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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

A.1: Introduction

1. In March 2015, the then Home Secretary established the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse under the Inquiries Act 2005. The Inquiry covered England and Wales. Its purpose and scope were set out in its Terms of Reference, which stated that it was to:

  • consider the extent to which State and non-State institutions have failed in their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation;
  • consider the extent to which these failings have since been addressed;
  • identify further action needed to address any failings identified;
  • consider the steps which it is necessary for State and non-State institutions to take in order to protect children from such abuse in future; and
  • publish a report with recommendations.

State and non-State institutions referred to in the scope as examples of those within its remit included government departments, the Cabinet Office, Parliament and ministers, local authorities, the police, prosecuting authorities, schools including private and specialist education, religious organisations, health services and custodial institutions.

2. The Inquiry’s Terms of Reference also required it to produce an Interim Report, which was published in April 2018.

3. This report draws on all of the Inquiry’s work from 2015 until 2022.

4. There was no limit to the temporal scope of the Inquiry, other than being ‘within living memory’.

5. As a statutory inquiry, it had the power to compel individuals and institutions to give evidence and for that evidence to be given under oath (or affirmation).

6. The Inquiry’s focus has been on what institutions knew about allegations of sexual abuse and how they responded (if at all), rather than on assessing the truth of any allegation. Its scope did not include sexual abuse of children which occurred within a family setting, as opposed to within an institution. It did, however, include circumstances in which a child disclosed familial abuse to a person in an institution, such as a care home or a religious organisation, and that person or persons failed to act upon this information (or information from a third party) or otherwise failed to identify child sexual abuse.

7. For the purposes of the Inquiry, ‘child’ meant anyone under the age of 18, or anyone over the age of 18 if their abuse started when the individual was under 18 years old. References in this report to ‘child sexual abuse’ also include references to ‘child sexual exploitation’.

Definitions of child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation

8. There are many definitions of child sexual abuse, in its various forms, currently in use. At the outset of the Inquiry, the Inquiry used the following definitions:

  • Child sexual abuse: Sexual abuse of children (which includes child sexual exploitation) involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities. Those activities may involve physical contact and non-contact, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, sexual images, watching sexual acts, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways, or grooming a child in preparation for abuse, including via the internet.
  • Child sexual exploitation: Sexual exploitation of children is a form of child sexual abuse. It involves exploitative situations, contexts and relationships where a child receives something, for example as a result of them performing, or another or others performing on them, sexual activities. Child sexual exploitation can occur through the use of technology without the child realising that they are being sexually exploited – for example being persuaded to share sexual images on the internet or via mobile phones.

9. In the Inquiry’s Child Sexual Exploitation by Organised Networks Investigation Report, the Inquiry defined an organised network as being characterised by two or more individuals (whether identified or not) who are known to (or associated with) one another and are known to be involved in or to facilitate the sexual exploitation of children. Being involved in the sexual exploitation of children includes introducing them to other individuals for the purpose of exploitation, trafficking a child for the purpose of sexual exploitation, taking payment for sexual activities with a child or allowing their property to be used for sexual activity with a child. However, as noted in that investigation report, the definition of child sexual exploitation requires regular review to ensure it addresses the changing nature of the harm. The Inquiry also concluded that in relation to the definition of child sexual exploitation:

The issue of exchange is an unhelpful distraction. Exchange may be present in some cases of child sexual exploitation but not others. The current statutory definition in England, which provides that, in the absence of exchange, an element of financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator is necessary, is too restrictive. Child sexual exploitation can occur without these elements.

10. A further description used by the Inquiry was that of ‘harmful sexual behaviour’, which is often used to describe sexual behaviours expressed by children under the age of 18 which are developmentally inappropriate, may be harmful towards themselves or others, and can in some cases be abusive. Over the lifetime of the Inquiry, the use of the phrase ‘harmful sexual behaviour’ has been used to describe variously:

  • peer-on-peer sexual abuse;
  • behaviour which indicates the child is or may have been the victim of sexual abuse or is a potential abuser (or both); and
  • ‘age inappropriate’ or ‘developmentally inappropriate’ sexual experimentation which may or may not be harmful to either or both parties.

The broad nature of the behaviour encompassed by the term – in the absence of government guidance – means there is a danger it may be misused. The Inquiry’s focus has always been on the sexual abuse of children and not on behaviours which do not amount to abuse.

Operation Hydrant

11. The Inquiry was required by its Terms of Reference to refer all allegations of child sexual abuse that it received to the police, so that they could be investigated. Referrals were passed to Operation Hydrant, which is a body independent of the Inquiry. It was set up by the National Police Chiefs’ Council to coordinate police investigations into non-recent child sexual abuse. Operation Hydrant receives referrals from a range of organisations and passes them to the relevant police force for investigation.

12. Between March 2015 and March 2022, Operation Hydrant received 10,431 referrals from the Inquiry. While the majority of these referrals have resulted in no further action being taken by the police, over 100 individuals have been convicted and a further 40 defendants have been charged and are awaiting trial.

13. In relation to a number of the referrals, it was possible to identify the type of institution to which the allegation related (Figure A.1).

A stacked bar chart showing the 12 types of institutions where child sexual abuse took place in the referrals made to Operation Hydrant by the Inquiry, broken down by England and Wales.

Figure A.1: Types of institutions where child sexual abuse took place in Inquiry referrals to Operation Hydrant

Source: See data compendium to this report

Long Description
Types of institutions where child sexual abuse took place in Inquiry referrals to Operation Hydrant
England Wales
Schools 1704 72
Children's Homes 858 63
Religious Institutions 431 26
Professional Establishments 313 15
Health Establishments 233 9
Children & Young Persons Associations 166 2
Prison/Young Offenders 132 3
Sports Venues 71 3
Law Enforcement 61 1
Military Locations 51 4
Places Of Entertainment 31 2
Hotels/Guest Houses 14 0

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