Will the final report from the Child Sex Abuse Inquiry be a real game changer for children or just gather dust?

Alexis Jay, chair of the inquiry

It was unfortunate that the long awaited final report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse coincided with the resignation of Liz Truss, the shortest serving PM in British history. The Westminster psychodrama has drained political discussion of any policy initiatives from the government while the main protagonists in the Tory Party fight each other to the death for the top job.

If Theresa May , who commissioned the inquiry, was still PM I suspect that action would have been taken promptly. As it is there will be no response from the government for six months and I doubt whether we will see any new laws for years. Particularly if Boris Johnson becomes PM again as he made it vividly clear that investigating child sex abuse was a waste of money. You only have to look at how long it is taking to reform the antiquated Mental Health Act to see a parallel.

Having reported on it and even helped to initiate the inquiry as a journalist, I have followed it with a lot of interest , both when I was on Exaro News and on this blog. I have mixed feelings about the £186m inquiry .

On the plus side the scale of the inquiry – some 15 investigations in every institutional area of the UK from the Roman Catholic Church and Church of England to local authority care and the reach of the global internet – should put to bed any misconceptions that child sex abuse is not a major epidemic in this country. And it proves that in many instances that those in charge of those institutions are more than willing to turn a blind eye and pretend it doesn’t exist either for reputational reasons or because they actively connived in the sexual exploitation of children.

Also it did provide a much needed voice for thousands of survivors who might never get real justice but at least now felt people had listened to their appalling life changing experiences.

Carl Beech, a false flag victim of child sexual abuse, who made up allegations damaged real survivirs

On the other hand I felt -because it was closely tied to the legal profession- they felt they had to be ultra cautious and only take on proven cases by perpetrators – whether Bishop Ball or dead people like Sir Cyril Smith – because the fury from families of the living, I am thinking of Greville Janner, wanted no discussion of anything to suggest that he might have been involved.

The inquiry also took place during the conviction of paedophile Carl Beech whose detailed revelations turned out to be made up and the Metropolitan Police spent millions investigating them. I suspect that made them more cautious and the media ultra cautious in reporting fresh allegations.

The downside of this is that has protected more paedophiles from media scrutiny and made authorities less likely to believe victims. One only has to see the total silence in the media of the allegations revealed in Simon Danczuk and Dan Smith’s book, Scandal at Dolphin Square, of a well researched story of David Ingle, a victim of abuse by a Lincolnshire farmer there.

Now the proof will be in the legacy of this inquiry. It has proposed the mandatory reporting of sexual abuse – making it a criminal offence not to do so. But there is an argument whether this goes far enough.

Richard Scorer, the head of abuse law at Slater and Gordon, which represented more than 120 victims at the inquiry, said there should also be a criminal penalty for failure to report abuse that is reasonably suspected, otherwise organisations will continue to turn a blind eye.

He is reported in a good analysis by Rajeev Syal in the Guardian as saying:” Children rarely disclose abuse, perpetrators almost never do,” he said. “Mandatory reporting can only work if the requirement to report suspicions has consequences, such as a criminal sanction. The inquiry’s proposal falls short of what survivors seek.”

More must be done to support whistleblowers of sexual abuse

More can also be done to support whistleblowers in this situation.

Jayne Senior, Director of Safeguarding at WhistleblowersUK, said;
“After a week of political turmoil, it would be easy to overlook the damning reports exposing the failure by every possible authority to protect Children and the most vulnerable in our society and the Whistleblowers who have selflessly spoken up only to become targets and subsequently victims themselves.”

The report also proposes a national compensation scheme for survivors of sexual abuse and “the creation of a Child Protection Authority (CPA) in England and in Wales. The CPAs will have powers to inspect any institution associated with children. They will not replace current inspectorates in relation to the statutory authorities, but may require inspection of those authorities by existing inspectorates. The CPAs over time will become centres of expertise, and may extend their child protection functions to other forms of harm experienced by children.”

There are also 17 other recommendations. They vary from tougher controls of the internet to extending the debarring and disclosure scheme for staff to those working overseas with children to the end of pain compliance techniques for children held in custody.

The problem is that again unfortunately these measures come at a new time of austerity and fresh spending cuts so I can’t see a government committed to lifting the burdens of regulations wanting to implement them soon.

The problem is immense and the report estimates that child sexual abuse costs the country £10 billion and of the 13 million children in the UK “Babies, toddlers and children are potentially at risk, with current
estimates indicating that 1 in 6 girls and 1 in 20 boys experience child sexual abuse before the age of 16.”

But it is going to take a lot of action and public pressure to make the government act and also create a gamechanger situation for the millions of children suffering sexual abuse which is a global problem.

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The Curate’s Egg: Child Sex Abuse inquiry reveals the Anglican Church has only half tackled the problem

Alexis Jay; Chair of the inquiry. Pic credit: iicsa

It is over six years ago that on Exaro News I worked with seven MPs from all parties to press Theresa May, then home secretary, to launch the Independent inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. Now after two general elections only two – Caroline Lucas and Tim Loughton – remain as MPs.

Another Zac Goldsmith is now a government minister and peer. The remaining four Tom Watson, Simon Danczuk, Tessa Munt and John Hemming are Parliamentary history.

