Why the Past Sometimes Exists in the Present
By Jon Brown
October 15, 2013
It's now just over a year since the NSPCC began to take calls to its helpline from adults, about being sexually abused when they were children by Jimmy Savile and others.
Those who had been silenced by their experiences and by their abusers for so long because they felt they were in some way to blame, and that they were the only ones, began to realise that there were many others with a story to tell.
So why hasn't there been an increase in arrests and charges for cases of child sexual abuse that may have been committed years ago?
A recent BBC 5 Live investigation into allegations of historic child sexual abuse before and after the Jimmy Savile case found a 70% increase between November 2011-April 2012 and the same period from 2012-2013. However, there was a 6% drop in arrests and the rate of charging only increased by 6 cases (from 352-358) despite the huge increase in allegations.
Police capacity is undoubtedly a factor in the lack of increase. Many forces have seen a huge increase in reports and have had to respond, often with the same resources. Some have resorted to bringing in extra capacity from other (non-sexual crime) units and this is problematic if these officers are not trained in dealing with sexual abuse cases, either current or historic.
The increase in sexual exploitation cases over the last year will have further stretched capacity and I think this has led to (understandably) a focus on these big current cases. This combined with some pressure for the police to be seen as not engaging in a 'witch hunt' in relation to historic cases has resulted in the situation we now have where historic allegations have increased but charges and arrests have not proportionately increased.
This is concerning for two reasons.
Firstly, the message it gives to victims of child sexual abuse who might have stayed silent about the abuse, perhaps for many years, often for fear of whether they will be believed. Our recent report "No one noticed, no one heard" shows how and why immediate disclosure of sexual abuse is not very common.
But secondly, you may be surprised to learn the police definition of 'historic' in relation to child abuse cases. We aren't just talking about things that were alleged to have happened decades ago. In fact, in some police forces a case is 'historic' if the allegation about abuse is more than a year ago.
This puts quite a different perspective on things. I think every allegation of abuse should be thoroughly investigated, not least because victims and survivors are unlikely to continue to come forward if their experience is that nothing will happen as a result.
However, if the person the allegation has been made against is still alive there is every chance they may well still be abusing children today. So investigating these 'historic' cases may also result in protecting children today as well as bringing abusers to justice.
We owe it to the victims of 'historic' child sexual abuse who come forward, however much time has passed, to do everything possible to bring their abuser to justice, and to help them move on with their lives. And we owe it to children today who may be at risk from those same abusers.
That's why the police need the resources to respond to both historic and current allegations. Often the dividing line between the two is not that clear.