Young people trying to report abuse to the police are often accused of lying, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has found.
The new report, Engagement with Children and Young People found that police and other professionals are often dismissive of peer on peer abuse and accuse the victim and survivor of fabricating the truth as they come to report it.
One young person told the inquiry: “I was thinking about cutting myself or jumping out of a window to get any help.”
The Inquiry spoke to 56 victims and survivors of child sexual abuse between the ages of 11 and 21, and 77 specialist child sexual abuse support workers.
It found police have a tendency to label any incident as ‘domestic’ or blame the victim. Many young victims and survivors said “the system” takes over after they disclose the abuse, making them feel disempowered and deterring them from sharing information again.
Allegations that the police had managed victims and survivors’ privacy and confidentiality badly were made to the Inquiry which, in turn, had resulted in some cases of retaliation from people associated with the abuser.
Young victims and survivors also reported:
Young victims and survivors told the Inquiry not enough was being done within schools to recognise and respond to child sexual abuse and exploitation, with many saying they experienced insensitive responses when trying to tell someone about the abuse.
The Inquiry heard of an incident where a teacher stopped a pupil midway through a disclosure, saying, “Don’t tell me because I will have to repeat this”. Another had signposted the child to Childline rather than facing the conversation.
The report also found that Relationships and Sex Education in schools had been largely inadequate, with some children receiving no lessons on it at all. Other young victims and survivors felt the quality of the material covered to be poor, with only the very basics being taught and little or no information about child sexual abuse.
"If we had the education, we would notice the abuse a lot sooner, and we would know the signs,” said one young victim and survivor.
The overwhelming majority of young victims and survivors shared negative experiences of their involvement with CAMHS. Most CAMHS services did not understand the impact of child sexual abuse on a child’s emotional and mental health, respondents said, and several young victims and survivors said the service would only see them if they were suicidal.
Social media and the internet were also highlighted as threatening challenges and an evolving risk for children and young people. Many were surprised that technology is not being used to strengthen identity verification controls, comparing how easy it is for children to access online sites with how difficult it can be for an adult to get into their own banking app. The young victims and survivors the Inquiry heard from made clear that social media companies are responsible for keeping the people who use their apps safe.
“The problems that the children have with the internet are those created by adults, so it is adults’ responsibility to make it safe rather than telling children not to go online,” said one young victim and survivor.
The report is part of the Inquiry’s ongoing work examining how organisations are failing to protect children from sexual abuse.