Ahead of our upcoming Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation Conference, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) share insight into how they have adapted their practices to overcome the challenges presented by COVID-19.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse was set up in 2015 in the wake of serious high profile instances of non-recent child sexual abuse and concerns that some organisations were continuing to fail to protect children from sexual abuse.
The Inquiry has been asked to consider the extent to which institutions in England and Wales have failed in their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse and to recommend what steps are necessary to better protect children in the future. The Inquiry is chaired by Professor Alexis Jay, who is assisted by a panel of three: Professor Sir Malcolm Evans, Ivor Frank and Drusilla Sharpling.
While the restrictions introduced by the Government in response to COVID-19 have certainly changed the way the Inquiry works, we have managed to keep all aspects of our work progressing. In particular, the Inquiry has adapted how public hearings are held and the way in which the Truth Project operates - this blog explains how.
The Inquiry is now entering its final phase, with public hearings due to conclude at the end of 2020 and the Truth Project concluding in 2021.
Investigations and public hearings
The Inquiry has a programme of 15 investigations. These either focus on specific institutions, examining how they have discharged their responsibility to keep children safe from sexual abuse, or they are thematic, considering particular issues relevant to child sexual abuse. Eight investigations are now complete, with 12 reports published, including allegations of CSA linked to Westminster; the internet; Children in the Care of the Nottinghamshire Councils, the overarching Anglican Church report and on the 10th November, the Roman Catholic Church investigation report.
Most reports contain recommendations for action which the Inquiry considers need to be taken now to better protect children. The recommendations made by the Inquiry so far, and the response of institutions to them, can be found on our website here.
Each investigation includes a public hearing, where witnesses are questioned under oath by Counsel to the Inquiry. Hearings are usually open to the public to attend and are live streamed on the Inquiry’s website. However, the COVID-19 restrictions meant hearings could no longer be held in this way. As a result, the Inquiry moved these proceedings online, with all witness and legal teams participating remotely via Zoom video conferencing. Live streaming continued on the Inquiry’s website, ensuring the public could follow proceedings. Other public inquiries have now followed suit, but at the time IICSA was the first public inquiry to hear evidence in a virtual public hearing.
Since the start of the pandemic the Inquiry has conducted four virtual public hearings. These include the investigation into Child Protection in Religious Organisations and Settings, Children in the Care of Lambeth Council investigation and Child Sexual Exploitation by Organised Networks. Across the four hearings, the Inquiry has heard evidence from over 80 witnesses.
“This was the first time I have told my story in any depth. To be listened to and properly heard was an empowering experience...”
The Inquiry’s Truth Project offers a supportive way for survivors of child sexual abuse to share their accounts and put forward suggestions for change. More than 5,000 victims and survivors of child sexual abuse have now shared their experience with the Truth Project.
Victims and survivors can participate in different ways, including face-to-face, over the telephone and in writing. However, at the start of lockdown the Inquiry decided to suspend all face-to face Truth sessions to protect both participants and staff. At the beginning of July the Inquiry also introduced the opportunity for participants to take part in a private video session, sharing their experience remotely and securely by video call.
Face to face sessions have now resumed and will continue to be offered until April 2021, depending on government pandemic advice, for those who register before December 2020. The Truth Project will also continue to offer telephone and video call sessions until September 2021 and will accept written accounts until mid-October 2021. For more information about how to share your experience with the Truth Project please visit the Truth Project website.
Finding new ways to engage with the Victims and Survivors Forum
“The most positive experience of being part of the Forum is an overwhelming feeling of relief, of a burden being lifted from my shoulders. At last, I feel I am not only being listened to, but actually heard.”
The Inquiry’s Forum is open to all victims and survivors of child sexual abuse and has over 1,400 members. Being part of the Forum provides an opportunity to engage with the Inquiry, providing views on different issues under consideration, and receive regular updates on the Inquiry’s work.
Until Covid-19, face-to-face events were held regularly across England and Wales. These events gave Forum members a chance to meet one another and take part in discussions, to share insights and to contribute to the Inquiry’s work. Issues discussed at recent events include how to promote culture change regarding child sexual abuse, experiences of the criminal justice system and access to records.
The new restrictions introduced in response to COVID-19 meant large group meetings were no longer possible. As a result, the Inquiry has had to find new ways to engage with Forum members. We have created video presentations and accessible online forms, enabling members to submit their experiences and suggestions anonymously in writing. Many members have found this approach has some benefits as they can take time to reflect and write.
More information about the Forum can be found here.
You can hear more from the IICSA at this year's virtual Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation Conference on 10th November.
Read more insights from sector specialists via the IG Crime Blog.