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Backlog in CSA cases rises by 70%

The backlog of child sexual abuse cases has risen by 70% leaving thousands of children in limbo and lacking support, a leading children’s charity has warned.

The NSPCC made a Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Justice which showed that the number of outstanding CSA cases increased by 70% last year from nearly 2,700 to over 4,560, as court closures during COVID have had a knock on effect on young people.

Anna Edmundson, NSPCC Head of Policy and Public Affairs, said: “Waiting to go to court can be a distressing experience for young witnesses and victims of child sexual abuse, and increasingly long delays without the necessary therapeutic support hampers recovery.

“The government needs to urgently tackle the backlog that has ballooned during the pandemic through investing in the system and prioritising cases involving young witnesses and victims. At the same time, we want the Crown Prosecution Service to finalise guidance to provide clarity on the level of support available before a child sexual abuse case comes to trial.

“Failure to do so is likely to have a knock-on that will be felt by witnesses and victims for many years,” she added.

The large rise in the backlog my partly be explained by court closures during the first national lockdown, however, it also follows a reduction in funding over many years and permanent court closures.

The new figures follow the NSPCC’s report last month that prosecutions and convictions for CSA cases halved in the last four years.

The NSPCC is urging Dominic Raab, Deputy Prime Minister and Lord Chancellor, to ensure that a proportion of the £477 millon received by the MoJ in the Spending Review is used to tackle the backlog of CSA cases in criminal courts. The charity is also calling on the Crown Prosecution Service  to finalise and publish their guidance on what forms of pre-trial therapy should be in place so witnesses and victims can receive support and are able to give their best evidence in court.

Current legal guidance says that children can access pre-trial therapy, but more intensive therapeutic support should wait as this may influence a child’s evidence and the outcome of the trial. Recognising that it is vital victims can receive effective treatment and therapeutic support as soon as possible, the CPS consulted on changing the guidance in 2020 but the final version is yet to be published.

The lack of clarity has caused confusion amongst some professionals, witnesses and victims about what they can and can’t disclose. This risks leaving some children without any pre-trial support, making them more vulnerable to anxiety and depression, eating disorders and even self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

Heidi* was sexually abused by her step-grandfather from the age of 8 until she disclosed when she was 13 and discovered her cousin was being abused by him too.

It took over a year for the case to get to court and she was told she couldn’t access pre-trial therapy in the meantime. She eventually accessed support through our Letting the Future In service to recover.

After a re-trial, her step-grandfather was found guilty and sentenced to 13 years in prison.

Heidi: “I got more practical support in the aftermath of the trial than I did during. It’s clear in hindsight I needed counselling or therapy even before I disclosed the abuse, but I was told I couldn’t have therapeutic support about the abuse during the trial, so I was signposted to my GP and put on antidepressants.

“I had to stay on these until I could access support. I was referred to CAMHS and got an appointment after a six-month wait. I was there for less than half an hour and left having been given the impression they thought I was too broken for them to help me and wasn’t offered their support,” she concluded.

Re-traumatising, re-triggering and disempowering – survivors of non-recent sexual abuse experiences of the criminal justice system

Delays in the cases of non-recent abuse are not going away any time soon

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