“Knowing about child abuse and doing nothing” should be a criminal offence under a new law, the chairwoman of a government inquiry has concluded.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has today published its final report following seven years of 15 separate investigations, hearings, evidence gathering and interim publications.
The report sets out the devastating scale of child sexual abuse, both past and present, describing the extent of the potential crimes facing the 13 million children in England and Wales today and calls for urgent action by both state and non-state institutions.
The inquiry has, for almost a decade, heard harrowing evidence of adults abusing children, and authorities, including: police, social services, religious institutions and schools turning a blind eye. In some cases, children who were raped become pregnant, others spoke of the “violent sexual slavery” they endured, and many survivors have struggled mental health issues as a result. Some have taken their own lives.
The IICSA makes a series of 20 recommendations designed to tackle the weaknesses in organisations that have left children vulnerable to abuse, exposed them to harm or denied them justice. Among the recommendations includes making the failure to report child abuse a criminal offence under a new law.
Professor Alexis Jay, who chairs the inquiry, said that the new mandatory reporting law would not only make it a legal requirement for those who work in regulated activity or work in a position of trust to report child sexual abuse, but also stop the “epidemic that leaves tens of thousands of victims in its poisonous wake”.
A new law could also lead to the commission of a new criminal offence of failure to report an allegation of child sexual abuse when required to do so.
The report concludes: “The sexual abuse and exploitation of children is criminal and morally wrong. There is no excuse for those who perpetrate this crime. It has never been right or excusable whenever it occurred.
“To a significant extent, this also applies to those who knew about the abuse but did nothing, as well as to those who actively covered it up or contrived to assist a perpetrator in escaping justice or avoiding the scrutiny of the statutory authorities.”
Among the IICSA’s other recommendations include: the creation of a Child Protection Authority (CPA) focussing on the relevant institutions and statutory agencies, a national redress scheme, to provide monetary redress for child sexual abuse for those who have been let down by state and non-state institutions in the past, and the creation of a cabinet-level Minister for Children.
Professor Jay 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 IICSA held 15 separate investigations examining its response to child abuse incidents and reporting. This included: The Church of England, Ampleforth and Downside Abbeys and schools and Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s School, Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, a case study concerning the late disgraced bishop Peter Ball, Nottingham City Council and Nottinghamshire County Council, and the internet.
It also covered child protection in religious organisations and settings. In total, 38 religious organisations, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, new religious movements, non-conformist Christian denominations, non-trinitarian Christian denominations, Paganism and Sikhism.
Babies, toddlers and children are potentially at risk, with current estimates indicating that one in six girls and one in 20 boys experience child sexual abuse before the age of 16. In March 2020, the Office for National Statistics estimated that 3.1 million adults in England and Wales had experienced sexual abuse before the age of 16.
A copy of the final report has been passed to the Government.