The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) invites students from the University of Liverpool and six other universities to participate in its Truth Project. The Truth Project offers a confidential space for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse to share their experiences and make recommendations on how to better protect children. Almost 2,000 people have shared their experiences with the Truth Project so far, with the youngest person to do so being 18.
Set up due to concerns around the failure of institutions to protect children in the aftermath of investigations into the Jimmy Savile scandal, the IICSA has investigated claims involving healthcare, residential, religious and educational institutions as well as the armed forces and local authorities. They are ‘examining the extent to which institutions and organisations have failed to protect children in England and Wales.’
According to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), one in 20 children in the UK have been sexually abused, with almost 3,000 children identified as needing protection from such abuse in 2016/17. One in three children abused by an adult don’t tell anyone.
Daniel Wolstencroft, 41, is a survivor of child sexual abuse who now works with the IICSA and the Truth Project (full video further down)
Professor Janet Beer, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool, says she is passionate about the University’s involvement in the Truth Project.
“The Truth Project is a really important opportunity to hear from victims and survivors of child sexual abuse so that, as a society, we may learn lessons which enable us to better protect future generations.
‘We know that young people find it particularly difficult to share their experiences and we also know that we really need their insights”
The other six universities involved are Liverpool John Moores University, University of Exeter, London South Bank University, Middlesex University, Newcastle University and Cardiff University.
1,040 people had shared their experiences with the Truth Project by March 2018, with 520 of their accounts being analysed for research purposes. 53 per cent of participants were female, 47 per cent male and 1% ‘other’, while 94 per of victims and survivors were sexually abused by males.
The Truth Project is looking to hear from people with experiences of child sexual abuse in different forms. Ages of first abuse have varied from younger than three years old to mid-to-late-teens, with many later suffering from depression and other mental health conditions, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts. Education, employment and relationships are also impacted.
Why young people?
Michael May, who leads the Inquiry’s work with young people, says young people often feel unvalued and unheard. The Truth Project, running over the next two years, will give a voice to the voiceless and will provide an opportunity for survivors of child sexual abuse to feel validated, he hopes. Reaching out to younger people can also allow victims to access help earlier than they may otherwise do.
‘If, as a society, we want to stop children from being sexually abused in future,’ says Professor Alexis Jay, Chair of the Inquiry, ‘we need to have an honest conversation about the experiences of victims and survivors.’
The views of young people are important for the IICSA’s Truth Project as they may offer insight into recent trends and changes in the nature and location of child sexual abuse. Previous generations have not grown up in the same way with the online world and the risks this may bring.
Young people (18-24) are also less than half as likely (19 per cent) as people over 65 years old (41 per cent) to feel comfortable discussing child sexual abuse with an adult they trust, according to Populus. For these results, 2,065 adults over 18 were interviewed in England and Wales between 26 and 30 September, with data weighted and all questions including a ‘Prefer Not to Say’ option.
Children continue to face stigma and victim-blaming, and the topic is something of a taboo, people being less comfortable discussing child sexual abuse than substance abuse, personal finances, terminal illness and bereavement.
According to the data, young people believe the most likely places for child sexual abuse to occur are online, followed by the family home, with a quarter feeling it is most likely to take place in a religious or welfare institution, and just over 10 per cent saying sports clubs.
Of the victims and survivors who have participated in the Truth Project, 28 per cent were abused by family members, roughly a quarter by teaching or educational staff, and a fifth by friends of the family. Abuse by church staff and members of the clergy, which continues to make headlines around the world, accounts for 14%.
Children and young people are also sometimes perpetrators of abuse, committing approximately one third of sexual abuse, while over 90 per cent of sexually abused children were abused by someone known to them, according to the NSPCC.
While specific institutions are not the focus of the Truth Project, the failure of institutions to act and to protect those in their care is a theme. A failure of professional curiosity can be as simple as not asking the right questions or not acting on suspicions.
The Inquiry feels institutions responsible for the welfare of children too often prioritise the reputations of politicians and staff, or seek to avoid insurance claims or legal liability instead of tackling child sexual abuse.
Institutional failure involves abuse being reported to an authority figure such as the police or a social worker with no appropriate action being taken. It can also include the abuser being in a position of power or responsibility, such as a teacher or a religious figure.
