Parliamentary inquiry reveals chronic failure of police and CPS to secure justice for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse

Number of child sexual abuse suspects released without bail conditions rockets by 1,047 per cent after 2017 Government reforms.

 

Nearly 3,000 suspected child sexual offenders released without conditions in one year.

 

1 in 5 survivors do not report abuse to police due to fear of further violence from perpetrators.

 

Survivors describe long waits for police updates, ‘dehumanising’ language and not being taken seriously.

 

9 in 10 survivors say the support given to them when charges are not brought against their perpetrators is poor or very poor.

 

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse, chaired by Sarah Champion MP, today published an alarming report on the police and Crown Prosecution Service response to adult survivors of child sexual abuse. Nearly 400 survivors of child sexual abuse contributed to the cross-party parliamentary inquiry over a six-month period.

 

The report, titled ‘Survivors experiences of police and Crown Prosecution Service’ uncovered the total lack of faith many survivors have in the criminal justice system, with only 54 per cent of survivors having reported their abuse to police. Survivors reasons for not reporting were varied and included ‘not believing the police would successfully prosecute’ (30 per cent) or: ‘believing the police would be unsupportive’ (27 per cent).

 

The report exposes, through research published for the first time today, an alarming drop in the use of pre-charge bail since reforms in the Policing and Crime Act 2017. In the year after the Act became law, the number of people suspected of a sexual offence against a child released with pre-charge bail conditions fell by 56 per cent while the number of suspects ‘released under investigation’ increased by 1,047 per cent. Across the 20 constabularies that provided information, 2,993 suspected child sexual offenders were released without conditions in 2017/2018. This has serious ramifications for the safety of survivors as fewer suspects are prevented by bail conditions from contacting survivors, or attending their home or workplace. Pertinently, one in five survivors told our survey they did not report to police as they feared further violence from the perpetrator.

 

Survivors went on to describe shockingly poor communications from police after disclosures of abuse. Two in five survivors said they were not taken seriously by police when reporting and nearly half of respondents said they were not told what the next steps with their case would be.

 

Of those who reported their abuse, 64 per cent did not see a charge brought. 77 per cent said the communication of this information was poor or very poor and nine out of 10 said the support provided to them at this devastating moment in their journey was poor or very poor. Survivors expressed confusion at the role of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), not least as frustrated police often end up delivering decisions made on their behalf.

 

Sarah Champion, Chair of the APPG, commented:

 

“Our inquiry found overwhelming evidence of persistent failure by the police and CPS to support and secure justice for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Survivors of child sexual abuse are losing faith in the criminal justice system. They don’t feel listened to or respected by the police or CPS, they’re not given updates about their case and too often they’re treated insensitively.

 

I am particularly concerned that Government bail changes in 2017 means a massive increase in suspected perpetrators are being released without any bail conditions before they are formally charged.  This presents a huge risk to survivors, witnesses and the public and the Government has to act to address this safety risk immediately.

 

The inquiry has made practical recommendations to the Government on how to restore survivors faith in the police and justice system.  Unless addressed, the current situation risks survivors making the decision not to report abuse; meaning child sexual offenders go unpunished and pose a risk to more children. The Government has to rebuild survivors’ confidence in the system as a national priority.

 

Survivors told our inquiry:

 

“The police told [the] perpetrator my name because I am the ‘site of the crime.’

 

“The National Crime Agency (NCA) and the police didn’t know what each other were doing. Six or seven months would go by and nothing would be done.”

 

“I called the police myself. They never called me. I had to explain myself in detail to three different officers, over four different phone calls.  The third police force called me by the name of another victim. Incredibly careless.”

The report makes several necessary and achievable recommendations to Government, including:

  • Introduce a Victim’s Law to strengthen survivors’ rights.

  • Update the Victim’s Code with national standards for timelines and updates for survivors and a reformed complaints process.

  • Amend bail legislation to create presumption that suspects under investigation for child sexual abuse will only be released from police custody on bail.

  • Publish a national strategy for addressing childhood trauma – with training and support for police officers to recognise and respond to traumatised individuals.

Jim Pomeroy