Institutions are prioritising the reputation of political leaders and their staff over the sexual abuse of children, an inquiry has found.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), which was started in 2014 in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal, has heard evidence of horrific crimes linked to children’s homes, schools, the Catholic and Anglican churches and government migration programmes.
“The Inquiry considers that all too often institutions are prioritising the reputation of political leaders or the reputation of their staff, or avoiding legal liability, claims or insurance implications, over the welfare of children and tackling child sexual abuse,” an interim report concluded.
Cyril Smith, the Liberal politician who was knighted by Margaret Thatcher even after police pushed for him to be prosecuted over the sexual abuse for young boys, is the most high-profile figure considered by the wide-ranging investigation so far.
It will go on to examine allegations of child sexual abuse by “people of public prominence” in Westminster and potential cover-ups, youth detention centres, the church, Nottingham councils and other authorities.
The inquiry warned that for decades responsibility for child sex abuse has been deflected away from perpetrators and institutions, who have failed to accept the crimes ever took place or denied the harm caused.
More than 1,000 people have taken part in the inquiry’s Truth Project so far and there have been five public hearings, seven seminars and several published reports.
“Society is still reluctant to discuss child sexual abuse openly and frankly ‒ this must change to better protect children,” the report concluded.
“Children are still accused of ‘child prostitution’, ‘risky behaviour’ and ‘promiscuity’ and, as a result, continue to feel blamed or responsible for the sexual abuse they have suffered rather than being the victims of serious criminal acts.”
A third of survivors giving evidence to the inquiry’s Truth Project reported depression and a lack of trust in authority, while 28 per cent had considered suicide, a fifth had tried to kill themselves and another 22 per cent had self-harmed.
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Panic attacks, low self-confidence, obsessions, eating disorders, and alcohol and drug use were also reported by people who gave distressing accounts of the impact of flashbacks and trauma throughout their adult lives.
“I could be in a party and having the best time of my life, but I could smell something or somebody could say something or somebody could touch me and I’m right back to the abuse,” said one survivor. “Until the day I die that’s never going to change.”
Around 53 per cent of victims participating in the inquiry are female and 46 per cent male, with ages ranging between 21 and 95 years old.
The overwhelming majority – 94 per cent – were sexually abused by men and for six in 10 the ordeal started when they were between four and 11 years old.
Around a quarter were abused by teaching or educational staff and 12 per cent were abused by other professionals such as medical practitioners, social workers or police.
One in 10 female victims became pregnant and some children contracted sexually transmitted diseases from attackers.