Child sexual abusers use similar tactics to groom children in institutions, Inquiry report finds

On the 13 July, IICSA published the following press release:

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has published new research which finds that tactics exploited by perpetrators working in institutions enable child sexual abuse to continue even today.

Based on analysis of Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) case files between 2017 – 2020, the research examines the offending strategies of alleged perpetrators across a wide range of contemporary institutional contexts, such as schools, sport and foster care, as well as the nature of abuse and responses of professionals.

 Across the 43 cases examined, alleged perpetrators used similar methodical grooming strategies, including: 

  • targeting and isolating children
  • building friendships which developed into sexually abusive ‘relationships’, based on trust and codependency with children
  • befriending children’s friends and families over time. 

The research revealed that alleged perpetrators, such as teachers and sports coaches, harnessed their professional reputations and authority to manipulate other adults, and perpetrate child sexual abuse undetected.

Creating cultures of fear, they threatened, blackmailed or intimidated children to deter them from reporting the child sexual abuse and with limited opportunities for disclosure, children often had noone to turn to. 

Informal social relationships, social gatherings and contact between adults and children was normalised within institutions, whilst technology, in particular social media, was found to provide new opportunities for adults working in institutions to access and sexually abuse children. 

The research report reveals that in many cases, individuals denied the allegations or constructed a mitigation narrative to justify, explain or minimise the child sexual abuse. This included framing sexually abusive relationships as consensual and romantic, or putting the blame on the child. Some alleged perpetrators claimed that they had made “mistakes” or “poor judgements” whilst others disputed that they held ‘positions of trust’, therefore safeguarding policies did not apply to them, and had therefore not been breached.

There were also a number of examples where the institutions did not believe children’s disclosures, in particular in cases where alleged perpetrators denied the allegations against them. In some cases, it was clear that institutions chose to preserve the alleged perpetrator’s reputation and their own, above protecting children who reported child sexual abuse.

The research also found that there were numerous missed opportunities to safeguard children because concerns were not escalated and institutions and staff did not always share, record and respond appropriately. A lack of coordination with agencies, weak vetting processes and poor record keeping allowed individuals to offend multiple times within institutions, or to continue offending across institutional contexts and over long periods of time. There were also instances where the onus was placed on the alleged perpetrators to declare their own criminal histories.

Despite significant safeguarding policies being in place, these were not upheld and inaction or institutional complacency enabled alleged perpetrators to operate without being detected and continue to sexually abuse children. 

Principal researcher Julienne Zammit said:

“This groundbreaking research provides new insight into the behaviour of perpetrators across contemporary institutional contexts, finding the use of similar tactics to groom and sexually abuse children. Alleged perpetrators denied or minimised the sexual abuse, in some cases even blaming the victim. 

“Sexually abusive relationships were often framed as consensual and social media was frequently exploited to groom and perpetrate child sexual abuse, providing access to children in unsupervised and unmonitored online spaces.

“Where reports were made, opportunities to safeguard children were missed or actively blocked because concerns were not escalated and disclosures were not always believed. In some cases, it was clear that institutions chose to put their reputation above protecting children who reported child sexual abuse.”

Survivors of child sexual abuse can share their experiences with the Inquiry’s Truth Project over the phone, via video call or in writing. Visit www.truthproject.org.uk for more information.

This research is the first of its kind involving both men and women added to the DBS Children’s Barred List.

For many readers of this blog, the information set out above will just sadly confirm much of what they know already to be the case when considering this topic.

However, there are simple lessons to be learned in terms of future safeguarding, children of any age, background, socio-economic status, gender, sexual orientation and/or vulnerability can be abused, there is no typical victim. Equally abusers can be from any background, socio-economic status, gender and/or sexual orientation they can be men, women or young people. The single most important thing for abusers is to create an opportunity to access children that they can abuse. If we are to safeguard children effectively in the future in the real and the virtual world, it is these opportunities that we must identify and regulate. We must ensure all the necessary safeguards are in place in the first instance and are fully utilised by all the relevant personnel when abuse of children is suspected and/or reported.


Written by Sharon Moohan at BLM sharon.moohan@blmlaw.com

Final report of the second year review of the Australian National Redress Scheme published

On the 15 July 2020 Robyn Kruk AO who had been appointed to conduct an independent review of the Australian National Redress Scheme (“the NRS”), wrote an open letter telling people that she wanted to hear from them directly about how they felt the NRS was working. The second anniversary review of the NRS was required by law having been provided for at Section 192 of the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Act 2018.

