Cases of child sex abuse for investigations are taking longer to go to court than those involving adults, according to a new report, but equally disturbing are the waiting times faced by survivors in need of mental health support.
The children’s commissioner for England has said that child victims of sexual abuse within families are being let down by the system, with young people often left to report incidents of abuse themselves when authorities have failed to observe and act on signs of mistreatment.
We regularly see survivors of abuse let down by those with a duty of care when there is a failure to report their suspicions. It takes immense courage to step forward and speak up so that abusers may be brought to justice, and to have the system leave survivors in wait so that the experience is dragged out is simply unacceptable.
The report by the commissioner’s office, published 20 April, 2017, revealed that even when experiences of abuse have been disclosed, investigations into sexual offences against children tend to take an average of 100 days longer than those against adults.
106,098 sexual offences were recorded by police in the year ending March 2016 according to the Independent. This is an increase of 20 per cent compared with the previous year. This includes a 20 per cent increase in crimes recorded as sexual assault on a female aged 13 and over, a 31 per cent increase in sexual activity involving a child under 16, and a 51 per cent increase in the offence of sexual grooming.
The report reveals that in the year 2015-16, the median length of time for investigations of child sex abuse cases was 248 days, compared with 147 for adult sexual offences – a total of 101 days less. A quarter of cases took considerably longer, some 393 days or more.
Mental health is of the highest importance in healing the unseen inflicted by others following any kind of abuse.
Even more alarming is the fact that the length of time for child sex abuse investigations seems to be increasing.
The report suggests that the increased reports of sexual offences are placing a significant demand on services and agencies dealing with the cases, which they are unable to resolve sooner. Now that these findings have been brought to light, it is integral that the resources are made available to tackle this issue.
We know from working with survivors of abuse how this time spent waiting in uncertainty can have an incredibly detrimental effect on both children and their families at a time when stress, depression and anxiety are often already of grave concern.
Mental health is of the highest importance in healing the unseen inflicted by others following any kind of abuse. Another report from the University of Bedfordshire in partnership with NSPCC, found that child survivors of abuse were frequently left to wait months, sometimes years for therapy following abuse.
As we endeavour to take the steps to see that suspicions of child abuse are reported and abusers brought to justice for their crimes, it is equally essential that survivors know that they are protected and that help is available. In order to get their life back on track, this means access to specialist counselling and a greater focus on mental health support.
Kim Harrison is a principal lawyer specialising in child abuse claims at Slater and Gordon in Manchester.
Slater and Gordon have the UK’s most experienced team of abuse lawyers and are currently representing over 800 survivors of abuse.
We offer a free and completely confidential consultation to anyone affected by sexual abuse. Call us anytime 24/7 on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online.