What must Chairperson Justice Goddard, and her panel members, do to maintain the confidence of survivors ahead of the launch of a crucial part of the UK's Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) announced on 11th November 2015 that privately-held meetings will be held later this week between survivors of abuse and panel members to begin the extensive task of gathering evidence of abuse.
Since Theresa May’s initial announcement on 7 July 2014 the IICSA has encountered issues, crucially the dissolution of one panel and the resignation of two Chairpersons.
The eventual Chairperson, Justice Goddard (pictured above), and her panel members have had to regain the confidence of survivors who need and truly deserve answers from the institutions which failed them.
During her opening statement Justice Goddard confirmed that the work of the Inquiry shall be guided by three key principles - to be “comprehensive, inclusive and thorough.”
As such the task of gathering evidence has been separated into the following three core projects:
- The Research Project – in which a review and analysis of published work relating to institutional failures in child protection would take place;
- The Truth Project – allowing survivors of sexual abuse the opportunity to share their experiences with panel members during a private session; and
- The Public Hearings Project – in which witnesses or representatives from a selection of relevant institutions will be called to provide evidence under oath.
Last week’s announcement that a Truth Project 'pilot' is to take place in Liverpool later this week shows that the IICSA is moving forwards and today a Restriction Order was put in place over these hearings to allow survivors to disclose their evidence in confidence.
The order allows survivors to disclose that they have given an account of their abuse to the Inquiry, but prevents anybody from providing details of what was actually said during the meeting and also the venue of any meeting.
The Order will cover accounts given by survivors by telephone, e-mail or through the Inquiry’s online form; and shall also be binding upon the panel members themselves.
The only exception to the Order is that the Inquiry must refer any allegations of abuse to the police, but shall not provide the police with the details of the survivor without consent unless it is necessary to protect a child. It is welcome that there is visible progress.
The Restriction Order is a positive step in ensuring specific concerns of survivors of abuse who wish to engage with the Inquiry are being addressed.
However, we are still waiting for details surrounding the selection process of institutions to be scrutinised during the Public Hearings Project.
Assurances have been given that the range of institutions will be reflective of the true scale and breadth of child abuse. Admittedly it would be an incredibly difficult task, if not impossible, for the panel to review every institution in which there has been an allegation of child abuse, but details of the selection process for the ‘case studies’ ought be made clear.
There is a need for transparency if the IICSA wants to maintain the trust of many concerned survivors of abuse and if it hopes to emulate the changes made by the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which has faced significantly less adversities than the IICSA.
The evidence which the Commissioners in Australia have taken during their public hearings process appears to have been thorough and, at times, startling, showing just how important a comprehensive, inclusive and thorough inquiry into institutional complicity and responses to child abuse really is.
The IICSA is a once in a lifetime opportunity for survivors of abuse to get answers which they have so patiently waited for, and the Australian Royal Commission proves that the true scale of institutional failures surrounding child sexual abuse can be uncovered.
As we have previously commented, it is vital that the Inquiry is accountable and maintains trust – which requires the IICSA to reach out and be open about how they are proceeding to progress their vital work.
To find out more about the Truth Project, see here:
Click here to watch video.