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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Sexual Abuse of Children in Custodial Institutions: 2009-2017 Investigation Report

C.1: The REA’s findings on prevalence

1. Relatively little has been known historically about the prevalence of sexual abuse of children in custody in England and Wales. As set out in the Inquiry’s Rapid Evidence Assessment (REA):[1]

  • There are significant challenges in collecting accurate data on child sexual abuse in custody, and there are very limited data available.
  • The best available source of information on child sexual abuse in young offender institutions (YOIs) and secure training centres (STCs) in England and Wales is the HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) Children in Custody annual survey. This survey asks a number of children at each YOI and STC (it does not cover secure children’s homes (SCHs)) a series of questions, including whether they have experienced sexual abuse from young people or staff.
  • The HMIP survey has consistently reported relatively low levels of sexual abuse in YOIs and STCs. In the 2015/16 survey, sexual abuse by staff was reported by 1 percent of children in YOIs and 2 percent in STCs; and sexual abuse by peers was reported by 1 percent of children in YOIs and 3 percent in STCs.[2]

2. As identified in the REA, there are some limitations to the data available from the HMIP survey. It is a sample conducted once each year and not all detained children are surveyed. The questionnaire does not include a definition of the term ‘sexual abuse’ (so children may omit reporting incidents of sexual abuse due to a lack of understanding, or report incidents which do not amount to sexual abuse for the same reason). The questions in the STC survey may be confusing to children because of its structure. It is also unclear whether those who may require assistance in completing the surveys for literacy or other reasons adequately take up the support that is offered. Children may not feel comfortable disclosing being sexually abused on a survey to someone they do not know, and may be concerned about who will hear about what they say.[3][4]

3. Unlike the youth survey carried out by the American Bureau of Justice, the HMIP survey does not collect data on the circumstances surrounding the allegation of sexual abuse.[5]

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