Truth in numbers

As Operation Hydrant suggests there will be 30000 new reports of child sexual abuse during the life of the IICSA and the Truth Project opens in Manchester consideration can be made of experiences of other jurisdictions and the impact for England & Wales.

At a meeting in Manchester yesterday, attended by various organisations which support victims and survivors of child sexual abuse, the Chair of the IICSA, Hon. Dame Lowell Goddard announced the start of the Inquiry’s ”Truth Project” in the north west of England.

The Truth Project will provide victims and survivors of child sexual abuse which occurred in an institution, or where there was an institutional failure to protect a child, with an opportunity to recount and share their experience during an informal discussion which will be held in private.

Hon. Dame Lowell Goddard said:

“The Truth Project gives a voice to victims and survivors and in doing so will assist us in making recommendations to protect children, to improve laws, policies and practices, and prevent and respond to institutional failures. We have an unprecedented opportunity to examine the extent to which institutions and organisations in England and Wales have taken seriously their responsibility to protect children. We are committed to ensuring that despite the enormity of our task we remain undaunted by the challenge ahead of us.”

The Inquiry says that it may publish anonymised accounts of the experiences shared in the course of the Truth Project.

A similar project was undertaken as part of the work of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse in the Republic of Ireland by the Commission’s ” Confidential Committee”. The Confidential Committee heard from people who had experienced abuse in institutions during the period 1914 to 2000. It commenced private hearings in April, 2000 and finished in 2006 at which stage it had heard from 1090 people. The Confidential Committee listened to a person’s experiences of abuse in institutions in total confidence, it did not inform anyone or any institution that a person had made an allegation against them and from the outset the Confidential Committee made it clear that it would not name anyone in any subsequent report that it would publish.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia have proceeded by way of what they describe as “private sessions” that allow survivors to share their stories in person with a Commissioner. Hearings in private sessions began in 2013 and more than 5,000 private sessions have been held to date and a further 1,500 people are currently waiting for a private session. Due to the high level of demand for private sessions, the Royal Commission will close registrations for private sessions on 30 September 2016 and it is their expectation that those who have registered for a private session on that date will be able to attend one before the end of the Royal Commission in December 2017.

The Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995 provided for the establishment of an Acknowledgement Forum, whose members listened to the experiences of those who were children in residential institutions (other than schools) in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995.  The Acknowledgement Forum completed their interviews in November 2014 having completed 428 interviews.

As in other jurisdictions where similar listening projects have been undertaken the commencement of the Truth Project in England and Wales will most likely lead to a significant increase in the rate of referrals of allegations of abuse.

Simon Bailey, head of the national coordinating unit Operation Hydrant, says that he and his team are expecting 30,000 reports of new child sexual offences by the end of the Inquiry and as a result it is anticipated that the rate of referrals of allegations of abuse will increase also.

In 2015 70,000 cases of child sexual abuse were investigated by Police in England and Wales, 25% of which related to investigations into non-recent abuse. Simon Bailey adds that between 2012 and 2015 there has been an 80% increase in reports of child abuse to the Police and if reporting continues to increase at this rate the police could be investigating 200,000 cases by 2020.

There can be little doubt that the extent of ongoing investigations must be impacting significantly on existing police resources. It is difficult to envisage how the anticipated increase in such investigations following on from the work of the Truth Project and the Inquiry itself, will be met by the existing resources and police budgets. However, what is of note is the recent guidance that the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders issued to the police by way of a reminder that her lawyers would not make charging decisions in relation to dead perpetrators.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May says that:

“Perpetrators must never be allowed to think that their horrific acts will go overlooked or go unpunished … Victims and survivors … deserve to be heard now, just as they should have been years ago, and they deserve justice, just as they did then,”

What remains to be seen is whether the cost of delivering on this promise both in terms of resources and money is something that the Government has made adequate provision for taking account of a possible scenario of 200,000 cases of child sexual abuse being investigated by 2020.

Written by Sharon Moohan, Associate

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