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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 residential schools investigation report


D.2: Additional vulnerabilities of children in residential special schools

9. Pupils in residential special schools are amongst the most vulnerable children in our society. Disabled children are almost three times more likely to experience sexual violence than non-disabled children.[1]

10. Despite statistics that suggest that a high proportion of sexual abuse outside the home occurs in schools,[2] there are few convictions for child sexual abuse in residential special schools. This may be for several reasons, including that pupils with SEND find it more difficult to disclose abuse and that there are difficulties with the investigative and court processes for witnesses with SEND.[3]

11. Dame Christine Lenehan, director of the Council for Disabled Children, explained that children in residential special schools are particularly vulnerable due to a combination of “impairment and distance”.[4]

11.1. Many children living in these settings have significant communication impairments. Some children are unable to communicate verbally; some have social communication disorders which mean that their understanding of social cues and norms is limited. This significantly impacts the ability of these children to tell others about sexually abusive behaviours. A number of children in residential special schools have complex physical disabilities which make them completely reliant on adults for all aspects of their care, as well as their education.

11.2. Many children placed in residential special schools live a considerable distance from their parental home. Around 75 percent of children who live in out-of-area placements travel more than 20 miles away from home.[5] Their parents and other family members who know them well are not present to interpret their communication needs, or to understand when their behaviour is connected to pain, distress or unhappiness. In her review of the residential special school sector, Dame Christine Lenehan considered that the sector was “too closed[6] and that, where family members did not visit or had become disengaged, the children might have no outside visits during the year:

anything that breaks the isolation of the schools, that has people in and out of them … is a good thing … because these children have very isolated lives.”[7]

12. Victims and survivors told the Inquiry that the combination of impairment and distance had made them particularly vulnerable. In response to a question about whether he could talk to anyone outside of Appletree School about the harmful and abusive sexual behaviour he was subjected to by older children, RS-A6 said:

Not really. I mean … they’ve put you in a home that’s essentially hundreds of miles from anyone you know.”[8]

13. RS-A6 also said that, because he was in a home for children with social, emotional and behavioural problems, he felt he would not be believed:

from the day you’re brought in there, you’re essentially – you are the problem, you are the problem child. So anything that comes out of your mouth is rubbish.”[9]

14. RS-A7, who was abused by Anthony Bulley at Stony Dean School, described how his autism (which was not diagnosed until he was an adult) acted as a barrier to him disclosing sexual abuse because the questions he was asked by a concerned member of staff were not literal or explicit enough to enable him to disclose the abuse.[10]

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