The final discussion of last week’s IICSA seminars touched on commissioning of support service from a provider’s viewpoint, primarily focused on the reasons for inaction and inefficiencies within the support services.

Professor Cooper of the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust stated that in preparation for his attendance at IICSA he had spoken to experienced clinical social work practitioners who expressed to him a sense of fear in handling child sexual abuse (CSA) issues. As a result of this fear Professor Cooper asserted that professionals who may otherwise be competent and well trained were unable to cope effectively when faced with allegations of CSA, resulting in the inaction which characterised the critique of service providers in previous panel discussions. The panel discussed the reasons behind this sense of fear:

  • Professor Cooper in tackling this question, looked back at the progress society has made in understanding and acknowledging CSA. He asserted that there has been a pattern of crisis followed by government led investigation and response, which has resulted in a shift of understanding. He recalled the Cleveland Crisis in 1979 and subsequent Inquiry chaired by Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, and its effect on transforming societies’ understanding of intra-familiar sexual abuse from being a fantasy or a remote problem in marginalised communities to being widely acknowledged. He referenced the events in Rotherham and the effect of Alexis Jay’s report in bringing to societies’ attention the issue of child sexual exploitation, as well as IICSA and other Inquiries globally in highlighting the prevalence of CSA. Vivienne Hayes of Women’s Resource Centre concurred that it will take a whole societal approach which acknowledges CSA and addresses it directly, to tackle the blockages and inaction within support services.
  • The panel identified issues surrounding a lack of training and understanding by professionals of sexual violence and grooming in general. The panel considered the limited training provided at present to be inadequate. The panel advocated substantial training to frontline staff in identifying and supporting those affected by CSA, on the basis that most disclosures are made to teachers or other frontline service providers. Professor Cooper highlighted the need for this training to tackle the deep and profound anxieties that are present in ordinary professions and the community at large.
  • The fear of making mistaken allegations, particularly by the police and social workers, was raised by the panel. Jocelyn Anderson of West Mercia Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre commented that she believed that this fear of exploring allegations or acting on information also stemmed from individuals who did not wish to acknowledge that perpetrators are perpetrating, as doing so would require an acknowledgement of the scale and prevalence of CSA within our communities.
  • A victim within the public gallery raised concerns that the language used when discussing sexual violence, particularly the use of simplified or generic terms. She asserted that by failing to use clear and precise terms, such as rape in the context of CSA and a failure to speak openly and honestly about the meaning of abuse, hinders the public’s understanding of CSA.
  • Professor Cooper raised the question of how we communicate publicly to catch the attention of the culture and wider public. Gabrielle Shaw of NAPAC raised positive steps being taken in this regard, the IICSA itself, and the treatment of CSA in the media including Broadchurch and Three Girls television programmes. The panel acknowledged however that some viewers switched off from these programmes because it was too shocking and uncomfortable, and that an approach which informs but engages and holds the public’s attention will need to be developed.

Over the two days of seminars much was discussed and the full report produced provides more detail on these issues. The outcome of the seminars will contribute to the wider work of the IICSA and its long term recommendations.