Daniel Wolstencroft’s story
Daniel Wolstencroft, 41, is a survivor of abuse at the hands of his grandfather, and he now works for the IICSA. Off the rails and unable to cope, his vulnerability led to further abuse as a teenager. He went through prison, rehab and mental health units, questioning why he didn’t fight off his abuser and whether it made him gay.
He suffered through the silence before, in his early 30s, a drug worker, who had himself been abused, asked the right question. ‘Did something happen in your childhood?’ Meeting a man who had been through a similar experience and appeared to have his life together offered Daniel hope. ‘What he did that day is he gave me permission to speak.’
Since, Daniel has been through counselling and has set up his own group, Shatter Boys, offering peer support to adult survivors of child sexual abuse. He has also helped set up Shatter Girls as a female peer support group focusing on child sexual exploitation prevention.
Daniel established Shatter Boys to help men report their abuse to the police. He was inspired to form the group and work with the IICSA as he hadn’t found justice through the criminal justice system. His attempt to seek justice against the man who abused him as a teenager – who continued abusing boys for a further two decades – ended when the Crown Prosecution Service decided his delinquency in youth meant he wasn’t a credible witness. The Truth Project, too, ‘was a perfect opportunity to speak truth to power, and my chance to help inform recommendations to government.’
Listen to Daniel’s story:
At numerous points, the opportunity for professional curiosity to intervene in Daniel’s situation appeared and was missed. Daniel and the Truth Project hope to change the culture of silence and shame around child sexual abuse in the hope these failures won’t happen again.
Lucie, a student and victim of child sexual abuse, tells a similar story to that of Daniel, but her story features the role of online grooming. For Lucie this began at 10 and continued until she was 16, never telling anyone about the abuse she suffered. By speaking out, she says, ‘we can stop other children from being hurt.’
Recommendations of the Independent Inquiry’s Interim Report
The IICSA’s Interim Report makes a number of recommendations, including provision by the Justice Ministry of primary legislation giving the same protection to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse in civil court cases the same protection as are given to vulnerable witnesses in criminal court cases.
They also suggest revised rules for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, a requirement of operational experience and accreditation in the role of police in the prevention of and response to child sexual abuse for police seeking to progress to Chief Officer, and an end to the practice of police disapplying child sexual abuse complaints submitted 12 months after the incident.
Other recommendations are the registration by the Department of Education of care staff in children’s homes, and the development of a national policy addressing training and the use of chaperones in the treatment of children in healthcare services.
In March 2018, the Government announced the results of a joint consultation, which received ‘760 responses from social workers, police officers, local government, children’s charities, educators and health professionals, victim support groups, and other members of the public.‘ The vast majority of respondents felt the child protection system would be adversely affected by mandatory reporting and that it would not, in itself, lead to appropriate action to protect children
The IICSA is holding a second seminar on mandatory reporting in on 29 and 30 April 2019, with the summary of its first seminar released on 19 December 2018.
In April 2018, then-Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced £600,00 would be allocated to voluntary organisations – including a national helpline and bespoke therapy for victims of child sexual abuse with learning disabilities – helping survivors and victims of child sexual abuse.
How to get involved
To speak to the Truth Project, you can fill out a form online, after which you will receive a phone call. You will be asked where you would like to go to share your experiences, meaning you can do so away from where you live, helping your confidentiality. There is a restriction order on the location of offices for purposes of safety and privacy.
In the process, your needs will be assessed to facilitate you going to the Truth Project. Your travel and accommodation expenses will be paid for, allowing you to bring someone to support you. In a Truth Project session, survivors and victims of child sexual abuse talk with a lead facilitator and co-facilitator, and can bring someone to support them.
You will have control during the process, and you can decide how little or how much you talk about in a session with a lead facilitator and co-facilitator. After your session, there will be a support worker available for you should you need it, and this support will remain for a couple of weeks after your session.
For more information about the Truth Project:
For more information about the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse:
Available support in Liverpool
RASA (Rape and Sexual Assault) Merseyside offers support to victims and survivors of sexual abuse and rape as well as their non-offending family and friends, with particular experience with adults who were abused as children. Support is offered regardless of age and gender, and there are also women-only spaces within their service.
On 5 December, Exhibxtchin’, an all-women collective whose events fundraise for RASA Merseyside, celebrated its first birthday by showcasing an all-woman lineup of DJs playing music by women.
RASA Helpline: 0151 666 1392
Support and welfare services are available at the University of Liverpool, while your GP can offer you medical advice and referrals.