Children, toddlers and babies were subjected to horrifying abuse as institutions turned a blind eye to protect their reputations, a years-long inquiry into sexual abuse has concluded.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) published its final report last week after nine years of work, originally prompted in the aftermath of the Jimmy Savile scandal. The final report is a clarion call for tough new laws making it a legal duty for anyone in regulated work or a position of trust to report child sexual abuse.
The IICSA involved 15 separate investigations into scandals in different areas of society, and heard more than 6,200 accounts of child sexual abuse, as part of its Truth Project. One of those investigations focused on the experiences of boys sent to St Aidan's Children's Home in, Widnes, and St Vincent's, in Formby, where dozens of lives were ruined in the 1970s and 1980s.
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The inquiry heard how paedophiles targeted vulnerable boys with impunity and helped each other cover up their vile crimes - safe in the belief their chances of being held to account were small.
The ECHO has previously reported how the inquiry found that behind the walls of the homes, run by Liverpool charity the Nugent Care Society, formerly Catholic Social Services, was a brutal, prison-like regime of beatings, grooming and sexual abuse.
The experiences of boys at those home was one aspect of the unprecedented inquiry originally set up in 2013 as a panel-led inquiry. However, after criticism over its lack of independence and the resignation of its first two chairs, it was reconstituted as a statutory inquiry in 2015, giving it legal powers to compel witnesses to give evidence.
The final report makes 20 recommendations to government and other institutions, on top of 87 already made during the course of the inquiry. According to an IICSA statement: "The report sets out the devastating scale of child sexual abuse, both past and present, describing the extent of the potential crimes facing babies, toddlers, children and young people.
"It presents a horrifying picture that underpins the Inquiry’s recommendations in this report and the need for urgent action by both state and non-state institutions."
The IICSA has been scathing of how public and private institutions including churches, schools and charities were more concerned with protecting their own reputations than vulnerable children - with devastating consequences.
The IICSA statement said: "As the Inquiry’s work over the past seven years has demonstrated, child sexual abuse has been hidden from public view for decades and it remains under-reported and under-identified to this day.
"Children have been subject to the most vile and painful acts, threatened, beaten and humiliated, with institutions often choosing to prioritise their personal and institutional reputations above the welfare of those they were duty bound to protect, concealing crimes from the authorities, failing to record allegations and ‘moving on’ known abusers.
"Blame was frequently assigned to the victims who were treated as if they were unworthy of protection. The report highlights that the pain and suffering victims and survivors endured often had significant impacts across all aspects of their lives. Relationships, as well as physical, emotional and mental health were damaged, in some cases beyond repair."
As well as new legislation to make whistleblowing mandatory, the report recommends the creation of a Child Protection Authority (CPA) to oversee the safeguarding of children in institutions and a national redress scheme to provide compensation for anyone who has seen their lives damaged by the failure of institutions to protect them from child sexual abuse.
Professor Alexis Jay, chairwoman of the IICSA, 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, research programme and Truth Project, 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.
“The publication of this report is the culmination of seven years of work. To the victims and survivors who have made such an immense contribution to our work, we will be forever grateful. 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."
The full report is available online here.
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