Child sex abuse: Failing to report it should be made illegal – major inquiry

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Anyone who works with children and does not report child sexual abuse should be prosecuted, the final report of a huge, seven-year inquiry has recommended.

It called the nature and scale of abuse in England and Wales “horrific and deeply disturbing” with children “threatened, beaten and humiliated”.

The inquiry began in 2015 and has cost £186m with evidence from 7,000 victims.

Chairwoman Prof Alexis Jay described an “epidemic that leaves thousands of victims in its poisonous wake”.

Prof Jay said some victims would never recover from their experiences.

“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,” she said.

“We cannot simply 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 current and future threat of the internet.”

Former prime minister Theresa May told BBC News she had “no idea” of the scale of child abuse when she set up the inquiry as home secretary, and was “absolutely horrified” when it became increasingly clear.

“The sad thing is very often children were raising this. Children were saying that this was happening to them and we weren’t listening,” she added.

The report says institutions too often “prioritised their personal and institutional reputations above the welfare of those they were duty bound to protect.

“Blame was frequently assigned to the victims who were treated as if they were unworthy of protection.”

Some institutions did not respond at all to the inquiry’s investigations, while others merely offered “insincere apologies and inadequate provision of support and counselling”.

The inquiry has been criticised for focusing too much on past events, but IICSA’s report said online abuse had increased in recent years and there were many lessons for modern organisations to learn.

“Child protection must be given a much greater priority in public life,” it concludes.

Prof Alexis JayIMAGE SOURCE,IICSA
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Prof Alexis Jay has chaired the inquiry since August 2016

The inquiry says its 20 key recommendations need to be accepted by government as a “matter of urgency”.

These include a new law placing a duty to report child abuse on anyone who witnessed or was told about it by children or perpetrators.

Not doing so would result in a criminal offence unless the behaviour was consensual and non-abusive between young people of similar ages.

This would cover “anyone working with children”, an inquiry official said, as defined under the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

But the pressure group Mandate Now says this recommendation is “very limited”.

The group wants it to be an offence to fail to report any signs that children are being abused, such as recognisable changes in behaviour or mental health.

Mandate Now say the inquiry’s recommendation is “mandatory reporting in name only”.

The inquiry also argues for new child protection authorities for England and Wales – and a new, single scheme for compensating victims of abuse.

It dismissed concerns that victims might “lie for money” as “misplaced and offensive”.