Due to COVID19 restrictions Robyn Kruk AO was not able to meet with people face to face to discuss their experiences and views, instead people were asked to make written submissions or submit feedback on the NRS website. She made it clear that she wanted to hear from people who had applied to the NRS and people who had not. During the course of the review, she met with 81 survivors, support services, government agencies and ministers. She received 226 submissions, which provided significant insight into the NRS, how it operated, and how to improve the survivor experience. The review had also commissioned a feedback study in which 503 survivors, support groups and institutions participated.#

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Sexual abuse in the classroom

In September 2020, the Department for Education introduced a compulsory Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) curriculum for both primary and secondary schools and also universities.  However, teachers said they struggled to deal with classroom sexual abuse as they were not given any external training and did not feel adequate procedures were in place to properly deal with peer-on-peer sexual abuse. 

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The Northern Ireland Executive announce review of HIA redress process

On 5 July, 2021 the Northern Ireland First Minister Paul Givan and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill announced the establishment of a review of the client journey for HIA redress to improve the experiences of victims and survivors.

In announcing the review the First Minister Paul Givan said that although much good work had been done since the redress process commenced over 15 months ago (1,090 applications have been finalised and redress totalling £20 million has been paid out) he said that there is still a clear need to consider what improvements can be made.

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National Audit Office publishes report into its investigations of the Windrush Compensation Scheme

In May, the National Audit Office (“the NAO”) published its report into the investigations that it had carried out into the establishment and administration of the Windrush Compensation Scheme (“the Scheme”) by the Home Office and the progress the Home Office had made since implementing changes to the Scheme in December 2020.

The NAO focussed its investigation on the operations of the Scheme and also the decisions taken by the Home Office in establishing and running the Scheme to date.

In its report the NAO makes it clear that it has not sought to assess the Scheme from a user/claimant perspective as a separate inquiry into the user/claimant perspective is due to be undertaken shortly by the Home Affairs Select Committee.

The NAO has also not examined the Home Office’s separate Windrush Scheme (or Windrush taskforce), which was designed to ensure that members of the Windrush generation receive documentation confirming their lawful status in the UK. Nor has it examined the wider progress made by the Home Office in implementing the recommendations of Wendy Williams’ independent lessons-learned review published in July 2018.

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Windrush Compensation Scheme – an update and changes

The Windrush Compensation Scheme (“the Scheme”) has been beset by difficulties and criticism since it was first launched in April, 2019.

In the spring of 2018, the Home Office acknowledged serious shortcomings in its treatment of the Windrush generation, the Home Office accepted that it had treated the Windrush generation unfairly and announced a set of measures to “right the wrongs” experienced by those affected.

One of those measures was to establish the Scheme referred to above, which aimed to compensate members of the Windrush generation and their families for the losses and impacts they have suffered due to not being able to demonstrate their lawful immigration status.

In an earlier blog posted on 8 June 2020 we looked at the operation of the Scheme in its first year, even at that stage there was criticism that it had only managed to pay out £360,000 in compensation in its first year of operation.

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Boy Scouts of America agrees $850,000,000 settlement

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has reached a preliminary $850m (£617m) settlement with 60,000 survivors of historic sexual abuse.  The agreement (known as a Restructuring Support Agreement) has yet to be approved by the Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Delaware – and by the survivors.

The agreement, filed in court last week is a step toward resolving a complex bankruptcy case, and includes the BSA national leadership, survivors, and local BSA councils.

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Cardinal Pell publishes his prison diaries

On the 8 June 2021 on what was his 80th birthday, Cardinal George Pell, Prefect Emeritus of the Secretariat for the Economy, released his Prison Journal – Volume 1 in Italian.

The book records the entries that make up Cardinal Pell’s daily diary between 27 February and 13 July 2019, when he was in prison in Melbourne on charges of sexual abuse of minors, charges from which he was completely acquitted by a High Court ruling in April 2020.

Cardinal Pell was in solitary confinement for his personal protection, and had not seen or met the 11 other prisoners in his section until his last four months in prison.

Cardinal Pell, who was interviewed by the Vatican News on the day of his 80th Birthday said that “a combination of circumstances, lies, and deceit” had led to him being imprisoned, something he could never have imagined being part of his life experience.

He told the Vatican News he has forgiven his accusers and went on to say, “I must admit that sometimes it was difficult. But, once I made the decision to forgive, everything else followed. For me, it was not so difficult to forgive the person who accused me. I knew that he was a person who had suffered and was in great confusion and who knows what else.”

Cardinal Pell hopes that his diaries might be “… helpful for those who are in difficulty, for those who are going through a time of suffering, like I was“, stating that prison taught him the importance of perseverance, the importance of simple things, like one’s faith, forgiveness and the redemption of suffering.

