Final IICSA report describes epidemic levels of child abuse with tens of thousands of victims
Laws compelling people in positions of trust to report child sexual abuse and a national compensation scheme for victims should be introduced, a seven-year inquiry into institutional failings in England and Wales concluded.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) described the sexual abuse of children as an “epidemic that leaves tens of thousands of victims in its poisonous wake”, as its final report was published on Thursday.
Among a raft of wide-ranging recommendations, IICSA called for a “national redress scheme” to get compensation for victims “let down by the state and non-state institutions in the past” to be launched.
The UK Government should create a post for a minister for children at cabinet level and the Welsh Government should make sure there is cabinet-level responsibility for children while a Child Protection Authority (CPA) should also be established to “secure a much stronger focus on the complex work of child protection in the relevant institutions and statutory agencies”, the report said.
The £186.6 million inquiry, set up in 2015, looked at 15 areas scrutinising institutional responses to child sexual abuse – including investigations into abuse in Westminster and the church – and more than 7,000 victims took part.
Some 325 days of public hearings saw testimony from 725 witnesses while 2.5 million pages of evidence were processed and scores of reports published with 87 recommendations already made as a result.
Six previous recommendations put forward by the inquiry were reissued in the final report as they had not been “properly addressed or acted upon by those whom they were directed”.
A further 14 proposals were set out in the overall findings on Thursday and IICSA said it expects the UK and Welsh governments, and other institutions mentioned, to act on these “promptly” and report back on the steps they have taken within six months of the final report’s publication.
Scathing findings on the investigation into abuse allegations at the Church of England concluded the King, who was then the Prince of Wales, was “misguided” in his support for shamed clergyman Peter Ball who was cautioned for gross indecency in 1992.
Professor Alexis Jay (pictured), chairwoman of the inquiry, said: “For too long, child sexual abuse has been considered a problem of the past, despite lifelong impacts on its young victims.
“Its extent cannot be underestimated; the sexual abuse of children is an epidemic that leaves tens of thousands of victims in its poisonous wake and some will never recover.
“Across our investigations … we heard time and time again how allegations of abuse were ignored, victims were blamed and institutions prioritised their reputations over the protection of children.
“The nature and scale of the abuse we encountered were horrifying and deeply disturbing. As a society, we simply cannot file it away and consider it a historical aberration when so much of what we learned suggests it is an ever-growing problem, exacerbated by the current and future threat of the internet.
“I urge the UK government, the Welsh Government and all other relevant institutions to implement the inquiry’s recommendations as a matter of urgency.
“Unless we are prepared to accept a world where our children, and their children, are always in danger of becoming victims of this terrible crime, action must be taken immediately.”
There are 3.1 million victims of child sexual abuse in England and Wales, according to the 2019 Office for National Statistics crime survey, accounting for 7.5% of the population aged between 18 and 75.
In 2020/21 there were an estimated 500,000 victims of child sexual abuse, according to the Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse.
Here are the inquiry’s recommendations in full:
A single core data set
One single core data set should be introduced in order to improve data collected by children’s social care and criminal justice agencies concerning child sexual abuse and exploitation.
To facilitate this, agencies should produce consistent and compatible data that includes three things:
- Characteristics, such as age sex and ethnicity, of victims and alleged perpetrators
- Factors that make victims more vulnerable
- Settings and contexts in which abuse occurs
The data should be published on a regular basis and should be collated on national and regional or local levels.
Child Protection Authorities
A Child Protection Authority should be established in England and Wales.
Each authority’s purpose should be:
- Improve practice in child protection
- Provide advice and make recommendations to government in relation to child protection policy and reform
- Inspect institutions and settings as it considers necessary and proportionate
The authorities should also monitor the implementation of the recommendations.
A cabinet Minister for Children
The UK Government should create a Minister for Children at cabinet level, and the Welsh Government should ensure there is cabinet-level responsibility for children.
Regular programmes of activity should be commissioned by the UK and Welsh Governments to increase public awareness of child sexual abuse, and the action to take if it is happening or suspected.
The programmes should:
- Challenge myths and stereotypes about child sexual abuse
- Make maximum use of different approaches such as public information campaigns, the use of positive role models and creative media
- Be supported by continuous evaluation to measure their impact
The UK Government should prohibit the use of any technique that deliberately induces pain by withdrawing all policy permitting its use in custodial institutions in which children are detained, and setting out that this practice is prohibited by way of regulation.
Amendment to Children Act 1989
The Children Act 1989 should be amended by the UK Government so on an application by or for a child in the care of a local authority, who is experiencing or at risk of significant harm, a court may:
- Prohibit a local authority from taking any act, which it otherwise would be entitled to take in exercising its parental responsibility for the child
- Give directions for the purpose of determining a specific question which has arisen, or may arise, in connection with any aspect of the local authority’s exercise of parental responsibility for a child
Registration of care staff in children’s homes
The UK Government should introduce arrangements for the registration of staff working in care roles in children’s homes.
Registration should be with an independent body charged with setting and maintaining standards of training, conduct and continuing professional development, and with the power to enforce these through fitness to practice procedures.
Registration of staff in care roles in young offender institutions and secure training centres
The UK Government should introduce arrangements for the professional registration of staff in roles responsible for the care of children in young offender institutions and secure training centres.
