On 9 June 2020 the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry (SCAI) released a spring / summer 2020 newsletter. This is the seventh SCAI newsletter (link here). This newsletter gives reassurance that SCAI has not stopped working during the COVID-19 (C-19) crisis albeit public hearings – including on child migration and, separately, boarding schools – are postponed until further notice.
The Government recently hosted a virtual Hidden Harms Summit in Downing Street with the aim of supporting victims of abuse during the current health crisis.
The Summit was hosted by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and attendees included representatives from the National Crime Agency, National Police Chiefs’ Council, victims’ commissioners and leading domestic abuse and children’s charities.
The focus on the summit was to put measures in place to support victims of crimes such as domestic abuse, sexual violence, child sexual abuse and modern slavery.
Earlier this week the former home secretary, Sajid Javid, commented upon the surge in child sexual abuse which has occurred during the Coronavirus lockdown. He said that he will lead a “no holds barred” inquiry with the Centre for Social Justice think tank to examine organised child sexual exploitation and the abuse of children online.
In a YouTube video released on 26 March 2020, Lady Smith, chair of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry (SCAI), emphasised that the ‘vital work of SCAI continues’ with all staff working remotely with access to ‘excellent IT and infrastructure’. SCAI’s phone lines are presently operating Monday to Friday 10am-4pm to ‘support applicants and witnesses’. Investigative and preparatory work for announced case studies continues. Work also continues in reviewing and analysing evidence heard during previous case study hearings. Further case study findings will be published ‘as soon as possible’. To date, SCAI has published three sets of findings but has not yet made any recommendations.
The COVID-19 pandemic, the Coronavirus Act 2020 and prevention of abuse
Amongst the less-known effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is the impact on child protection. Risk factors include the lockdown itself, which forces families to cohabit on a permanent basis, as well as overcrowding, loss of income and high levels of stress and anxiety. These increase the risk of abusive behaviour against children by adults, or other children, living in the same household. Protective factors, such as contact with supportive adults outside of the house, or contact with friends is also reduced. There is also concern about increased exposure to online harm, including grooming, creation and dissemination of child sexual abuse videos or other content.