The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has published its long-awaited report following one of the largest and most expensive investigations ever undertaken in this country. IICSA, which was established as a statutory inquiry back in 2015 under the Inquiries Act 2005, considered the extent to which state and non-state institutions have failed in their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation in England and Wales.
Evidence was heard from 725 witnesses over 325 days of hearings, and considered 194,740 documents made up of over 2.4 million pages of evidence. More than 6,200 victims and survivors contributed to the inquiry's Truth Project, which was set up so that accounts could be shared in a confidential setting.
The inquiry focused its efforts on 15 thematic investigations, covering state and non-state institutions, and considered accounts of children's experiences at care homes, residential schools, religious organisations, custodial institutions, with eminent figures, as well as online abuse and exploitation, and abuse outside of the United Kingdom. The legal processes concerned with obtaining justice and compensation were further included as part of the inquiry's work.
IICSA reported that approximately 1 in 6 girls and 1 in 20 boys experience sexual abuse before reaching the age of 16, although it determined – from its investigations and research – that the true scale of sexual abuse is likely far higher. IICSA looked at attitudes towards abuse, and highlighted wider societal issues in relation to disclosure of abuse. IICSA called for "greater public awareness of the scale and scope of child sexual abuse and exploitation in order to improve our response to children who are abused".
Those who had engaged with the police or sought a civil remedy described their experience of the legal processes as "hostile, baffling, frustrating and futile". IICSA found that for those that looked to pursue civil claims, very few did so before the age of 21.
Victims and survivors described how there was an "inadequate provision of support and counselling", and that apologies from institutions were variable and "frequently added to the trauma" they experienced.
IICSA determined that institutions, whether state or non-state, should not simply rely on disclosures from the victims and survivors themselves as a means of identifying and detecting sexual abuse, and that they must be proactive and vigilant. Any information about known or suspected sexual abuse should be acted upon and investigated, without exception.
Criticisms were made by IICSA following its review of various institutions in respect of the lack of joined up communication in some cases, poor or non-existent record keeping, a lack of child protection policies and procedures or inadequate policies and procedures, a failure to implement recommendations following independent reviews, and a failure to support victims and survivors of abuse upon disclosure.
IICSA made a series of recommendations as a consequence of their investigations and research, and have urged the UK and Welsh Governments to take action within six months. Their recommendations are as follows:
- A single set of core data relating to child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation.
- The creation of Child Protection Authorities in England and Wales, a body that IICSA proposes will have powers to inspect any institution associated with children.
- The creation of a Minister for Children.
- A public awareness campaign on child sexual abuse.
- A ban on the use of pain compliance techniques on children in custodial institutions.
- Amendments to the Children Act 1989 to permit the court to prohibit a local authority from taking any act or proposed act where it considers a child in the care of a local authority is at risk of, or is experiencing, significant harm.
- The registration of care staff in residential care.
- The registration of staff in young offender institutions and secure training centres.
- Extended use of the barred list of people unsuitable for work with children.
- Improved compliance with statutory duties to inform the Disclosure and Barring Service about individuals who may pose a risk of harm to children.
- Extending the disclosure regime to those working with children overseas.
- Mandatory online pre-screening for sexual images of children for all regulated providers of search services and user-to-user services.
- Mandatory reporting, requiring individuals such as police officers, any person in a position of trust, and any person working in regulated activity in relation to children, to report allegations of child sexual abuse to the relevant authorities, with failing to report when required to do so becoming a criminal offence. This includes where a disclosure of child sexual abuse is received, where a person witnesses a child being sexually abused, or where other recognised indicators of child sexual abuse are observed.
- Compliance with the Victims' Code.
- The removal of the three year limitation period for personal injury claims brought by victims and survivors, and the express protection of the right to a fair trial, with the burden falling on defendants to show that a fair trial is not possible. These changes will only apply to victims and survivors themselves, and not their estates.
- A national guarantee from the UK and Welsh Governments to provide fully funded specialist therapeutic support for child victims of sexual abuse.
- A code of practice for access to records pertaining to child sexual abuse, with records to be kept for 75 years.
- Further changes to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority scheme to make it fairer and more accessible to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse.
- The implementation of a national redress scheme for England and Wales to provide compensation for those who have been let down by institutions in the past. IICSA propose this be a straightforward fixed-term scheme, which is not intended to replace current criminal or civil processes. This is intended to be a state-run scheme, funded by central and local governments, with contributions from institutions affected. Previous compensation awards will be deducted, and open to those whose claims have been rejected by the courts, but only where the reason for the rejection was due to limitation.
- More robust age-verification requirements for the use of online platforms and services.
The UK and Welsh Governments will have time to consider implementing IICSA's proposals, but there are clearly some radical reforms proposed, particularly in respect of mandatory reporting, the creation of a national redress scheme, the availability of therapy for victims and survivors of abuse, and changes to limitation, to bring this in line with Scotland's Limitation (Child Abuse) (Scotland) Act 2017.
Given IICSA's report was critical of institutions' previous failures to implement recommendations following earlier reviews commissioned, we anticipate the UK and Welsh Governments will give serious consideration to IICSA's report; the sheer cost, effort, and scale that has gone into the inquiry is such that the recommendations surely cannot be ignored.
If the recommendations are implemented, this will clearly impact claims for sexual abuse significantly.
The team has extensive experience dealing with recent and non-recent child sexual abuse and exploitation, group actions, compensation schemes, redress, and claims brought pursuant to the Human Rights Act 1998.