Child abuse inquiry calls for tougher laws and compensation scheme for victims

A young girl sits holding her legs on a sofa.
The inquiry described the sexual abuse of children as an 'epidemic'. Credit: PA

Laws compelling people in positions of trust to report child sexual abuse and a national compensation scheme for victims should be introduced, a seven-year inquiry into institutional failings in England and Wales concluded.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) described the sexual abuse of children as an “epidemic that leaves tens of thousands of victims in its poisonous wake”, as its final report was published on Thursday.

Among a raft of wide-ranging recommendations, the IICSA called for a “national redress scheme” to get compensation for victims “let down by the state and non-state institutions in the past” to be launched.

It said the UK government should create a post for a minister for children at cabinet level and the Welsh government should make sure there is cabinet level responsibility for children.

Meanwhile, a Child Protection Authority (CPA) should also be established to “secure a much stronger focus on the complex work of child protection in the relevant institutions and statutory agencies”, the report said.

The £186.6 million inquiry, set up in 2015, looked at 15 areas scrutinising institutional responses to child sexual abuse - including investigations into abuse in Westminster and the church - and more than 7,000 victims and survivors took part.

Some 325 days of public hearings saw testimony from 725 witnesses while 2.5 million pages of evidence were processed, and scores of reports published with 87 recommendations already made as a result.

Six previous recommendations put forward by the inquiry were reissued in the final report as they had not been “properly addressed or acted upon by those whom they were directed”.

A further 14 proposals were set out in the overall findings on Thursday and the IICSA said it expects the UK and Welsh governments, and other institutions mentioned, to act on these “promptly” and report back on the steps they have taken within six months of the final report’s publication.

Scathing findings on the investigation into abuse allegations at the Church of England concluded the King, who was then the Prince of Wales, was “misguided” in his support for shamed clergyman Peter Ball, who was cautioned for gross indecency in 1992.

Professor Alexis Jay, chairwoman of the inquiry, 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… 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.

“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.”

There are 3.1 million victims of child sexual abuse in England and Wales, according to the 2019 Office for National Statistics (ONS) crime survey, accounting for 7.5% of the population aged between 18 and 75.

In 2020/21 there were an estimated 500,000 victims of child sexual abuse, according to the Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse.

Where can you find help if you're struggling?

Samaritans run a 24/7 free to use helpline (116 123) for anyone who needs a friendly face to talk to. Alternatively, people can email or visit its website, which is home to a wide array of learning resources.

The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) operates a helpline (0800 58 58 58), which is in service between 5pm and midnight every day. Or if you prefer not to speak on the phone, you could try the CALM webchat service.

If you would prefer not to talk but want some mental health support, you could text SHOUT to 85258. Shout offers a confidential 24/7 text service providing support if you are in crisis and need immediate help.

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