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It is vital victims and survivors are at the heart of child sex abuse inquiry - Dr Christine Harrison

Dr Christine Harrison, from the University of Warwick, is available for interviews tomorrow to discuss the opening of the Independent Panel Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in England and Wales.

She is an experienced social worker who has co-ordinated and taught child care and child protection social work for the last 25 years and carries out research in a number of areas, including images of child abuse.

Dr Harrison said:

“Tomorrow (9th July) sees the opening of the Independent Panel Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in England and Wales. Survivors of child sexual abuse, and workers in this field, will have high hopes that this Inquiry will properly tackle issues that have too long been covered over. This hopeful anticipation will exist often in the face of their negative experiences of the child protection and criminal justice systems.

“Child sexual abuse and exploitation are pervasive problems in all societies in the industrialised and developing worlds. In the UK, establishing an accurate prevalence rate for sexual assault and sexual violence is difficult, but, even so, estimates show that at least 11 million adults may have experienced some form of sexual abuse or violence, including 7.6 million who have experienced child sexual abuse. Known men are the majority of perpetrators and women and girls the majority of victims, although men and boys are also affected.

“Child sexual abuse causes immense harm. For children, some of the effects commonly experienced immediately after an assault, such as shock, powerlessness, helplessness, and acute distress, may subside over time. Other consequences, such as feelings of anxiety, fear, and depression, may last for a considerable period and contribute to poorer adult mental health. Whilst many survivors have amazing resilience, the personal and societal costs are high. In addition, the negative impact on health and wellbeing may be exacerbated where victims have experienced multiple forms of violence, or where other forms of disadvantage have also been experienced.

“At least 32% of children in the UK are thought to experience one or more form of sexual abuse during their childhood, 21% of girls and 11% of boys; 11.3% of young adults have reported contact sexual abuse during childhood perpetrated by an adult, or another child or young person. These may not be isolated events, and many children report repeat victimisation. It has been estimated in the UK that 72% of children and young people who have experienced sexual abuse did not tell anyone at the time; and 31% still had not told anyone by adulthood. 23 000 sexual crimes recorded in England and Wales 2013/2014 were against children and young people, representing one third of all sexual offences.

“The majority of perpetrators of child sexual abuse are heterosexual men, and for most children who have been sexually abused are known, but not in the immediate family. Offenders are known to target children and mothers or carers that they believe are vulnerable and they may use bribes, threats and physical violence to ensure that children do not tell, or will not be believed if they do tell. Over recent years, our knowledge has increased about organised child sexual exploitation inflicted on young people and the processes of targeting, grooming and coercion used to entrap them. This has been reinforced by the findings of a number of public enquires about organised sexual exploitation in Rochdale, Rotherham and Oxfordshire and about the prolific abuse perpetrated by Jimmy Savile. These reports have brought into the open the frightening numbers of children who are experiencing extreme forms of sexual abuse and coercion. Like other sexually abused children and young people they are likely already to have experienced abuse or violence; to be homeless or missing from home; to have experienced residential care, trafficking or school exclusion; or to be in the public care system. Initiation into drug and alcohol use increases their vulnerability to exploitation, as well as dependence on their abuser.

“One of the most difficult issues facing children is the disbelief that continues to be associated with it. Children and young people sense and fear this and this is why so many never tell anyone. Disbelief is, of course, an objective of men who perpetrate child sexual abuse. When apprehended, perpetrators characteristically deny or minimise the extent and effects of their offending. This is reinforced by societies that cannot or will not face up to a form of violence that challenges much of what is taken for granted about the nature of the relationships between men, women and children. As a result, the impact of sexual violence weighs heavily on children, many of whom will never come to the attention of agencies.

“Underlying attitudes are also implicated and reflected in systemic weaknesses in child protection and criminal justice, and the failure of agencies and professional actively to recognise and respond to signs that a child or young person may be being abused.

“A number of factors are common to all forms of child sexual violence and exploitation. These include high levels of organisation and financial investment; large numbers of offenders who are audacious and looking for opportunities to sexually abuse children living in difficult circumstances. Inquiries and police operations such as Hydrant show that many offenders are in positions where their power can be used to silence children, evade detection, and avoid prosecution.

“Getting back to the Independent Panel Inquiry, this is the difficult and complex background to its establishment. This background also explains the far reaching and challenging nature of its remit - to establish whether and to what extent public bodies (government departments, police, local authorities) and non-statutory institutions (churches, non-governmental agencies) have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children in England and Wales from sexual abuse and exploitation. It is vital that, as intended, victims and survivors are at the heart of the enquiry and that its leads to change. Children currently experiencing or at risk of sexual abuse and exploitation deserve no less than the improved protection of children. All victims and survivors of sexual violence deserve criminal and social justice.”

Note to Editors:

Issued by Lee Page, Communications Manager, Press and Policy Office, The University of Warwick. Tel: +44 (0)2476 574 255, Mob: +44 (0)7920 531 221. Email:


Lee Page

Communications Manager, University of Warwick

Tel: +44 (0)2476 574 255

Mob: +44 (0)7920 531 221