This is likely to be the first revelation of several, that in order to make
sense of why and how government departments failed to respond appropriately to
child abuse allegations, any inquiry will need to extend its remit beyond
life-stripped institutions and look to individuals for answers.
Individuals play a vital role in the child abuse narrative. That may sound
obvious, but our Inquiry is to focus only on inanimate wrongdoing; that of
local authorities and schools failing to tick boxes and make phone calls,
rather than individuals who failed to act, or those who engaged in abuse. This
is likely to jeopardise the Inquiry's success and alienate victims and
survivors further. No justification for the Inquiry's
decision not to probe individuals
has been given, and so the question
remains: how can the Inquiry hope to explore the mechanisms which carry child
abuse and its victims, enabling some of the worst crimes imaginable to happen
to our most vulnerable? What then, is the purpose of the Inquiries Act's
powers, compelling witnesses to give evidence, if not to discover or understand
better the parts they played in the nation's shame?
There is too, the added imperative for survivors to feel seen and heard.
Part of that process involves being vindicated. Often accused of dishonesty,
trouble making and disgracing their communities, vindication is an integral
part of the recovery process for survivors and victims of abuse. And whilst
Home Secretary Theresa May has assured the public that any allegations will be
handed to the police, this will not be enough. It is not that victims want to
embarrass or publicly humiliate their abusers in the main – they just want the
opportunity to show their communities and family members that their abuse was
real. Many have been accused of lying for so long, their culture now demands an
open recognition of their story, and their abusers.
Difficulties with allegations unproven and what will inevitably be large
numbers of survivors wanting to tell their story, make the logistical aspects
of questioning individuals difficult, but the Inquiry must find a solution to
this problem, if it is to document child abuse in its entirety, and offer
meaningful avenues of redress and recovery for victims and survivors. One such
solution could be that if a name appears in a significant number of victim
statements, that individual should automatically be summoned to the Inquiry for
questioning. This would not create confidence in the Inquiry, but would allow
the Inquiry a window into abuse within specific contexts, creating a complete
picture of how abuse transpires, those who engage in it and how they are
enabled. There is talk amongst activists highlighting domestic violence that
the Inquiry must include this area too, in their investigation. Domestic
violence is often at the root of child sexual abuse, and goes hand in hand in
many cases. Current research in these areas is helpful, but it is piecemeal.
The Inquiry would do well to embrace a comprehensive approach, bringing
institutions, organisations, political movements and other bodies who may have
abused children, together. Such an approach would be pioneering, and offer a
template which could be reproduced around the world, and go on to provide key
information which could protect children on a global scale.
The Inquiry is already looking to investigations around the world to ensure
that its own is robust, reflective and worthy of its mission, but following
good examples must only be part of its strategy. It must set an international
standard in tackling child sexual abuse, for it is a global phenomenon and
think like a radical, rather than an inquiry that is run of the mill.
The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.