Why the Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is so important

The Office of National Statistics recently published figures relating to the number of people in this country who have suffered abuse and rape in childhood. The ONS stats are, I would argue, a very conservative estimate and the true figure is likely to be much higher.


Why do I say this? At NAPAC we get calls every day from survivors of abuse disclosing what they have suffered, often for the first time. And many of our callers are people who were hurt a very long time ago. But no matter how long ago these crimes occurred the consequences for the victim can and often do last a lifetime. That's why we believe the true extent of this social evil is far higher than the official figures suggest.


We know because most people will simply not talk about their experience and if they do it is most likely to be to a service like NAPAC. Our charity is hugely trusted as being a safe place whether it is calling the free phone support line or attending one of the many support groups we have run. Once the extent of Jimmy Savile's offending was exposed we took calls (and continue to take calls) from people who had been assaulted by him. Most of these people will never go to the authorities because they do not trust what the response might be. Some haven't even been able to tell those closest to them.


The crime of abuse is one which, probably uniquely, often leaves the victim feeling responsible for what happened to them. This is best explained by the fact the the majority of abuse is perpetrated by someone close to the child. It's often a close relative, someone who will be loved by the child and under whose power and control they live. Abusers generally hold great power over their victim and if that person is your dad, step-dad or mother then little wonder the child feels powerless to stop it. And of course we hear from people who tried to speak out and were rebuked for doing so. One woman told me that when she told her mother that her dad was abusing  her she was told she was "a filthy little lier". The child was an adult long before she spoke of it again.


My own mother, on hearing the abuse I suffered, suggested that I "forget it". If only it was that simple. "Why bring it up now?" was another question from a family member. My response is if not now, when? Children today are still suffering abuse and rape and part of the reason for this is that not enough victims and survivors have felt able to speak out about these terrible crimes.


And that is why I think the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is so important. Granted it has had a few false starts but behind the scenes there is a great deal of work going on and in Professor Alexis Jay we have a Chair of huge integrity and experience and as a member of the Inquiry's Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel I have had the privilege of speaking with Professor Jay on a number of occasions. This really is victims' and survivors' once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come forward to the Inquiry and be heard.


There is also some confusion about the reference to Institutional abuse, but the Inquiry is not just for those who were abused within an institution, like a children's home or boarding school. The Inquiry is for anyone who was let down by an institution. This could include the police, social services or children's homes and schools. I would rather use the word organisation. 


I recently met the new Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, and was most impressed by her commitment to the Inquiry and to child protection. She is as keen to be made fully aware of this scourge in society as her predecessor was. And to have both the Home Secretary and Prime Minister committed to supporting the Inquiry and indeed organisations like NAPAC is a great step in the right direction. Abusers everywhere will be hoping that this Inquiry will fail and their filthy secrets will remain hidden. For today's and tomorrow's children I, for one, am determined that this Inquiry will do what it has set out to.

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