Majority of sex abuse cases in Britain go unreported: study

Published 29.11.2015 12:48

Britain was rocked this week by a government report that said the vast majority of child sex abuse cases in the country are never reported.

Police and local municipalities, which are responsible for social services in Britain, were able to identify around 50,000 cases of sexual abuse around between April 2012 and March 2014.

The report was produced by Anne Longfield, the government-appointed Children's Commissioner for England.

But these cases were vastly overshadowed by those not identified: the report estimated that as many as 450,000 children may have been abused over the same period-meaning just one in every eight cases saw an intervention.

It was a shocking assessment-even for a country that has spent recent years coming to terms with revelations of historical child abuse-that cases were emerging in such vast numbers, even in this decade.

"In recent years the terrible experiences of sexual abuse that some children have suffered in institutions or at the hands of groups of perpetrators have come to light and preventing and tackling these been made a priority," Longfield said at the report's launch.

"We must now wake up to and urgently address the most common form of child sexual abuse-that which takes place behind the front door within families or their trusted circle."

"Our research suggests that many victims suffer in silence, unknown to those who could protect or help them to overcome their experiences. This is often because the services we provide rely on children coming forward and telling someone that they have been abused, which they rarely do."

"This could be for a number of reasons-they may feel intimidated, scared of causing trouble for their family, or simply not have the words to express what has happened to them."

News of child sexual abuse of children has been covered regularly in the British press over the last five years-largely because of the big-name celebrities at the center of the allegations.

It was following the 2012 revelation that former children's entertainer Jimmy Savile was a serial sex offender that allegations stretching back decades emerged against other prominent British public figures.

Savile had had an acclaimed career raising funds and organizing events for disadvantaged children.

But after his 2011 death he was revealed to have abused children in the schools, hospitals and other institutions he visited, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s.

He never faced charges, despite being investigated several times by the police.

News of his abuse prompted thousands of complaints of abuse against other pop stars, radio personalities and doctors. Some led to criminal convictions, as in the case of the television presenter Rolf Harris, who was jailed for nearly six years.

But the sheer number of allegations-coupled with accusations from victims saying their complaints had never been taken seriously before-led the U.K. government to order an inquiry to find out how institutionalized child sexual abuse had become in the very organizations that existed to protect vulnerable children.

The inquiry's chair-Dame Lowell Goddard, a senior judge from New Zealand-was chosen precisely because she had few links to Britain and the individuals and public bodies she would be investigating.

She was given a vast £18 million [$27 million] budget and sweeping powers granting access to classified information and compelling witnesses to testify.

On Friday, Goddard's inquiry announced the first of the public bodies it would investigate. Her list of 12 was wide-ranging, with local municipalities, the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches and the Houses of Parliament all set to be investigated simultaneously.

That will involve summoning witnesses and demanding the release of documents-a job that will likely take 18 months.

Goddard admitted it was a significant undertaking: "There is no doubt that the task we have set ourselves in the first phase is ambitious."

"To run 12 investigations in parallel represents an organizational challenge that is unprecedented in a public inquiry in the U.K. We are determined to succeed and expect full cooperation of all institutions and individuals who can assist us in our work."

For the thousands of victims of child sex abuse, many of them now middle-aged adults, Goddard's inquiry is belated acknowledgement of what they suffered.

But finding ways of identifying the tens of thousands of unreported cases that still occur in Britain every year will be a far harder task.

"We all have a duty to keep children safe," Anne Longfield, the Children's Commissioner, said earlier this week. "This damaging crime will not go away-it needs constant and concerted effort by all those responsible for, or who have contact with, children."

"We must get better at preventing child abuse from occurring, identifying the victims when it does, and helping children who have been abused to recover."

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