Can confidence in the historic child abuse inquiry be restored?

Given the sudden resignation of Dame Lowell Goddard in August, after only 18 months, the more recent suspension of Ben Emmerson QC alongside the resignation of the junior counsel Elizabeth Prochaska, there are calls for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) to end. The argument appears to be that the IICSA (with 13 strands of investigation covering a whole range of state and non-state institutions in England & Wales) is simply too large in scope and terms of reference. When Amber Rudd MP appeared before the Home Affairs Select Committee (attending on the 7th September 2016) she was, in my opinion, unable to provide answers as to what has gone wrong. Amber Rudd could only cite the vague letter Lowell Goddard wrote at the time of her resignation.

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The IICSA has been dogged with controversy, administrative failures and false starts since its inception. It now has its fourth chair, Professor Alexis Jay, who led the Rotherham inquiry into child abuse. Much speculation surrounds why Dame Goddard and now two of the top lawyers involved have left, but clearly the issue of scope and size hang over any progression in the inquiries investigation. Survivors will feel abandoned and betrayed. The spate of suspensions and resignations smack of an “establishment cover-up” and could be seen as willingness to sweep terrible crimes under the rug. Survivors need to be assured by the Prime-minister, Amber Rudd & Alexis Jay that this is not the case. The inquiry needs to be seen as fully independent, as making progress and shining the light into the darkness of the past. It has to be the public platform that investigates and recognises what happened to so many vulnerable children. Only when the scale of what happened is officially acknowledged can things change.

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Dame Lowell Goddard, previous chair of the IICSA 

For too long a culture of silence, a culture of stigma and a culture of fear existed across institutions of government, religion and civil society. Historian Lucy Delap in piece examining the child protection and the processes of social services from 1918 – 1990 notes there has existed:

tendency to trivialise sexual assaults on children was supported by the habit of police to press charges for lesser offences such as common assault or indecent assault rather than rape. This was intended to increase the chance of conviction, and allow for cases to be tried by magistrates rather than in a higher court. But it also had the effect of downplaying the gravity of the assaults on children.

This is symbolic of past cultural perceptions of child abuse, it was not called out and challenged for what it actually was. Social services lacked robust procedures to respond and there was not recognition of the reality of abuse suffered by children. Even when social services were professionalised this did not stop abuse being ignored through negligence on the part of the authorities in place to prevent it.

Flawed administrative & employment practices allowed dangerous individuals’ access to vulnerable young children. Alongside this issues of process and policy were influenced by stigma. Vulnerable children, often from working class backgrounds, put into care were seen to be ‘dirty’, ‘immoral’, and even ‘foul-minded’. This process of de-humanisation of children in care tacitly festered below the surface. It enabled a culture of impunity to exist among abusers within both state and non-state institutions. Perpetrators of abuse with a modicum of power over vulnerable young people felt they could do as they pleased. A refrain I have heard often from survivors to whom I have spoken with is “no one will believe you [the abused]”.

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Current Chair of the IICSA Professor Alexis Jay

On the 4th August 2016, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) released truly shocking research which found that one in 14 adults in England and Wales suffered sexual abuse as children. The figures are staggering. Seven percent of adults taking part in the survey – 11% of women and 3% of men – reported that they were sexually abused. It is clear child sexual abuse is a society wide problem. Thus the IICSA is in my opinion is too big, because it has to be. Its scope and terms of reference have to be far reaching because of the existence of a culture which facilitated the abuse perpetrated across a multiplicity of state and non-state entities. The issues it is investigating were not confined to one place or one specific time, but stem from a culture that was allowed to fester in places of authority and pillars of communities.

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Amber Rudd MP, current Home Secretary 

However, this reality does not in itself have to be a problem. The work the inquiry has to do is too important. It is paramount that its wide reach scope and terms of reference are maintained because it has to reflect the reality of what happened. If we as a society do not acknowledge the sheer scale of what occurred then we fail survivors. If we as a society do not show we will take action then we fail future generations and others who have not yet come forward. Survivors need to feel they will be vindicated and listened to. Survivors want an

“opportunity to show their communities and family members that their abuse was real”. – Natasha Phillips, non-practising barrister and Editor in Chief of The Encyclopaedia on Family and The Law.