At the time with the help of Exaro colleague Mark Conrad, we drafted the letter that went to Theresa May – on behalf of the MPs- outlining the scale of abuse in the UK and citing specific cases and saying what needed to be tackled. She acted.

Tim Loughton MP

As Tim Loughton, a former children’s minister, put it at the time:

“Virtually every week, the public is bombarded with new stories about sexual abuse of children coming to light, yet they stretch as far back as the 1960’s.

“Few areas have been left untouched with increasingly alarming stories involving schools, churches, care homes, entertainment, sport and of course politicians and celebrities.

“Most alarming is a consistent theme of the reluctance or, more worryingly, the seeming complicity of police and other agencies to investigate the allegations seriously, and pursue the perpetrators rigorously.”

A lot has happened since – including the sentencing of Carl Beech, a paedophile , who made false allegations against prominent figures – as well as successful prosecutions in North Wales by the National Crime Agency – of paedophiles who got away with it for years.

Now the work of this inquiry has begun to bear fruit – and the publication this month of its over arching report into the Anglican Church and The Church of Wales is its most detailed investigation yet.

The report reveals both some progress and failure to tackle the problem. But I am pretty convinced without the catalyst of the national inquiry the Church would have continued to bury its head in the sand and still not taken half the measures it has.

The history of child sexual abuse in the church is damning. Since the 1940s as the report says 390 people have been convicted as sex offenders.

It goes on:” In 2018, 449 concerns were reported to the Church about recent child sexual abuse, of which more than half related to church officers. Latterly, a significant amount of offending involved the downloading or possession of indecent images of children. The Inquiry examined a number of cases relating to both convicted perpetrators and alleged perpetrators, many of which demonstrated the Church’s failure to take seriously disclosures by or about children or to refer allegations to the statutory authorities.”

As extraordinary are the figures spent on safeguarding children – see below. A pathetic £37,000 was spent for whole Anglican church in 2013 a year before the call for the inquiry . The last year for 2020 is not fully approved.

The report shows failings in the culture of the church which allowed paedophiles to hide and a highly complex devolved hierarchy which meant there are many gaps for allegations of child sexual abuse not to be reported because of the autonomy of different sections of the church. For example cathedrals are not as you might expect run by bishops but the Dean and Chapter. Also although safeguarding has now been highlighted, the people in charge are designated as advisers rather than officers, allowing the clergy the last word on whether action should be taken.

On the plus side it looks as though the Church is taking safeguarding seriously and training its staff about the issue. Newly recruited ordained priests seem to have the most detailed training and the church is at last doing criminal checks before appointing anyone to an important position.

There have been a number of attempts to check back on historical sex abuse allegations. The numbers checked look impressive at 40,000 but only 13 cases were identified as it was mainly a book keeping exercise.

Salisbury cathedral – one of seven dioceses where past cases of child sex abuse are being re-examined because they may not have been competently checked. Pic credit: Flickr

When this was re-examined by Sir Roger Singleton, a safeguarding expert, he recommended: ” An “updated version” of the PCR[ Past Case review} should be conducted in the dioceses of Ely, Lichfield, Rochester, Salisbury, Sheffield, Winchester, and Sodor and Man given “the absence of evidence that the Past Cases Review had been carried out competently in these dioceses”.

This is now being done again and will report in 2022.

counselling cancelled

The report also includes some rather horrifying cases because the system did not work properly. In one case a person who was claiming compensation from the Church’s insurers for past sexual abuse had his counselling cancelled because a lawyer advised the Church he shouldn’t have it since he was claiming against the Church,

It is also clear that much abuse was not revealed at the time. When the inquiry looked into a past case of Bishop Victor Whitsey, who died in 1987, but was during his career Bishop of Chester, Suffragan Bishop of Hertford at St.Albans and a priest in Blackburn and Manchester, some 19 people came forward saying he abused them including a brother and sister.

The report also discloses that there is still much to do . The Church is divided about mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse, with even the Charity Commission thinking they could be flooded with too many cases; the position over insurance and compensation for victims is unresolved and the process of clergy discipline measures needs reform and artificial time limits covering complaints removed. The rules over disclosure of child sexual abuse during confessions needs to change – exempting it from the sacred duty of confidentiality. And record keeping in the Church of Wales needs a thorough overhaul as there is a serious problem there.

The inquiry plans to come back over these issues and rightly so.

But perhaps one of the most chilling and sad paragraph in the report is a description of the Church’s problems with sexuality.

fear and secrecy over sexuality

“There was a culture of fear and secrecy within the Church about
sexuality. Some members of the Church also wrongly conflated homosexuality with the sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults. There was a lack of transparency, open dialogue and candour about sexual matters, together with an awkwardness about investigating such matters. This made it difficult to challenge sexual behaviour.
Mr Colin Perkins, diocesan safeguarding adviser (DSA) for the Diocese of Chichester, told us that homosexual clergy may have found themselves inadvertently “under the same cloak” as child sexual abusers, who sought to mask their behaviour “in the same cultural hiding place”.

For those who follow this blog this report signals that I am back keeping a regular eye on child sexual abuse issues. Those who follow me on the fight for 50swomen know I don’t give up easily.