Cardinal Pell accepted that the sex-abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church was an opportunity for renewal, he said that the Roman Catholic Church cannot “…continue in the same vein. It is a kind of spiritual and moral cancer. It seems to me that here in Australia we have worked seriously to eradicate it, but it is a duty for all priests and all bishops in the world to ensure that these scandals do not happen again.”


Written by Sharon Moohan, Partner at BLM sharon.moohan@blmlaw.com

Review of work done and update on ongoing work at the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry

The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry (SCAI) is moving premises. On various dates between May 2017 and May 2021, SCAI held public hearings at Rosebery House, near Haymarket in the west of Edinburgh. SCAI is moving to new premises just off St Andrew Square in the east of Edinburgh. SCAI’s final public hearing at Rosebery House was held on 27 May 2021 when closing submissions were heard on a case study concerning Scottish boarding schools. SCAI’s hope is for public hearings to resume at the new St Andrew Square premises on a date to be confirmed in September 2021. When hearings resume, the focus will initially remain on Scottish boarding schools.

SCAI’s move over summer 2021 provides an opportunity to reflect on certain work done by the inquiry to date and certain work which it intends to do in the future.

Certain work done by SCAI to date

SCAI was established as a statutory inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 on 1 October 2015 with an overall aim of raising public awareness of the abuse of children in care (under 18) for the period “within living memory” of any person who suffered such abuse to no later than 17 December 2014.

SCAI has published four sets of case study findings after hearing evidence and submissions at public hearings. These findings are on questions of abuse of children in care at certain premises run by the Daughters of Charity (link here), the Sisters of Nazareth (link here), Quarriers, Aberlour and Barnardos (link here) and the Christian Brothers (link here). No recommendations are made in any of the case study findings published so far. Recommendations will likely be included in the final report of SCAI to Scottish Ministers.     

SCAI has also commissioned and published various reports, for example and most recently on abuse and child migration from Scotland (link here) and on historical child protection matters (link here).

Certain work which SCAI intends to do in the future

The next set of case study findings to be published by SCAI will likely be on questions of the abuse of children in care at certain premises run by the Benedictines. On 27 May 2021, Lady Smith, chair of SCAI explained that: Those findings were written some time ago and they are ready for publication.  I am acutely aware that there are many people who are keenly waiting to read them and who will be, quite understandably, disappointed at any delay in publication. However, after giving careful consideration to certain current circumstances, I have, with considerable reluctance, decided not publish them at the moment even though I am in a position to do so and, indeed, very keen to do so.  I do want to stress, though, that these circumstances have not been created by the Inquiry and are unrelated to the work of the Inquiry. I also want to make it absolutely clear that I am keeping the position under constant review and as soon as I consider it is appropriate to make my findings public then – to those who are waiting to read what I have to say about the Benedictines’ treatment of children in their care at Fort Augustus and Carlekemp – please rest assured, I will do so.”

Further case study findings are then likely to be published in relation to certain premises run by the Marists and, separately, in respect of Scottish Government in the context of its developing knowledge of issues of child abuse and its handling of calls for an inquiry. SCAI is also likely to produce case study findings on child migration and, separately, boarding schools.

Further public hearings, possibly leading to further case study findings, might also be arranged on additional topics to take place after the current boarding schools case study including, for example, foster care provision, young offender institutions, certain local authority establishments and certain further schools. A foster care case study was mentioned in SCAI’s spring / summer 2020 newsletter, here, with this newsletter also announcing investigation into 4 young offender institutions, 3 local authority establishments and 3 further schools. These further investigations are not specifically mentioned in either of SCAI’s autumn / winter 2020 newsletter, here, nor the latest spring 2021 newsletter, here, but both of these more recent newsletters make clear that SCAI is continuing to reach out for further evidence through a “talk to us” strategy and the spring 2021 newsletter mentions a nationwide homeless community outreach campaign. 

SCAI’s work will conclude with a report to Scottish Ministers. This report was originally to be delivered by October 2019 but the deadline for it was extended before the COVID-19 pandemic to “as soon as reasonably practicable” after then.

Cost of SCAI

SCAI publishes a running total of its costs quarterly. Total expenditure to end June 2021 should be confirmed on or around 15 July 2021. SCAI’s total cost from 1 October 2015 to 31 March 2021 was £43,856,561.


Written by Fiona McEwan, Associate at BLM fiona.mcewan@blmlaw.com

Self-generated sibling abuse

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has documented a significant rise in so called “self-generated” child sexual abuse imagery being created and shared online.

There has been a 77% increase from 2019 to 2020 in the proportion of actioned webpages displaying self-generated imagery. This increase has coincided with a time when much of the world has been subject to periods of lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Self-generated child sexual abuse content is typically created using webcams or smartphones and then shared online on a variety of platforms which are increasing in number.

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