Responding to the publication today (4 February) of a major new joint report on the response to child sexual abuse in the family by public agencies, produced by four inspectorates jointly, the End Violence Against Women Coalition said:
“We welcome this attention to child sexual abuse in the family and appreciate the commissioning of the investigation as a joint concern between those who hold social services, health, schools, police and probation to account.
“The inspectors are right to recognise that sexual abuse in the family needs to be talked about, but that it is not a high priority, which is staggering given the harm it does.
Frontline workers – not enough training, rely on children speaking out
“The report finds that frontline workers still heavily rely on young children to verbally disclose abuse when the reasons girls and boys are unlikely to do this are obvious. It says there should be more training for social workers, teachers, health workers and others on identifying the signs and understanding the patterns. The report finds, remarkably given what is widely known about those who abuse children, that police and others commonly do not follow up to find out whether there may be other victims when an offender comes to their attention.
Police-led approaches and not child-centred, failure to protect
“It is also sad to read that the everyday approach to this abuse remains predominantly “police-led and not sufficiently child-centred.” And that this policing involves delays in arrest, no bail conditions and poor probation arrangements – amounting to basic failure to protect. If police lead in this manner it is no surprise that inspectors also found there is little prevention work in this area at all.
Too much responsibility on mothers to manage contact with abusers
“We are very pleased to see that this report finally recognises public agencies’ “over-optimism that women can police their own homes”. For decades women’s organisations have advised government and local frontline workers that too much responsibility is placed on mothers to manage contact between children and abusive men, often fathers. The use of ‘written agreements’ by social workers, where women are made to sign a care plan committing to keep a man away from their children, a man who may well have controlled and abused her for years, is nothing less than a bullying tactic in itself by authorities. It can only lead to women being fearful of disclosing suspicions and saying they need help. We welcome all agencies’ examination of this area in depth and the development of new child-and-mother-centred protection planning.
“We need to hear responses to these findings urgently from Ministers and from leaders in all these public services, and commitments on their next steps. We hope that the knowledge and advice of the specialist sexual abuse sector is sought and included in future planning, and urge ministers and system leads to talk to the specialist violence against women sector, including Rape Crisis centres and domestic violence services, to develop better practice.
Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy urgently needs renewal
“More than ever this report is a reminder that we need joined up approaches across Government to abuse of vulnerable women and children. The Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy, which aims to have police, health, social care and schools work together on domestic and sexual abuse, is due for renewal urgently but showing a worrying delay.
Relationships and Sex Education vital in preventing child sexual abuse
“It is also a reminder of why good quality Relationships and Sex Education all through school is an absolute necessity if children are to have any chance of having a sense of their rights over their bodies and the correct language for describing abuse. The time for being squeamish about this is over.”