I hope that Alexis Jay and Amber Rudd look to the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It too had wide reaching terms of reference, looking at state & non-state institutions alongside pillars of the “establishment”. It too was seen by many as a huge, possibly unmanageable, undertaking. Yet, despite these difficulties, it has broadly been considered a successful endeavour. Aspects to the Royal Commission’s approach should be emulated by the IICSA. It has a strong online presence, making it engaging and accessible for survivors.  It has a user friendly website alongside extensive conventional and social media outlets to broadcast regular updates and keep people informed. Alongside this, the Royal Commission has understood it needs to bridge a knowledge gap and understand the nature of child abuse itself. It has, and continues to, produce extensive academic and policy research. Lessons learned here can be brought to the IICSA. Alexis Jay & others must be pragmatic and holistic in reforming the inquiry in order to maintain the necessarily large scope. Constructive criticism has also come from members of parliament invested in ensuring justice is seen to be done. Labour MP for Lambeth, Chuka Umunna, who sits on the Home Affairs Select Committee, has asserted the inquiry strands should be “federalised” and each appointed an independent chair under the umbrella of the IICSA.

“I think there is a way of moving forward where you have Professor Jay at the top of a federal like structure, encompassing people heading each of the different 13 investigations. I think that way perhaps we can move forward in a way that the survivors will feel comfortable with.” 

I would agree a federalised structure for the strands of investigation would help both manage the scale of the IISCA and help ease concerns from survivors groups. The fact that one of the largest survivors’ networks in the UK, the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association , has lost faith in the IICSA stands as a damning indictment of where things stand. Whatever happens next, any alteration in the terms of reference must not occur without full agreement of survivors and representative groups. Those who have suffered so much need to feel confident the IICSA will vindicate them.

By Frederick Antonio Gallucci @GallucciFred

A list of organisations providing support and information on child abuse and for survivors can be found below:

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children : https://www.nspcc.org.uk/ 

ChildLine: www.childline.org.uk

Thinkuknow.co.uk: https://www.thinkuknow.co.uk/

The Children’s Society: http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/

The Childrens’ Commissioner for England: http://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/

The National Association for People Abused in Childhood: http://napac.org.uk/

The Survivors Trust: http://thesurvivorstrust.org/

Victim Support: https://www.victimsupport.org.uk/crime-info/types-crime/childhood-abuse

Help for Adult Victims of Child Abuse: https://www.havoca.org/

Trauma and Abuse Support Centre: http://www.pods-online.org.uk/

Lifecentre: http://www.lifecentre.uk.com/contact/contact_online_helpline.htm

The Lantern Project: http://www.lanternproject.org.uk/

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3 thoughts on “Can confidence in the historic child abuse inquiry be restored?

  1. Great article: succinct and to the point: we are at a moment where the overprivileged and the underprivileged need advocates and mediators for a completely different way forward.

    The panel has to comprise a real cross section of people from society age, race, class, status. These people should be advised by lawyers and barrister. At the moment we have a situation where the law and the practitioner of the law becomes the product.

    The Inquiry into Institutional Child Abuse needs to be dynamic, structured and representative of society.

    What don’t they get about that? Not more over privileged mediators for the establishment. When you think about the back tracking even after 27 years on Hillsborough, when you think about Stephen Lawrence’s family and all the other black men who’s lives have been lost (but not in the service of their country).

    Society needs to see how good justice can be, not revenge, not retribution, not bitter recrimination. Our system needs to work, needs to go into the detail, the grey areas, to work through why alpha levels of prtection and privilege for some mean the end of a life for others. We need to promote interdependence and values other than greed and abusive sex as a weapon. We need to understand why and we need to know we can end the industries that have grown up around the maintenance of abuse in our society.

    The culture we’re living in hasn’t changed it’s just been exposed and it’s a good thing. Our civilisation was built on slavery, we’ve had holocaust after holocaust and this is the latest, on our doorstep.

    It’s crime.

    We need to address why some groups in society are used as the playthings of other individuals and groups in society and we need to send a message out through this enquiry that social apartheid where wealth and status or lack of status are managers of harm and distress and where exclusion dysfunction because of class and race allow further voyeuristic abuse through the internet and mobile systems. We need to take the past and to make this enquiry give us value as a society and direction for where we can go together in the 21st century.

    Liked by 1 person

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