Child sex abuse victims and survivors are often accused of lying when trying to report the abuse to police, according to a report by the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse in England and Wales. The inquiry’s team spoke to 56 victims and survivors of child sexual abuse between the ages of 11 and 21, and only “a small number” stated that they were satisfied with the police process.
The Engagement with Children and Young People report, published on Thursday, says: “Many young victims and survivors told us about being accused of lying and … one young person was referred to as a ‘little bitch’ by a police officer. Some young victims and survivors told us that the police had not managed their privacy and confidentiality concerns correctly. We heard that this could lead to reprisals from people associated with the abuser. We heard examples of police officers in uniform visiting children at their primary school and family home with no prior warning.”
The team only spoke to victims and survivors who had reported their abuse to the police.
The majority said there had been no conviction or prosecution in their case, leaving them wondering why they had gone through the traumatic process. One young victim and survivor said: “Now I regret having gone to the police. If I had to give advice to someone, I would say, ‘Get help but don’t report.’”
However, some specialist child sexual abuse support workers told the inquiry that victims and survivors sometimes unfairly blamed police for delays and non-convictions, which were out of officers’ hands. Many said the police did a good job given their resources. Seventy-seven support workers were interviewed for the report.
There were also complaints about not being kept informed throughout the police process, so victims and survivors felt disempowered, and found the interviewing traumatic. The report also has criticism over schools not doing enough to recognise and respond to child sexual abuse and exploitation. An Ofsted report this June found that sexual harassment and online sexual abuse were a routine part of schoolchildren’s daily lives and that teachers “consistently underestimated” the scale of the problem.
Many victims and survivors complained of insensitivity, with one saying a teacher stopped them midway through a disclosure to say: “Don’t tell me because I will have to repeat this.” Another had signposted the child to Childline rather than face the conversation.
One pupil reported an experience of peer-on-peer abuse to a headteacher, who shared the information with the perpetrator’s parents before a police report was done. The pupil said it had serious consequences for the investigation. They also said the perpetrator continued to attend the same classes as them, which was “very traumatic”.
The report also found that, in schools, education about relationships and sex had been largely inadequate, with some children receiving no lessons on the issues at all, echoing the Ofsted report.
Deputy Chief Constable Ian Critchley, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection, said: “Whilst it is deeply concerning to hear that some young victims and survivors of child sexual abuse have been accused of lying when coming forward to police, I know that we have dedicated, professional staff across the country who treat victims with compassion, respect and take reports of child abuse seriously.
“We will consider very seriously the views of young people within this report and use it to further develop the way we work together with our partners to protect children.”