In 2015, Rape Crisis England and Wales welcomed the extensive range of issues within the scope of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). Since then, IICSA has interrogated the prolific concealment and institutional failures in relation to child rape and sexual abuse, and the silencing of victims and survivors. The abhorrent treatment of children, young people and adults that has been highlighted is a source of national shame.
Today, we offer our statement on two out of many important commitments that have been made by the government in its response.
Notably, the government has committed to a national public consultation on mandatory reporting in order to decide how to take it forward. We are committed to consulting with the Rape Crisis network in full, in order to develop and solidify our organisational position on mandatory reporting. Rape Crisis centre workers who provide highly specialist services to children, young people, and adult survivors of child rape and sexual abuse are a vital source of knowledge and insights, with expertise often spanning many decades. In the meantime, we wish to set out our initial basis for consultation.
IICSA gathered vast amounts of evidence showing that social care, health services and the criminal justice system often remain unable to both recognise child rape and sexual abuse, and respond appropriately to it when it has been reported to them. It continues to be of grave concern to all of us within the Rape Crisis movement, and reinforces what victims and survivors, and specialist Rape Crisis workers have been sharing for decades.
The widespread inability to understand, recognise signs and appropriately respond to disclosures of child rape and sexual abuse is at the very core of the failures we currently see, and it is this which poses one of the greatest risks to children and young people as it leaves them isolated, and in dangerous situations. Mandatory reporting will only operate well if professionals are upskilled and trained effectively, in order to recognise and respond to child rape and sexual abuse. It is imperative that any model of mandatory reporting is preceded by a meaningful multi-agency response to children and young people which factors in their voice and views, as consent and choice has already been taken away through the rape and sexual abuse they were subjected to. If mandatory reporting has the purpose of protecting the child from rape and sexual abuse, the existing weaknesses within the current statutory landscape must be addressed.
We believe it is vital that all organisations, institutions, and agencies respond to child rape and sexual abuse in a way that is most protective for the child, young person and their families. Children and young people must not experience further harm by systems that are supposed to ensure their safety and well-being. Mandatory reporting must not have the unintended consequence of silencing survivors through fear of the authorities. This applies to all children and young people, but particularly to those subjected to rape and sexual abuse in their families, and those who are being exploited through gangs.
Redress and access to specialist counselling and therapy
The government has announced their commitment to a national redress scheme, and to address the need to guarantee victims and survivors access to specialist therapeutic services. The purpose of a redress scheme will be, as IICSA states “to acknowledge the failures of the past and provide reparation to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse”. Along with the consultation on redress, the government have committed to consult on specialist therapeutic services for victims and survivors of child rape and sexual abuse. We will consult with Rape Crisis workers extensively on this too. However, on this, there is already ample evidence on what survivors want and need.
The IICSA report on support services released in 2020, found that their large-scale survey data showed that “across all support services, the most highly rated by survey respondents were counselling provided by a charity/voluntary organisation specialising in child sexual abuse and sexual abuse and/or rape support services provided by a specialist charity/voluntary organisation”. It is very clear that the future commissioning of specialist counselling provision, particularly for children who have survived rape and sexual abuse and adults who survived rape and sexual abuse as children, must be in accordance with the wishes of victims and survivors. Therefore, commissioners must fund highly specialist services, such as Rape Crisis centres, and not generic services that do not have the expertise to work with rape and sexual abuse trauma.
We know that specialist counselling and therapy provided by Rape Crisis centres is life-changing and life-saving. Increased resource to Rape Crisis centres to work with children, young people, and adult survivors of child rape and sexual abuse is imperative, as finding ways to live a life after child rape and sexual abuse is of utmost importance.
Across the network of Rape Crisis centres every year many thousands of children and young people receive wraparound specialist sexual violence and abuse counselling services, play and art therapy, peer support, as well as advocacy services. One of the largest cohort of survivors who access Rape Crisis centres continues to be those who survived rape and sexual abuse as children. The demand for Rape Crisis services is at a record high with approximately 14,000 victims and survivors requiring services. The demand for specialist and independent provision could not be clearer.
We will continue to fight for every survivor of child rape and sexual abuse as Rape Crisis England & Wales, and alongside the IICSA Changemakers of which we are part.