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IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Final report

C.3: Reform

20. Throughout the Inquiry’s public hearings, criticisms were directed at failures of institutions to respond effectively, or at all, to child sexual abuse. Many cases presented in evidence did not involve finely balanced decisions by those in positions of authority but were obvious examples of where action was necessary and often urgent, but was not taken.[1] Institutions frequently valued reputation, including personal and professional reputations, above the interests of children.[2] As a result, whether by design or carelessness, allegations of child sexual abuse were often marginalised.

21. As the Inquiry’s analysis revealed, the issue of child sexual abuse was concealed from public view for decades. Poor attitudes towards children compromised the ability of institutions to expose and act on allegations of child sexual abuse. There was no real understanding of the scale and depravity of that abuse until national scandals were exposed, such as the posthumous revelations made about Jimmy Savile in 2012 and the conviction in 2015 of Bishop Peter Ball. Even then, some forms of child sexual exploitation remained hidden from view. Many children and young people were groomed through attention and protestations of affection or violence to submit to sexual activity with groups of men. Rather than deal with the perpetrators, the statutory agencies, particularly the police, assigned blame to those who were being abused.[3] They were apparently not worthy of protection.

22. There were a number of examples of where a particular institution kept allegations of child sexual abuse ‘in-house’ and did not report the circumstances to the local authority or the police.[4] On occasions, efforts to expose child sexual abuse in internal reports were simply ignored because other priorities dominated the institutional agenda. As an extreme example, political turmoil and corruption within Lambeth Council meant that those who spoke out against child sexual abuse were simply drowned out by the noise of a toxic political debate.[5]

23. Many people within the institutions examined by the Inquiry knew, or should have known, that serious allegations of child sexual abuse had been made in circumstances where the institution bore some responsibility for the child’s welfare. They were responsible for ‘battening down the hatches’ in the hope and expectation that the so-called ‘problem’ would go away. Those who complained often met a wall of resistance and antipathy. The Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England demonstrated a persistent reluctance to report complaints of child sexual abuse to external agencies.[6]

24. It is more difficult to suppress allegations when the circumstances are shared with other agencies. The exposure sets in motion a series of processes designed to protect the child and investigate what happened. While there is always a risk that an allegation is mishandled, that risk is reduced if each institution complies with the guidance in Working Together and shares information and concerns so that the appropriate action is taken in a timely way. The problem was often not the policies and procedures themselves but failure to share intelligence, and to implement and comply with the child protection arrangements that were in place.

25. While a number of high-profile prosecutions in the mid-2010s brought child sexual abuse to greater attention, as other priorities have emerged, the focus on child sexual abuse has diminished. In some police forces, child sexual exploitation has been subsumed into child criminal exploitation, creating limitations on the understanding of this type of offending.[7] Statutory agencies have not yet demonstrated a comprehensive ability to understand the scale and nature of child sexual abuse in their areas. For example, some statutory agencies have conflated the concepts of actual harm and risk of harm.[8] This conflation manifests itself in a failure to identify children who have been sexually abused and those who may be at risk of being sexually abused. Making these distinctions effectively enables resources to be targeted where there is an urgent need to remove a child from danger of sexual abuse or introduce a range of protective measures to manage a risk to the child where the harm has not yet occurred. The failure to do so magnifies the risk of further abuse.

26. The challenges faced by the authorities in dealing with child sexual offences facilitated by the internet is a significant and growing problem. The worldwide trade in indecent images of children is worth vast sums of money. The dark web offers sanctuary to would-be perpetrators who can remain undetectable. Encryption may prevent law enforcement agencies from tracing and ultimately prosecuting perpetrators because they cannot access relevant communications.

27. Institutions have been responsible for failing to protect children from harm when it was their responsibility to do so.[9] This state of affairs lasted for decades and persists in some quarters today. There is a very real risk that, despite improvements, institutions may revert to poor practice and, worse still, actively downplay child sexual abuse, unless there is long-lasting and focussed vigilance. Child protection must be given the profile and continuous attention it deserves. The temptation to exclude the statutory authorities from investigating thoroughly, or for the seriousness of child sexual abuse to be minimised by institutions and authorities, is too great merely to make recommendations that urge them to do better.

28. As set out further in this report, the Inquiry recommends the introduction of mandatory reporting for relevant individuals and the establishment of Child Protection Authorities (CPAs) for England and for Wales. These are complementary recommendations intended to tackle failures in the institutional response and to improve and promote effective child protection practice in tandem with enhanced personal responsibility that arises from the implementation of the mandatory reporting recommendation.


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