Exaro News Archive

Commentary: ‘justice’ in UK still fails survivors of child sex abuse

NAPAC advisor condemns lack of support for people who report historical abuse crimes

By Jonathan Bird | 20 February 2014

Many more people have been reporting non-recent childhood sexual abuse in the UK since the disgusting revelations about Jimmy Savile were broadcast in October 2012.

We saw the number of people who called our support line at the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC) more than triple this time last year in the wake of the exposure of the late BBC star.

Many of the people who contacted us had not spoken about it since childhood. For some, it was the first time they had ever told anyone. Many were middle-aged, and some have successful careers.

“NAPAC has heard from many survivors of childhood abuse who made a report to the police, but never had their day in court”

Others have had very difficult lives, and may have not been able to have intimate relationships or hold down jobs. There is a massive range of impacts that can develop after a childhood of abuse or neglect.

NAPAC always encourages people who contact us with this kind of information to pass it on to the police, but we try to ensure that these former victims have suitable emotional support in place first.

The police are obliged to ask very probing and detailed questions in order to present a strong case for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which must then make a decision on whether the evidence is strong enough to take the case to court.

Such intense questioning can be re-traumatising.

We are aware that the CPS is under pressure not to waste public money on prosecuting cases that do not result in conviction.

Proving non-recent childhood abuse is difficult in almost all cases. We are talking about a time when DNA techniques were not available.

Proving a person guilty of a recent serious sexual assault or rape of an adult is notoriously difficult because it is often one person’s word against another’s. With the added complexity of the crime having taken place many years ago, the legal process becomes even harder.

NAPAC has heard from many survivors of childhood abuse who made a report to the police, but never had their day in court.

This is a serious disappointment for people who went to a great deal of trouble and often emotional difficulty to make their report to police.

But the CPS has to make these difficult decisions.

Exaro reported in December how the CPS had decided to drop key charges brought under the Metropolitan Police Service’s ‘Operation Fernbridge’ against two men accused of child sex abuse. The charges were based on accusations by a key witness in the case.

The witness was left devastated and bewildered at his treatment by the CPS.

NAPAC has received worrying evidence of a number of cases of this kind being dropped by the CPS, and survivors left in the lurch.

For well over a decade, NAPAC has been campaigning for more provision of emotional support for abuse survivors.

These survivors are sometimes accused of being motivated by nothing more than a desire for compensation. But this is not what we hear from the survivors themselves.

Most say that they are driven by a desire to protect children today from the people who want to hurt them.

This is what Francis Andrade said about reporting her abuser to the police. She took her own life during the trial because of the trauma of the cross-examination. She was not given the emotional support that she needed.

Her abuser was ultimately convicted of five charges of indecently assaulting her.

The small proportion of survivors who do see their abusers convicted may be awarded a few thousand pounds, very rarely anything over £10,000.

Seeing an abuser convicted by a jury and sentenced will help with the healing process, and the compensation can help pay for therapy and emotional recovery.

We need to ensure that support is in place for all survivors going through a court case if they want it, whether the case results in a conviction or not.

There are far too many survivors of abuse struggling without any support.

To ensure the safety of children today and to deliver justice for former victims, people need to feel confident about obtaining support if they report to police.

Many cases are going through CPS assessment, but we do not see any evidence of increased provision of the necessary support.

Jonathan Bird is operations manager at the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC).

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By Exaro News

Exaro News investigates matters of public interest and seeks to uncover the truth.