Anybody that has had to deal with the current “system” with regard to sexual abuse will have been faced with many different barriers to prevent them receiving the help and justice that the general population assumes that victims receive. The reality is far removed from popular belief. Saying that there are a small number of individuals that were helped in the required way, and received some form of justice as well as support happens in a relatively small percentage of the cases reported.
Although there are catastrophic failures in the system, there are individuals within it who work on behalf of all the victims they come across. Without them, the few cases where help and justice is provided, just would not happen.
This lack of understanding, protection and support, makes most survivors feel like they are being abused all over again. So the effects of the abuse carried out on them, are made even worse.
“The system” means everything from:
» the way laws are made, how they are interpreted and applied (by courts, including CPS [Crown Prosecution Service], judges, solicitors, barristers, juries),
» how the laws are enforced (police),
» as well as how various institutions and service providers operate (social services, mental health services, schools, carers, and voluntary organisations such as charities and community based organisations).
When we say “anybody”, we mean the victims, family members and some professionals who try to fight the system on behalf of the victim. Any of these people will be able to speak about cases where :
When an incident is reported, there are many cases where the children are labelled as liars, thus preventing any investigation. The children are told they are just seeking attention. This may be based on the actions of some of the victims, so they are not treated fairly.
As we are now hearing in the media, there are cases where an investigation is carried out, and then a command from higher up the chain tells the officers to stop.
They state there is not enough evidence to get a possible conviction, so the abuser is let off without even being prosecuted. Less than 5% of reported cases actually go to court. Hence abusers correctly say nothing will be done.
Juries may not believe what they hear the victim saying, as much of it is unbelievable to people who know nothing about sexual abuse. All the defence has to do is discredit the victim a little, and then reasonable doubt can be found, and the abuser let off. Just because the defence can find something distasteful to say about the victim does not mean they were not abused !
This is often about arguing points and technicalities of the law, and not to do with whether or not the abuse happened, so justice is very rarely served. The prosecution have to bring evidence of a few specific times, and the sentencing reflects that rather than reflecting the years of abuse that was carried out. Sentencing is too light and does not reflect the mental and physical cruelty, or the lasting damaging effects of the abuse.
The victims can be made to feel they are on trial, being intimidated by the barrister, and so being abused once again. Many getting a “not guilty” verdict which further reinforces the abuse they suffered.
Social services did not provide the protection needed, there are many cases where social services allowed the abuser to still see the child, in private. Children were being raped whilst in care, and nothing was done (be it foster care or care homes). They are overworked with too high a case load, so are not always able to join the dots, or follow up on child welfare reports or concerns.
Teachers can tell of children they think are being abused from signs and symptoms, but without concrete evidence they can do nothing! There is no easy answer, but surely this can be looked at and approached in a different way.
Where cases are reported, the abuser is all too often believed if they come across as nice and reasonable.
There is a lack of understanding or appropriate support from the agencies that deal with children that report their abuse. This understanding is essential for children as they deal with fear, guilt, isolation, shame, and some even feel loyalty to their abusers.
There is a lack of financial support for organisations that offer the support needed by the victims.
At the moment there are hundreds of victims and small organisations calling for change in the system. But the government does not listen to them or make the necessary changes. With sexual abuse now being on the agenda, it gets a lot more coverage, once the inquiry into how state and non state institutions have failed to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation has been completed, and recommendations made, the government will not make the scale of the changes needed, unless the public rise up in large numbers to demand the changes needed on our failing system.
If the failing system is to be replaced with a workable system, victims and survivors and those with experience of working on matters of sexual abuse must have a say in what is required to change the failing system.
The fact that someone is educated to the highest level does not qualify them to decide what is needed. The failure of the present system is proof of this.
There should be no time limit on when any survivor can report historic sexual abuse or seek justice, and this should also include children who have gone through the care system.