Child sexual abuse prosecutions and convictions roughly halve in four years

Research from the NSPCC finds child sexual abuse (CSA) prosecutions and convictions are falling and young people are facing increasingly long court delays.

21/01/22

Child sexual abuse prosecutions and convictions roughly halve in four years

New Freedom of Information (FoI) requests have revealed that prosecutions for CSA in England and Wales have more than halved since 2016 while convictions dropped by 45% over the same period.

The average time taken for CSA cases to reach court and be completed has also increased by 5 months in the last 3 years. Last year, the average case took 1 year and 10 months to reach completion.

One young person, who wished to remain anonymous, spoke about the effect such delays in the justice system have.

“I was sexually assaulted over a year ago. I ended up reporting it as I knew what happened wasn’t right. It’s been months since then and I’m only now having to give evidence in court, just when things were starting to get back to normal.”

The latest data shows prosecutions for CSA in England and Wales have dropped from 6,394 in 2016-2017 period to 3,025 – less than half – in the 2020-2021 reporting period. Convictions have also dropped at a similar rate, from 4,751 to 2,595 over the same period.

The young person continued: “Being in court was harder than I thought – they kept asking loads of questions. I get that’s what they have to do, but I felt like they didn’t believe me. Since then, I keep replaying the events in court over in my head, wondering if I said the wrong thing. To be honest, I’m not bothered about the outcome anymore – I just want it to be over quick, and for people to stop worrying about me.”

The drop in convictions follows an insight briefing last year which found that in the 2019-2020 period, the total Ministry of Justice budget was around 25% lower than in 2010/11.

“England and Wales have also experienced court closures, a drop in court staff, the ending of almost all specialist young witness schemes, a shortage of registered intermediaries and a 57% increase in police reports of CSA in 5 years,” the NSPCC says.

In 2021, a National Audit Office warned the backlog of cases in criminal courts “severely affects victims, witnesses and defendants” and is likely to be a common issue for several years.

The NSPCC says going to court can be extremely daunting for young people, with uneven access to pre-trial support and many experiencing long waits for their trial to start. It says some struggle to relive their abuse in court and were forced to face their abuser, while others went through cross-examinations which increased their feelings of blame or guilt.

“Today I had to appear in court to give evidence after I was sexually assaulted last year,” one young person said, sharing their experience with Childline.

“If I’m honest, I didn’t think my case would even go to court, and I’m finding the whole process overwhelming.

“I was on a video link, so the person who assaulted me couldn’t see me. […] I’d prepared a statement in advance but then I was asked a load of follow-up questions. I struggled to give detailed answers as it happened so long ago – plus I’ve blocked most of it from my mind anyway.

“In the end, the session had to finish early because I was struggling to speak. They’ve said I have to go back tomorrow, but I really don’t want to do it.”

The NSPCC is now calling on the Dominic Raab, Lord Chancellor and Deputy Prime Minister and the rest of the Government to commit to a national review into the fall in prosecutions and convictions for CSA cases in England and Wales and set out an action plan for reversing the decline.

While a review of adult rape cases resulted in the government committing to prosecution and conviction increases, there’s been no review or commitment to tackle the significant fall in CSA cases.

Anna Edmundson, NSPCC Head of Policy and Public Affairs, said the significant fall in prosecutions and convictions is “utterly unacceptable”.

“Young victims of abuse have often lived through unimaginable trauma but many want to share their evidence with a court and prevent perpetrators from causing further harm. These figures show young witnesses are being denied this opportunity and those who do go to court experience long delays and inadequate support which risks retraumatising them further.

“We call on Dominic Raab to review and reverse the decline in prosecutions and convictions, use the Victims’ Law to tackle the delays affecting child sexual abuse cases going through court and provide much better support for young witnesses and victims.”

In addition to a national review, the NSPCC is calling for the Government to ensure that young people benefit from the £185 million allocated to the MoJ to increase the number of Independent Sexual Violence Advisors, and that a significant number of these are trained to work with children and young people.

The charity also says the Government should invest in ‘joined-up’ support services for young people who have experienced abuse – such as Child Houses which bring together multiple safeguarding agencies like the police and social services under one roof to support children recovering from sexual abuse.

Find out more about Child Houses: https://www.thelighthouse-london.org.uk/

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