Child sexual abuse survivors often ‘accused of lying’ by police, report finds

Young victims and survivors of child sexual abuse are often accused of lying when trying to report the abuse to police, a report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has revealed.

24/06/21

Child sexual abuse survivors often ‘accused of lying’ by police, report finds

Children and young people have told the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse that they were by police accused of lying after coming forward with their stories.

Survivors also detailed how police had not managed their privacy and confidentiality concerns well, which in some cases led to retaliation from people associated with the abuser. Many young victims and survivors said “the system” takes over after they disclose the abuse, making them feel disempowered and deterring them from sharing information again.

“I told the police everything and they said we need to take this further. I said I am not ready, but they said it was too serious. After that I was just waiting and waiting. It took months. I didn’t know what was going on,” one survivor said.

The Inquiry says it heard examples of police officers in uniform visiting children at their primary school and family home with no prior warning.

Police interviews were found to have been particularly traumatic, with survivors saying they had not been at all prepared about what would happen in the video suite. Many found the speed and number of questions to be overwhelming.

The Inquiry also heard that it was important for police and other professionals to understand trauma and how people are affected in different ways. Some of the young victims and survivors told us that the police do not believe a child if they do not get upset. Another young victim and survivor explained that she used laughter as a way of dissociating from the sexual abuse, but that this had led the police to question her sincerity.

Several experiences were shared where communication had been poor, with some young people and their families saying they were not kept up to date; while others said that the police would only communicate with parents and did not share any information with the young victims and survivors in case it upset them.

Police and other professionals were also reported to be dismissive of peer-on-peer abuse, with a tendency to label it as ‘domestic’ or blame the victim.

The majority of young victims and survivors informed the Inquiry that there had been no conviction or prosecution in their case, and that this left them wondering why they had gone through such a traumatic process at all.

Survivors also detailed “mostly negative” experiences with social work intervention following disclosure of their sexual abuse. The Inquiry said it heard that young people were often excluded from important discussions and decisions, with some social workers engaging with the parent or carer more than with the child. Others said they felt “interrogated” following a disclosure.

“[The room] was full of social workers and other people I didn’t know,” one survivor said, adding: “I felt ambushed and was asked if what I said was true or not, I didn’t like the way it was done.”

The Inquiry heard that survivors were able to develop a trusting relationship with their social workers, but that this takes time and requires social workers to be “completely honest”.

Many said that social workers are often not clear or honest about what they are doing, and there were several examples where decisions were not clearly explained, and where the child had no idea where or with whom their information was being shared.

The report also found that some social workers sometimes “lack sensitivity” and are “unskilled” in dealing with child sexual abuse and exploitation. Specialised child sexual abuse social workers, however, were praised and it was said they would help make sure that a child’s trauma is approached more carefully.

Young victims and survivors also told the Inquiry not enough was being done within schools to recognise and respond to child sexual abuse and exploitation, with many saying they experienced insensitive responses when trying to tell someone about the abuse. The Inquiry heard of an incident where a teacher stopped a pupil midway through a disclosure, saying: “Don’t tell me because I will have to repeat this”. Another had signposted the child to Childline rather than facing the conversation.

Earlier this month, an Ofsted report found that sexual harassment, including online sexual abuse, had become “normalised” in schools. Read more: https://www.socialworktoday.co.uk/News/Local-authorities-to-help-schools-tackle-'normalised%E2%80%99-sexual-harassment

The overwhelming majority of young victims and survivors shared negative experiences of their involvement with the NHS run Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

It was said most CAMHS services did not understand the impact of child sexual abuse on a child’s emotional and mental health, and that several young people said the service would only see them if they were suicidal.

“I was thinking about cutting myself or jumping out of a window to get any help,” one survivor said.

Deputy Chief Constable Ian Critchley, the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s Lead for Child Protection, told the Guardian: “Whilst it is deeply concerning to hear that some young victims and survivors of child sexual abuse have been accused of lying when coming forward to police, I know that we have dedicated, professional staff across the country who treat victims with compassion, respect and take reports of child abuse seriously.

“We will consider very seriously the views of young people within this report and use it to further develop the way we work together with our partners to protect children.”

The report, ‘Engagement with Children and Young People’, spoke to 56 victims and survivors of child sexual abuse between the ages of 11 and 21, and 77 specialist child sexual abuse support workers.

Read the full report: https://www.iicsa.org.uk/document/engagement-children-and-young-people-report-24-june-2021

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