believing complainants when they first come forward does not mean police are lacking objectivity in their investigations, Richard Fewkes said.

The national coordinator leading Operation Hydrant said officers must start from a position of belief and ensure that survivors and victims are given “all the signals” that they will be taken seriously.

But he was clear that this does not mean blindly accepting fantastical accounts or lacking impartiality.

He told the Tackling Exploitation conference in Birmingham: “As a child victim of sexual abuse, many remain silent through fear: fear of their abuser, fear that they themselves have done something wrong, or fear that they will not be believed, fears that most will then take into adulthood.

“So it’s no wonder that when confronted by organisations that for years demonstrated scepticism about sexual offence allegations, have been sceptical, where the starting point was one of disbelieving and discouraging… it’s a fact that we, statutory agencies, revictimised a whole generation of children who have been abused.”

He said evidence has shown that a culture of scepticism leads to reduced opportunities to safeguard children, investigations that are prematurely closed or never started and can increase inaccuracies in accounts leading to cases being dropped.

It also worsens a victims’ mental health and creates “an overriding sense of injustice”.

But in recent years pictures have been painted suggesting that officers have been instructed to “blindly” believe complainants, he said.

“This isn’t now, and it has never been, the case. I am not aware of one chief constable or commissioner that has ever instructed officers to blindly believe victims.

“But the police service needs to create an environment and a culture that gives all the signs, all the signals to a victim or survivor that they will be listened to and they will be taken seriously. And the starting point for all this is when the crime is reported. And the intention is that at that point victims are believed.”

He added: “They can question, they can inquire and they can appropriately challenge. But believing is the starting point.”

The Home Office states that “the intention is that victims are believed” in its Counting Rules for Recorded Crime for police forces.

The document was updated earlier this month with the following: “This seeks to ensure that those reporting crimes will be treated with empathy and their allegations will be taken seriously.

“Any investigation which follows is then taken forward with an open mind to establish the truth.”

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