Andrea Darling discusses the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse and the need for specialist support services.

Dr Andrea Darling is RSACC’s outgoing Chair (2020-21). She is a researcher working in the fields of sexual violence and criminal justice and has been a RSACC trustee for almost 6 years.

WARNING. This blog discusses the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, and provides links to the Inquiry’s reports and publications. Some of these contain accounts of experiences which survivors may find triggering.

For the last six years the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has been examining institutional failings and responses to child sexual abuse in England and Wales. Much has been learned from the Inquiry’s work already and it is due to make it’s final reports and recommendations some time next year. The contribution of victims and survivors of child sexual abuse has been central to the learning arising from the Inquiry and it has been so heartening to see so many victims and survivors willing to share their experiences and views in order to positively influence the future change required. 

Understandably, most of the victims and survivors who have taken part in the Truth Project element of the Inquiry (where they have been able to share their experiences with Inquiry staff and make suggestions on what needs to be changed to prevent and improve responses to child sexual abuse) have been adults reporting abuse that happened to them as children. However, many accounts also describe the responses they have experienced more recently when reporting their abuse to institutions and the police, as well as throughout the wider criminal justice system. Although some have shared very positive experiences, sadly, many have recounted very difficult experiences which have had a further impact on their health and wellbeing. 

The Inquiry’s findings to date have shone a light, brightly and directly, in so many ways on the fundamental importance of appropriate, well-resourced support services for victims and survivors of sexual violence and abuse. For example, one of the Inquiry’s research studies looked into support services for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse (you can watch a video presenting the findings here) Youtube.

Key findings included: 

  • Nearly three-quarters of survey respondents reported not having accessed any support services. 
  • Victims and survivors who access support services take a long time to do so and rate them as mediocre.
  • Victims and survivors stressed the importance of being heard, listened to, understood, believed, and not judged, by caring and empathetic professionals.
  • Two in five respondents reported having unmet needs linked to their experiences of child sexual abuse. Mostly the type of support they desired (but was not available or offered to them) was counselling provided by a specialist organisation. 
  • The most highly rated forms of support across all services were those provided by voluntary sector specialist services.

These findings show how important, and wanted, specialist services like those we provide at RSACC help meet victims and survivors’ needs.

At RSACC we support adults who have been sexually abused as children, as well as children and young people who may have experienced abuse more recently. We understand the nature of the trauma involved in disclosing abuse sometimes many years after it has occurred and the support required by adult survivors who chose to report to the police or who are still trying to deal with the impacts of what has happened to them. We have highly-trained ISVAs who can help our service users navigate the criminal justice system and fully qualified and experienced counsellors and support workers who can provide support in a range of ways depending on individual needs. 

The work of the Inquiry, along with other recent and current campaigns such as the Everyone’s Invited, has provided a much-needed avenue for victims and survivors to share their stories and for institutions to recognise how much change is still required for them to more effectively prevent and respond to sexual violence and abuse. Those collective voices are so incredibly powerful and, hopefully, will bring about the necessary further changes to policy and practice, as well as support for victims and survivors in the coming years. We, at RSACC, are ready to be part of that change (and indeed already part of it) and we look forward with positivity to improvements for victims and survivors of sexual violence and abuse.