If what I say here means that even one more survivor of child sexual abuse feels able to come forward and talk to us, knowing they will be believed, then it will be a success.
A year since the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) published its final report, the national policing lead for Child Protection and Abuse Investigation, Ian Critchley QPM has been reflecting on the issue of belief.
Mr Critchley said: “Belief matters. Not just in a theoretical sense but in a way that changes people’s lives. I will never forget sitting with the Deputy Children’s Commissioner in 2013 listening to a female survivor who described the most appalling acts of abuse she had suffered over many years. In the next sentence she then described how the work of the specialist team made up of police, children’s social care, NHS safeguarding nurses and others saved her life. ‘If it wasn’t for the team, I would be dead’ she said. ‘Now I have my self-worth, my family, a degree and a job’. This team had believed her, and this act gave her hope.”
The IICSA shone a light on the way policing and other institutions had failed some of our most vulnerable children:
“Some children and young people have been given the impression that they were not believed to be worthy of protection, creating and perpetuating notions of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ victims of child sexual abuse.”
(IICSA final report recommendation 4, October 2022).
The way policing approaches and investigates child sexual exploitation has come a long way in the past decade, and in recent years has made great strides forward with officers and staff ensuring that children and adult survivors are treated with care, compassion, and empathy so they feel believed, trusted and have hope.
J is a survivor of child sexual abuse; she shared her story to give victims the confidence to come forward. She said:
“The man who abused me hasn’t shown any sign of taking responsibility for what he did, but in 2021 he was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison for the abuse he inflicted on me and two other vulnerable girls. This case wouldn’t have reached court without the support of many officers and police staff, and I am so grateful I made contact and succeeded in bringing this man to justice.”
Gabrielle Shaw, Chief Executive of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC) said:
“This is a powerful statement of intent from UK policing's national child protection lead. It acknowledges the past failures of the police and speaks to their evolving approach to supporting survivors.
“Being believed is a fundamental right for all survivors. At NAPAC, we know from what we hear on our support service that a disbelieving reaction to a disclosure can have long-lasting negative consequences for the survivor. Those affected by abuse must be able to report to the police with confidence, safe in the knowledge that they will be believed and treated with respect and compassion.
“I find Ian Critchley's message on behalf of policing to be one of hope, and one of commitment to positive cultural change that will improve outcomes for survivors".
Dr Elly Hanson, clinical psychologist and researcher whose work focuses on preventing abuse, harm, and injustice said:
"From research listening to survivors of abuse, we know that thousands do not report what they went through because they fear disbelief or blame.
“A believing stance involves taking what survivors report seriously and with care, and we know it flows into thorough investigation – we would expect such an approach with other crimes such as burglary or fraud, and it is all the more important with crimes of abuse. It counteracts messages from the perpetrators, that victims won’t be believed and that they don’t matter, and for some this provides a degree of justice in and of itself. And it of course means that more of the guilty will be apprehended, and their abuse prevented.
“Ian Critchley’s leadership here is so heartening and my hope is that people throughout policing are empowered to lean into this approach which is both the most ethical and effective"
Mr Critchley concludes:
“Day in, day out, I see considerate acts of policing call centre staff, initial response officers or specialist child protection officers whose caring, compassionate, and dedicated actions ensure children or adult survivors feel believed, trusted, and cared for. Let’s be clear, this is not blind belief. At the point when a victim/survivor feels ready to report to police, they will be listened to, treated with empathy, and an evidence-led investigation will follow to establish the facts. This response allows survivors to start to move forward with their lives. We know they will never be able to undo the appalling abuse that they suffered, but it allows for hope as to their future ahead.
“If you are a survivor of child sexual abuse and feel ready to come forward to report, you will be treated with respect, and listened to in a place you feel safe.”