catalogs series of failings and calls for urgent changes to services provided.
Child victims of sexual abuse within families are being let down by the system, the children’s commissioner for England has said.
Young people are often left to report the abuse themselves when the authorities fail to pick up on signs, a report by the commissioner’s office found.
Even after their experiences are disclosed, investigations into sexual offences against children tend to take an average of 100 days longer than those against adults, it said.
Victims also often face long waits for therapy, and many are blocked from having counselling in the run-up to their court cases.
Abuse within family environments is thought to make up two-thirds of all child sexual abuse, and as few as one in eight victims come to the attention of authorities, previous research by the commissioner’s office found.
Some survivors have now described feeling abandoned after telling their families about the trauma they had suffered, and in powerful testimonies they spoke of their frustrations at a lack of support.
The commissioner’s office released three reports on Thursday, looking at how child sexual abuse is investigated, the role of schools in preventing it and things to be learned from survivors.
One 19-year-old woman said giving video evidence about the abuse she suffered was “like it’s going on again, the whole thing’s happening again”.
In partnership with the NSPCC, researchers from the University of Bedfordshire spoke to young people aged between five and 19 about their experiences of abuse within a family setting.
Using information from the Home Office and Crown Prosecution Service, the commissioner’s office also found that a rise in the reporting of sexual offences was placing a strain on the justice system.
Many teachers feel confident they are able to recognise the signs of abuse, but schools do not always fulfil their potential roles in preventing incidents by educating children about seeking help, one of the reports said.
The commissioner, Anne Longfield, called for urgent changes to the system and looked to the approach in Iceland, where child victims are offered specific services to deal with their trauma.
“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,” she said.
“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 ‘Barnahaus’ 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.”
Dr Camille Warrington from the University of Bedfordshire and lead author of the Making Noise report, said: “We know that child sexual abuse flourishes in cultures of silence.
“Undertaking the Making Noise research project highlighted only too well children’s own appetite and ability to help break that silence.
“It also emphasises the need for us as adults and professionals to improve the way we listen to and talk with children to prevent and respond to abuse - and the benefits that come from doing so.”
Barnardo’s chief executive, Javed Khan, called for compulsory lessons in schools to include topics such as sexting, consent and online grooming.
He said children should be assigned an independent advocate to help them navigate the court system when their abusers are brought to trial.
“We hear every day how much children and young people at risk of, or who have experienced, sexual abuse need and benefit from our specialist services, but we know many more need our help too,” he said.
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