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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

K.3: Empowering children and young people

17. Society’s response to child sexual abuse reflects its attitude towards children. Adults frequently thought children were not telling the truth when they tried to disclose abuse. For a variety of reasons, adults disbelieved children and crimes committed against children were minimised.

18. While the measures by which the State protects vulnerable children from abuse have developed, engagement directly with children and young people has been slow. Their views are increasingly sought and taken into account, and their rights and entitlements are taken more seriously than they were in the past. Their technological literacy has had a demonstrable impact on traditional power dynamics, as the Everyone’s Invited movement illustrated. Educating children about the risk of sexual abuse and the identification of those risks play an important role in keeping them safe, but the responsibility for taking steps to address these risks rests with adults and institutions.

19. Some children and young people are more vulnerable to sexual abuse than others. For example, disabled children are almost three times more likely to experience sexual violence than non-disabled children. Children with complex needs may struggle to overcome communication difficulties, either because of the nature of a disability or because their carers may not understand their method of communication.

20. There is also a lack of knowledge, understanding and awareness about the sexual abuse of vulnerable children. In particular, many professionals, carers and the wider community need a better understanding of sexual exploitation involving children with disabilities to ensure that the risks to those children are identified and appropriate action taken.

Children in custody

21. Children in custody are particularly vulnerable to abuse, especially as they include a high proportion of “highly complex, high-needs young people”. Some children come from unstable family backgrounds, some have experienced sexual abuse prior to being in custody. Many have emotional, behavioural or educational problems, including mental health difficulties.

22. This combination of challenging behaviour and vulnerability often presents difficulties in safely managing and caring for these children and young people. As a result, there are occasions when staff in custodial institutions consider it necessary to physically restrain children. The use of force against children contributes to the perception that an institution condones violence, which is likely to discourage reporting of sexual (and indeed other) abuse. Any review of the relevant guidance and related techniques should concentrate on restraint that does not inflict pain of any kind. The deliberate infliction of pain as a method of control is wrong.

Recommendation 5: Pain compliance

The Inquiry recommends (as originally stated in its Sexual Abuse of Children in Custodial Institutions: 2009–2017 Investigation Report, dated February 2019) that the UK government prohibits the use of any technique that deliberately induces pain (previously referred to by the Inquiry as ‘pain compliance techniques’) by withdrawing all policy permitting its use in custodial institutions in which children are detained, and setting out that this practice is prohibited by way of regulation.

Looked after children

23. Children in the care of local authorities (known as ‘looked after children’) – especially those in residential care and in foster care – are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation. Experiences of trauma while living in the parental home are likely to have occurred. The Inquiry heard a number of examples of the abuse of children in care. Its investigations into children in the care of Lambeth Council and the Nottinghamshire Councils found abuse akin to that uncovered by inquiries of the 1990s, with the true number of victims of child sexual abuse likely to be higher than the local authorities had been able to identify.

24. Young people are uniquely placed to identify what needs to change to keep them safe, with an acute awareness of problems in their care planning, distance from their birth family and living in inappropriate locations. However, those who are in care are in a different legal position from those who are not. Decisions are made on their behalf by local authorities, which act as their ‘corporate parent’ and organise their placement with alternative carers.

25. While courts can make orders under the Children Act 1989 to limit or mandate how parents exercise their parental responsibility, a court has no such ability in respect of a child in care. The legal position of children in care should be improved, so that they can be empowered to challenge aspects of local authority decision-making for themselves. The Inquiry therefore recommends an amendment to the Children Act 1989, to provide a route by which looked after children can apply to the family courts for orders to mandate or limit a local authority’s exercise of its parental responsibility.

Recommendation 6: Children Act 1989

The Inquiry recommends that the UK government amends the Children Act 1989 so that, in any case where a court is satisfied that there is reasonable cause to believe that a child who is in the care of a local authority is experiencing or is at risk of experiencing significant harm, on an application by or for that child, the court may:

  • prohibit a local authority from taking any act (or proposed act) which it otherwise would be entitled to take in exercising its parental responsibility for the child; or
  • give directions for the purpose of determining a specific question which has arisen, or which may arise, in connection with any aspect of the local authority’s exercise of parental responsibility for a child.
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