Is the UK doing enough to investigate child abuse?

We ask child abuse survivors what they think of the various investigations into historical child abuse in the UK.

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    Floral tributes and a piece of turf mark the spot where the headstone was removed from the grave of British television star Jimmy Savile at a cemetery in Scarborough [Reuters/Phil Noble]
    Floral tributes and a piece of turf mark the spot where the headstone was removed from the grave of British television star Jimmy Savile at a cemetery in Scarborough [Reuters/Phil Noble]

    Glasgow, United Kingdom - Across the United Kingdom, a series of inquiries are attempting to the lift the lid on one of society's gravest criminal acts - child abuse.

    The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) in England and Wales - one of the inquiries charged with looking into the historical abuse of children in Britain - began earlier this year. The first phase examined decades-old abuse of children who were sent abroad with the aim of reducing pressure on UK orphanages. It heard from many who were part of British government-approved schemes that saw thousands of children sent to Australia in the aftermath of World War II. Edward Delaney, who was placed at the Bindoon Boys Town orphanage, in Western Australia, told the review body that he accused "the British government of kidnapping".

    "It's not deportation, it's not sending me to another country to uphold the British flag or whatever," reported Delaney, who is in his late 60s and revealed that he was regularly beaten and raped as a child. "I was taken from my mother, which is a very serious offence …"

    A separate Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry (SCAI), set up by the devolved Scottish government in 2015, is scheduled to begin its first phase hearings at the end of May. The English Football Association (FA) and the Scottish Football Association (SFA) have launched their own reviews, which are looking into allegations of historical child abuse in their respective sporting authorities. Northern Ireland's Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry reported its findings in January this year.

    READ MORE: Time to speak out against the abuse in English football

    Where it all began

    The catalyst that triggered Britain's hard look into allegations of historical child abuse were the revelations surrounding the past conduct of Jimmy Savile, the BBC DJ and celebrity charity fundraiser who died in 2011. Following his death, hundreds of people stepped forward to reveal that he had sexually abused them as children. Savile, knighted in 1990 in recognition of his charity work, was soon outed as a serial paedophile, prompting the establishment of the IICSA in 2014 from which the other inquiries followed.

    "In the UK, we've had a long history of child abuse scandals and inquiries, so it's not surprising that we've got that [inquiry-led] focus," said Lorraine Radford, professor of social policy and social work at England's University of Central Lancashire.

    Radford tells Al Jazeera that "there are a number of forces that are driving this move towards having inquiries about child abuse.

    "Some of it is linked to changes in society, in culture and in politics in terms of the gradual uncovering of the extent of interpersonal violence and violence against children," she said. "…It is also linked to the changes in social movements - feminism, human rights, children's rights and the voices of victims in those movements."

    READ MORE: Child abuse 'social norm' in some areas of UK

    Digging up the past

    Survivors of child abuse have been central to the coverage of these inquiries. But as the likes of IICSA look to uncover past failings in the system, what do child abuse survivors, who were entitled to believe that they were safe in schools, children's homes, National Health Service sites and football clubs across Britain, think about the emergence of these inquiries?

    Ian Ackley, who was sexually assaulted over several years by a man who coached him as a youth football player, tells Al Jazeera that he felt very divorced from the proceedings.

    "I don't really know what to make [of these inquiries]. I'm not even sure what they will achieve - if anything," said Ackley, now 48. "…No one has ever really - besides very recently engaging with a couple of organisations - historically paid me any heed from any authority or organisation. No one has really asked me my opinion or [asked] how it has affected me, so in that sense [these inquiries] all seem so unfamiliar and something very distant."

    There's data to show that abuse did take place within a football setting in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and all the way up to the current day. Independent police have information to show that children were abused in a football setting in 2016, for example - so I am frustrated and annoyed at The FA because, while things may be better now - and I appreciate there are more checks in place - children are still being failed.

    Dino Nocivelli, London-based solicitor representing child abuse survivors

    The FA inquiry, which began after several former English professional footballers revealed last year that they had been sexually abused as youth players, has been criticised by some who contend that its "up until around 2005" cut-off point is ill-chosen.

    Dino Nocivelli, a London-based solicitor who is representing a number of child abuse survivors, tells Al Jazeera that "there's data to show that abuse did take place within a football setting in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and all the way up to the current day".

    "Independent police have information to show that children were abused in a football setting in 2016, for example - so I am frustrated and annoyed at the FA because, while things may be better now - and I appreciate there are more checks in place - children are still being failed," he added.

    Asked to comment on the proposed cut-off date, the FA referred Al Jazeera to the inquiry's terms of reference. It included point 13, which stated: "These terms of reference may be amended ... in the event they need to be widened at any time."

    Inquiries of this kind share many key themes, says Radford. They include notions of "apology, providing scope for redress and in some cases commemoration of the people who have died and have been victimised" as well as "looking at mistakes that were made, acknowledging those mistakes and preventing them from happening in the future".

    READ MORE: Is UK child sex exploitation 'endemic'?

    Future expectations

    But, as these British inquiries look to right past wrongs, what can they realistically expect to achieve with respect to the survivors themselves?

    "The research suggests that most victims are not necessarily looking for money - but want to have the abuse acknowledged," adds Radford. "They want somebody to say this has happened and they also want to be rid of a kind of blame that this happened to them and feeling guilty and responsible. They want the fact that the offenders did wrong acknowledged."

    For Ackley, however, who has lived with the abuse he suffered for his entire adult life, any successes secured by these inquiries can never erase the damage done to him as a child.

    "They can never take away what happened," said Ackley, who works in property maintenance in London. "I think their powers are limited. I understand and see that they are an essential part of a process, but they are just that - a part of a process."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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