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New Truth Project research finds children sexually abused in custodial institutions faced extreme violence and sadism

23 April 2020

The Inquiry has published new research into child sexual abuse in custodial institutions, which finds children faced exceptionally sadistic treatment. Often, they were left completely isolated and had no way to escape the sexual abuse and violence.

The report explores the experiences of survivors of child sexual abuse from the 1950s - 2010s in custodial instiutions who shared their acounts with the Inquiry’s Truth Project. 

The report’s key findings include:

  • A culture of punishment contributed to a brutal environment, with survivors reporting being kicked, beaten, caned, having their testicles squeezed and being slapped around the head

  • The power and control exerted by the perpetrators meant they did not need to groom their victims, who could not escape the abuse

  • Perpetrators acted with impunity, and little was done to actively protect children

  • Survivors suffered extensive, long-term harm to their education and employment prospects, mental health, social and sexual relationships

It was common for survivors to report abuse perpetrated by multiple perpetrators - correctional staff, welfare and support staff and other children in custody.

Many survivors felt there are too many barriers to justice and recognition. They also felt local police forces should not be allowed to investigate allegations of non-recent child abuse in institutions in their own geographical area.

This thematic report reflects issues from the Inquiry’s primary research into contemporary safeguarding in custodial institutions, which found children do not always feel safe and are not well equipped to have healthy sexual relationships.

This thematic report follows the Inquiry’s public hearings into children in custodial institutions (July 2018) which produced a report (February 2019).  The report from those hearings concluded that a punitive culture prevented children from speaking out, and it recommended that the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Education share policy responsibility for children in custodial institutions. It also recommended that pain compliance techniques be seen as a form of child abuse and should be prohibited. 

Dr Sophia King, principal researcher, said: 

“This report provides crucial insight into the appalling abuse suffered by children in custodial institutions and its lifelong impacts.

“One survivor told us that what should have been three months is now a life sentence due to the abuse they suffered. We must learn from experiences like this to ensure children in custody are not abused again.” 

Nujoji Calvocoressi, a member of the Inquiry’s Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel, said:

“The findings of the report powerfully corroborate my own experiences of working with men in prison who were sexually abused as children while detained. 

“Survivors of child sexual abuse may feel excluded from society, but they are not excluded from this Inquiry. These valuable contributions and suggestions made at the Truth Project will support the Inquiry’s final recommendations.”

This report is based on an analysis of 3,701 people who shared an experience with the Truth Project between June 2016 and January 2020, of which 47 (1.3 percent) were abused in a custodial institution.

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