A report into child sexual abuse from the Children’s Commissioner’s Office (CCO) has criticised the speed of decision-making in child abuse cases.
Anne Longfield: 'It is clear from this
research that many child sexual
abuse victims are being let down
by the system'
Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield said children are “being let down by the system” and are “waiting too long to see their abusers charged or jailed”.
The Investigating Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) report, published on Thursday (April 20), examined the timescales involved in CSA cases from the point of initial report to the outcome in court.
Using Home Office data from 18 forces in England, the CCO found the investigative process took an average of 248 days, compared to 236 in 2014/15 and 179 in 2013/14.
The report also highlighted that this is 101 days more than the average for adult sexual offences.
Furthermore, the average length of time for the investigation of historic CSA is 270 days, compared to 207 for a current offence.
Three recommendations were set out in the CCO report including the establishment and roll-out of ‘children’s houses’, otherwise known as the ‘Barnahus Model’.
The Scandinavian initiative – used in Sweden and Iceland – sees children interviewed in resource centres by expert communicators, rather than lawyers, who gather impartial evidence.
It is argued that this creates a stress-free environment for the children, and allows evidence to be gathered much closer to the reporting of a crime.
A pilot of the child house initiative is set to launch later this year in London, funded by £7.2m from the Home Office Innovation Fund.
Secondly, it was recommended that Crown Prosecution service (CPS) Rape and Serious Sexual Offence (RASSO) specialists are embedded in CSA investigation teams to improve collaboration between the CPS and police officers.
Three forces – Norfolk constabulary, South Yorkshire Police and Nottinghamshire Police – piloted this in early 2015.
A Her Majesty’s Prosecution Service Inspectorate review of RASSO units in February 2016 found a number of previous recommendations had not been addressed.
It also noted how several cases were rushed to achieve timeliness targets, then subsequently dropped when “more thought is given to the detail of the case”.
The final recommendation was to implement a licence to practice for investigators working on CSA cases to improve decision-making.
Ms Longfield said: “It is clear from this research and the heart-breaking stories told by young people within it, that many child sexual abuse victims are being let down by the system.
“Too much is being expected of victims themselves. Not only do many feel unable to disclose abuse, they are waiting too long to see their abusers charged and jailed. Often they have to wait months and years for therapy following abuse.
“Professionals remain dedicated to supporting the victims of abuse, but urgent changes need to be made to the way it is reported, the role of schools in preventing it and the criminal justice process in child sexual abuse cases.
“The Icelandic Barnahus approach, where services ranging from medical examination to therapy are provided to victims under one roof, has been proven to be successful in overcoming some of these hurdles and I hope it will be trialled in England.”