Greater use of the barred list
The UK Government should enable any person engaging an individual to work or volunteer with children on a frequent basis to check whether they have been barred by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) from working with children.
Improving compliance with the statutory duty to notify the DBS
The UK Government should take steps to improve compliance by regulated activity providers with their statutory duty to refer concerns about the suitability of individuals to work with children to the DBS.
These should include:
- All relevant regulators and inspectorates include compliance with the statutory duty to refer to the DBS in their assessment of safeguarding procedures during inspections
- The National Police Chiefs’ Council works with relevant regulators and inspectorates to ensure that there are clear arrangements in place to refer breaches of the duty to refer to the police for criminal investigation
- An information-sharing protocol is put in place between the DBS and relevant regulators and inspectorates
Extending disclosure regime to those working with children overseas
The UK Government should introduce legislation permitting the DBS to provide enhanced certificates with barred list checks to citizens and residents of England and Wales applying for:
- Work or volunteering with UK-based organisations, where the recruitment decision is taken outside the UK, or
- Work or volunteering with organisations based outside the UK, in each case where the work or volunteering would be regulated activity if in England and Wales
The UK Government should make it mandatory for all regulated providers of search services and user-to-user services to pre-screen for known child sexual abuse material.
The UK and Welsh Governments should introduce legislation which makes certain individuals “mandated reporters”, under a statutory duty to report child sexual abuse where they:
- Receive disclosure of child sex abuse
- Witness child sex abuse
- Observe recognised indicators of child sex abuse
Mandated reports should include:
- Any person working in regulated activity in relation to children
- Any person working in a position of trust
- Police officers
Where the child is aged between 13 and 16, a report need not be made where the mandated reporter reasonably believes that:
- The relationship between the parties is consensual and not intimidatory, exploitative or coercive
- The child has not been harmed and is not at risk of being harmed
- There is no material difference in capacity or maturity between the parties, and there is a difference in age of no more than three years
The exceptions should not apply for a person in a position of trust.
A report must always be made for a child under 13.
Reports should be made either to local authority children’s social care or police as soon as is practicable.
It should be a criminal offence for mandated reporters to fail to report child sexual abuse where they:
- Are in receipt of a disclosure of child sexual abuse from a child or perpetrator
- Witness a child being sexually abused
Compliance with the Victims’ Code
The UK Government should commission a joint inspection of compliance with the Victims’ Code in relation to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse, to be undertaken by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, the HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate and HM Inspectorate of Probation.
The UK Government should make necessary changes to legislation in order to ensure:
- The removal of the three-year limitation period for personal injury claims brought by victims and survivors
- The express protection of the right to a fair trial, with the burden falling on defendants to show that a fair trial is not possible
Provisions should apply whether or not the current three-year period has already started to run or has expired, except where claims have been:
- Dismissed by a court
- Settled by agreement
Specialist therapeutic support for child victims of sexual abuse
The UK and Welsh Government should introduce a national guarantee that child victims of sexual abuse will be offered specialist and accredited therapeutic support.
There should be sufficient supply of these services so children can access support in a timely way.
The services should be fully funded.
Responsibility for commissioning the services should be given to local authorities.
There must be no eligibility criteria for children to access the services other than having been a child sexual abuse victim.
Access to records
The UK Government should direct the Information Commissioner’s Office to introduce a code of practice on retention of and access to records known to relate to child sexual abuse.
The retention period for records known to relate to allegations or cases of child sexual abuse should be 75 years with appropriate review periods.
The code should set out that institutions have:
- Retention policies that reflect the importance of such records to victims and survivors, and that they may take decades to seek to access such records
- Clear and accessible procedures for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse to access such records
- Policies, procedures and training for staff responding to requests to ensure that they recognise the long-term impact of child sexual abuse and engage with the applicant with empathy
Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme
The UK Government should change the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme to:
- Include other reforms of child sexual abuse, including online-facilitated sexual abuse
- Amend the rule on unspent convictions so applicants with unspent convictions are not automatically excluded where offences are likely to be linked to the circumstances of their sexual abuse as a child
- Increase the time limit for child sexual abuse applications so applicants have seven years to apply from a) the date the offence was reported to police or b) the age of 18, where the offence was reported whilst the victim was a child.
The UK Government should establish a single redress scheme in England and Wales, taking into account devolved responsibilities.
The detailed rules and funding for the redress scheme should reflect the following core elements:
- Victims and survivors of abuse that occurred in England and Wales should be eligible to apply
- Applicants must have experienced abuse where there is a clear connection to State or non-State institutions in England and Wales
- The scheme should be open to any victim of abuse that took place prior to its establishment
- The scheme should deduct any previous award from any payment under the scheme
- Applicants who previously brought civil claims which have been rejected by the court should be excluded from applying to the scheme unless their cases were rejected due to limitation
- The scheme should provide payments to eligible applicants through a two-tier system, based on a fixed flat-rate recognition payment, with the option to apply for a second-tier payment
- The application process must be accessible and straightforward, sensitive to the needs and vulnerabilities of victims, provide for streamlined checks and verification of applications, but not adversarial
- There should be special provisions to accelerate awards for older or terminally ill applicants
- The scheme should run for five years
- The scheme should be funded by central and local government, in accordance with devolved funding principles, with voluntary contributions sought from non-State institutions
The UK Government should introduce legislation requiring providers of online services and social media platforms to implement more stringent age verification measures.
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