PRESENT-DAY perpetrators of child sexual abuse are presenting the same behaviours and child-grooming tactics as those recorded in non-recent abuse cases investigated by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), including clerical abuse, new research suggests. The research was published by IICSA on Tuesday in the report Child Sexual Abuse in Contemporary Institutional Contexts: An analysis of Disclosure and Barring Service discretionary case files.
It analyses recent records (2017-20) of the Disclosure and Barring Service, involving both male and females added to the Children’s Barred List, to achieve a better understanding of child sexual abuse in contemporary institutions. This includes the nature of the abuse, perpetrators’ offending strategies, and the state of safeguarding.
Out of the analysed sample of 43 DBS case files of barred individuals in England and Wales (some of whom are referred to as alleged perpetrators or barred individuals), more than half were aged 19-34 years (24 cases) and male (32 cases). Most sexually abused children were under-15s (37 cases) and female (51 cases; some cases involved more than one sexually abused child); 16 of the cases analysed involved multiple children.
The sample covered a range of sectors, including education, the voluntary and community sector, sports and leisure, foster care, social care, childcare, healthcare, and faith; yet across these sectors, alleged perpetrators used the same “methodical and gradual” techniques to groom children. These individuals were typically “charismatic and competent” and “well-liked and respected by colleagues” — perceptions that led to their offending “being minimised or excused” by the institutions in which they worked: a common theme of recent IICSA investigations in child sexual abuse in an Anglican Church context (News, 9 November 2020). A final report is due this autumn.
Perpetrators analysed in the research also either denied that the child sexual abuse had occurred at all; admitted that the contact had occurred but denied that it was sexual abuse, using tactics such as victim-blaming; described the abuse as a consensual “relationship”; admitted the abuse, but minimised their responsibility, for example by claiming that they had made “mistakes” or “poor judgements”; or disputed that they held a “position of trust” (News, 12 March) — indicating that safeguarding policies did not apply to them and therefore had not been breached.
The report also found that in most cases the abuse took place away from the institution, in places such as in cars, hotels, or homes, and, where it did take place on site, this was in isolated locations such as bathrooms or empty classrooms. Children were frequently targeted on social media.
It was also found that “institutional cultures allowed informal contact and over-familiarity between alleged perpetrators and children” which dampened suspicion; and that there were “numerous missed opportunities to safeguard children because concerns were not escalated, disclosures were not always believed, and institutions and staff did not share, record, and respond appropriately to low-level concerns”.
The principal researcher, Julienne Zammit, explained on Tuesday:
“Alleged perpetrators denied or minimised the sexual abuse, in some cases even blaming the victim.
Sexually abusive relationships were often framed as consensual and social media was frequently exploited
to groom and perpetrate child sexual abuse, providing access to children in unsupervised and unmonitored online spaces."
“Where reports were made, opportunities to safeguard children were missed or actively blocked because concerns were not escalated, and disclosures were not always believed. In some cases, it was clear that institutions chose to put their reputation above protecting children who reported child sexual abuse.”