Alison Millar calls for mandatory reporting of sexual abuse in regulated activities to protect the most vulnerable

A leading abuse lawyer has renewed her calls for mandatory reporting of abuse in residential care for vulnerable adults after the BBC revealed that thousands of disabled adults across England have been sexually abused.

The Victoria Derbyshire programme, on the BBC News Channel, sent Freedom of Information requests to 152 councils with adult social services responsibilities in England.

They asked how many reports of sexual abuse of disabled clients they had recorded over the financial years 2013-14 and 2014-15, up to 16 February 2015.

According to the BBC, they received data from 106 councils in England who revealed 4,748 reports of sexual abuse against adults with disabilities over the past two years.

The data showed that 63% of the 4,748 reported cases were against those with learning disabilities, and 37% against those with physical disabilities.

Alison Millar, head of the abuse team at Leigh Day, said:

“These statistics expose the often hidden problem of abuse of vulnerable adults and children with disabilities who can be the least able to speak out and be believed.

“We are currently acting for a number of survivors of sexual abuse where the perpetrators took advantage of our clients' vulnerability due to their learning disability or mental health problems.

“Some of these cases took place in schools or care settings and it is therefore vital that a mandatory reporting duty applies so that staff working in such regulated activities are required to report their suspicions, where the individual subjected to abuse may be unaware that they are being abused, unwilling to report the perpetrator or unable to.”

Jon Brown, head of sexual abuse programmes at the children's charity NSPCC, told the BBC:

"We know with sexual abuse that many victims find it difficult to speak out," he added, suggesting the real figure may be much greater.

"We know from research that disabled children and young people are three or four times more likely to be abused and neglected than children and young people who are not disabled.

"Abusers are often very adept at identifying vulnerabilities. And, importantly, we know that it's less likely for children and young people to be believed as well.”

Noelle Blackman, chief executive of the charity Respond, told the BBC that she had seen "some horrendous cases" among the young people who have been referred to it for help.

"Often the perpetrators don't have a learning disability, and often there will be gangs of boys who don't have a disability who are grooming girls who do, which is a really worrying trend."