IICSA Seminar: What can we learn from other jurisdictions about preventing and responding to child sexual abuse?

The IICSA today held the first event in its research seminar series at the Internal Dispute Resolution Centre, London. The research seminar discussed what can be gleaned from the academic literature as to the efficacy of approaches adopted in other jurisdictions in preventing and responding to child sexual abuse, how this can be used to inform best practice in England and Wales and to identify areas for further research.

The event was structured in two parts; the first being a presentation by Lorraine Radford and Christine Barter of the University of Central Lancashire addressing the findings of the “Rapid Evidence Assessment: What can be learnt from other jurisdictions about preventing and responding to child sexual abuse”, followed by a wider panel discussion on the issues raised. The assembled panel included representatives from voluntary organisations, victims’ organisations and academia.

The Rapid Evidence Assessment (“REA”) addresses what the body of the academic literature tells us regarding the impact of cultural, structural, financial, professional and political factors on:

  • Primary prevention of child sexual abuse;
  • Improving identification, disclosure and reporting of child sexual abuse;
  • The control and management of perpetrators.

The writers concluded that no one jurisdiction can be said to have adopted a “right” approach. The more effective policies identified tend to be those which consider the diversity of the problem, are age appropriate, address underlying vulnerabilities and the wider social and economic context, and are multi-institutional. A further blog post providing a more comprehensive discussion of the REA’s findings will be provided in due course. However, below is a summary of some of the most thought provoking aspects of this morning’s presentation and panel discussion:

  • The evidence available regarding the impact of government and non-government victim compensation and redress schemes is limited. Such schemes are varied, both in focus and the level of financial payments offered. As such, effective comparison and identification of best practice is difficult. In addition, there is little evidence addressing the survivor’s views, but the literature acknowledges that accepting culpability is a motivating factor, as well as financial gain.
  • The literature identifies five barriers within institutions which prevents the effective identification and handling of abuse, including; a rigid and closed hierarchical system, poor accountability, a lack of safeguarding polices or a failure to implement the policies in place, poor supervision and a failure to provide a safe space for raising concerns. In discussion, the panel agreed that although actions have been taken by institutions to tackle these barriers, issues do remain and further action is required.
  • The evidence highlights the effectiveness of school programmes, both at pre-school and school age, in providing a better and sustained understanding of the issues surrounding child sexual abuse, without increasing a child’s fear. In panel discussion the conflict between target driven education and the compulsory introduction of PHSE classes into the national curriculum was discussed. It was acknowledged that further research is required to properly explore the relationship between wider knowledge gained through PHSE education and academic attainment. The literature identified that social marketing, advertising and “edutainment” (where sexual abuse is addressed in storylines of popular soaps) can be helpful to reinforce learning and wider cultural change.
  • The UK’s approach to online child sexual abuse was highlighted as an example of good practice. Susie Hargreaves, Chief Executive of the Internet Watch Foundation, explained during the panel discussion that the UK’s robust approach to prohibiting the hosting of child sexual abuse content online is effective as a result of voluntary industry sign up, a commitment by the Government on the issue, and the work of voluntary organisation in identifying and taking down such content. As a result of this collaborative approach the UK is able to take down content within two hours.
  • The evidence in respect of the effectiveness of mandatory reporting was mixed, as although mandatory reporting is shown to increase reporting, it also increases the instances of unsubstantiated cases. This complexity was mirrored in the panel discussion, with the panel’s stance on mandatory reporting being split.

The REA identified a number of areas for further research, particularly in relation to cost / benefit analysis, peer-on-peer abuse, compensation schemes and victim feedback on outcomes and impact. The IICSA is currently seeking tenders for another research project in connection with what is known about the scale of online-facilitated child sexual abuse. Tenders for this research are due by 24 April 2017.

Louise Roden

Louise Roden, trainee solicitor, BLM

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