Posted: Sun 14th Aug 2022

Child sexual abuse victims face increasingly long delays to get to court as waiting times surged by 43% in four years

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Sunday, Aug 14th, 2022

Young victims are facing extremely distressing delays in the justice system and urgent action is needed, warns the NSPCC as waiting times for child sexual abuse (CSA) cases surge.

Data obtained by the charity from the Ministry of Justice shows the average number of days between a defendant in CSA cases in England and Wales being charged and the criminal trial starting swelled by 43% in four years from 276 in 2017 to 395 in 2021 – that’s almost four months longer.

The gradual rise over many years is set against a backdrop of a decade of funding cuts and permanent court closures and it sharply shot up during the national lockdown when courts were forced to close which is expected to be a pervasive issue for many years.

For a child who is already suffering with depression, self-harming, suicidal thoughts, or PTSD as a consequence of sexual abuse, the drawn-out process of waiting for a trial to start, let alone come to completion, can be extremely distressing and add to the significant mental health impact of the original abuse.

This is further compounded by the fact that there is not enough access to therapeutic support that enables young people to cope and recover. In Wales, we know that often, children who have experienced CSA do not access support services when they need it.

Even though there is a high prevalence of PTSD in young abuse victims, only one in five young people who experienced PTSD say they have seen a mental health professional.

Despite the issues children face, the NSPCC is concerned young people’s distinct needs are being overlooked because there is not a single mention of child victims of sexual abuse in the draft Victims Bill.

The charity is calling for the Justice Secretary appointed by the new Prime Minister to put children at the heart of the Bill, tackle court delays and ensure young CSA victims receive specialist mental health support to recover.

The NSPCC demands:

  • A proportion of the £477million received by the Ministry of Justice in the Comprehensive Spending Review to tackle the backlog is put towards decreasing waiting times specifically for child sexual abuse cases.
  • The Bill must guarantee funding for and access to specialist mental health services to support the recovery of young victims of abuse, including pre-trial therapy.
  • As part of this, the Crown Prosecution Service and the MoJ must ensure that professionals across the criminal justice system are aware of and trained to enact updated CPS guidance on pre-trial therapy.

Under previous guidance, there was a lack of understanding amongst professionals about what therapeutic support child victims could receive without the child’s evidence being perceived to be influenced and prejudicing the trial, leaving some victims without any support at all.

Sir Peter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive, said: “Sexual abuse can have a debilitating impact on young people and rob them of their childhoods. But with the right support including, crucially, access to justice they can recover.

“Unfortunately, children’s needs are not being met by the criminal justice system, with distressing delays to get to court and inadequate mental health support.

“As opposed to supporting children on their path to recovery, the system can prolong their suffering with untold consequences for their future.

“We are calling on the Justice Secretary appointed by the new Prime Minister to put children’s distinct needs at the heart of the Victims Bill to vastly improve their journey to getting justice and recovering. Only then can it truly be the landmark legislation that is so desperately needed.”

The courts have suffered from chronic underfunding for many years which has impacted the efficiency of the justice system.

Last year, the NSPCC revealed that the number of prosecutions for child sexual abuse halved while convictions dropped by 45% from 2016/17 to 2020/21.

After a decline in the number of rape cases amongst adults was exposed, the Government committed to an end-to-end rape review but the same cannot be said for child sexual abuse.

The issues were exacerbated as courts were closed during the pandemic. Data obtained from the Ministry of Justice revealed that the backlog of CSA cases surged by 70% in just one year from nearly 2,700 in 2019/20 to over 4,560 in 2020/21.

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