Over the last few years our media has been saturated with abuse scandals. Savile, Rochdale, Rotherham, Oxford, even Fred the weather man. It is difficult to pick up a newspaper or watch the 10 o’clock news without seeing some article relating to abuse.
As the Head of a Department that specialises in abuse claims we have seen a significant rise in the number of people coming forward who have suffered abuse.
It was therefore somewhat surprising to see the report today which suggests that between April 2012 and March 2014 only 50,000 cases of child sex abuse were reported when the actual number was closer to 450,000.
I listened with interest to Anne Longfield, the Children’s commissioner, as she was interviewed on the Radio 4 Today programme. She has used her powers to obtain statistics from the Police and other institutions and she referred to a child abuse “iceberg”.
The statistics show that we clearly still have a significant problem in this country in listening to children and spotting the signs of abuse. Teachers and medical staff are often best placed to pick up the signs that a child is suffering but in these times of heightened awareness of abuse, it is incredible that only one in eight cases are reported.
I find from the clients I represent that reporting the abuse is a massive hurdle. I am contacted on a weekly basis by adults aged in their 30’s, 40’s and even 50’s who have suffered childhood abuse but only recently felt strong enough to disclose it. Victims wrongly feel guilt and that they themselves are in someway at fault for what happened. Sometimes they will have been threatened by the abuser. Sometimes the abuser will be a close family relative and they dare not reveal the abuse because of the repercussions for the rest of the family. On various occasions I have acted for girls who have been abused by their fathers or step-fathers. When they have revealed the abuse their mothers have disowned them and sided with the fathers, even when there has been a conviction of the father. Not only has the victim therefore suffered abuse but he or she has then gone on to suffer the additional trauma of being disowned by his or her family.
The Courts have recognised that people find it difficult to come forward after childhood abuse. There have been various high profile cases recently where convictions have been obtained against abusers many years after the abuse took place.
In the area of law I deal with the Courts are now far more willing to allow compensation claims to be brought many years after the abuse occurred particularly following the landmark decision in the case of A –V- Hoare (“the Lotto rapist”).
As a society therefore we need to be listening to children and ensuring that health visitors, teachers and those who have regular contact with children are well versed in the signs that abuse may be taking place. Equally we need to remain sympathetic to the victims who are only able to talk about their ordeals years and sometimes decades after the abuse ended.