The recently aired Panorama documentary has shed light on the shadows of child abuse within the cadet forces, and it brings into question yet another institution’s previous response to allegations of child abuse.
I was a member of Sea Cadets for many years, enrolling at ten years old and leaving a decade later due to commitments at university. My own experiences in those ten years were very positive, and some of the greatest experiences of my life were due to being a member of a cadet unit which provided an opportunity to experience parts of the world in a way I wouldn’t have been able to on my own. I had many friends, learnt a lot of useful life skills and even took part in the Tall Ships Race when I was 16 years old.
It is for this reason that it particularly saddened me to hear of allegations of abuse being covered up within cadets, but, as an abuse solicitor who has brought claims against many different institutions, including children’s homes, schools, religious organisations, the Scouting Association, sports clubs and other volunteer-run activities, I have come to appreciate that abuse is pervasive across all sectors of society.
From my own memory young cadets are taught to respect and obey the orders of their superiors without question, and it is this which makes the abuse of trust all the more abhorrent.
The Panorama documentary highlighted how some senior members of each respective organisation were aware of allegations of abuse, but that they failed to take any action and even actively discouraged the children and their families from contacting the police.
The Panorama documentary also reported that in one case staff members lied to parents by saying that the perpetrator would be dismissed, when what appears to have actually happened is that this man, Alan Waters, was promoted and moved to a different area of Sea Cadets where he was placed in charge of a cluster of units.
The past response of many organisations, not just the cadet forces, when faced with allegations of abuse was to try to sweep them under the carpet and minimise any damage to the reputation of the particular institution. There was often an active ignorance over the danger posed to further children in relocating perpetrators of abuse without reporting the matter to appropriate authorities.
What is now abundantly clear is that past inaction over sexual abuse allegations was not isolated to a particular organisation, company or group. In 2014 Theresa May, then Home Secretary, established the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse to interrogate the various institutional responses to sexual abuse, and, as has been evidenced by various setbacks, this has proven to be an extraordinarily difficult and enormous task.
This new scandal of abuse within cadets adds to the ongoing list of institutions that ought to be questioned on why they allowed an environment which was conducive to child abuse, and why it was that they failed to protect further children from coming to harm once they were aware of allegations of abuse.
In its response the Ministry of Defence, the body responsible for the Air, Army and Sea Cadets, explained that today all adults working with children undergo security and background checks, rigorous disclosure procedures and regular safeguarding training.
However, notably there is no legal requirement upon any adults involved within these cadet forces to report any safeguarding concerns for the children they should have to the appropriate authorities. The UK still has no mandatory legal requirement for professionals working with children to report safeguarding concerns, and cases such as the abuse within cadets will only add to the call for a change in the law.
The Panorama expose focused on three areas of the country in which child sexual abuse has been alleged by cadets, but recently published figures show that in the last five years the Ministry of Defence has received over 350 complaints of abuse by cadets, and that in the last three years they have paid in excess of £2million in out-of-court settlements. It is possible that the true scale of child abuse within cadet forces may not yet be known.
The survivors who have come forward to share their experiences of abuse with cadets should be applauded for their bravery for bringing this issue, as well as the subsequent institutional failings, to the attention of the general public. More should have been done at the time of initial disclosure, and more can be done now to put in place additional measures to protect children from similar abuse in the future.