Article from The Guardian
The first of hundreds of people are to begin giving testimony to a public inquiry into child sexual abuse, in an unprecedented national “truth-telling” project designed to catalogue decades of suffering.
More than 2,000 people have contacted the Goddard inquiry to say they have suffered abuse, and 600 have consented to take part in the truth project.
The inquiry was set up in 2015 in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal to gather evidence on historical institutional child abuse in Britain. The inquiry is also seeking victims who were abused and who reported the abuse to a person in authority but the report was either ignored or not acted on properly.
Dru Sharpling, the Goddard inquiry panel member overseeing the truth project, encouraged anyone who had suffered child sexual abuse within an institution, a private organisation or at the hands of a person of public prominence to come forward.
“Today is the first day of what will be a comprehensive engagement strategy across England and Wales to make sure that victims and survivors feel confident in coming forward to speak to us,” Sharpling said.
The project will take evidence across the country, with trained staff and counsellors in place to provide support for victims, some of whom will be describing their experiences for the first time.
“We have started taking bookings for hearings in the truth project and I hope that victims and survivors will see this as an opportunity for them to speak to someone who is empathetic,” Sharpling added. “If they consent, we will be using their accounts, in suitably redacted form, as part of our publications at the end of the inquiry. There has been great suffering and the experiences of those who come forward will not be forgotten.”
The testimony of victims as part of the truth project will not have any direct legal consequences or lead to findings of fact in individual cases. Sharpling said its aim was to build the biggest piece of research into child abuse over decades and to identify themes to better understand what went on.
“It is about understanding the scale and scope of what has happened in the past as a means of providing a better future,” she said.
Sharpling, a former chief crown prosecutor, has experience of investigating and analysing the scale of non-recent child abuse as the author of an inquiry into Savile for Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.
“I was really deeply shocked on a number of levels by what was uncovered, particularly the culture of disbelief. I was very concerned to have that so clearly demonstrated,” she said.
“I feel greatly privileged to have been given the opportunity to make some difference. What this inquiry must do is to get to the truth, to take a carefully considered view of all the material that comes before us on an absolutely solid and incontrovertible evidence base – that is really, really important.”
Panel members will travel around the country to hear testimony, and take evidence via letter and email.
The project is modelled on similar work in Australia, in which 5,500 people have taken part. Sharpling said: “I can’t predict the numbers who will come forward to us here. We are expecting more than 600 people to take part initially but we are preparing for a great deal more than 600.
“We want to encourage more to come forward. The information they provide will be treated with the utmost respect. We may come across people who are sharing their experiences for the first time, and because we recognise that, we have put a support framework in place. I want to give an assurance about that to anyone who is contemplating coming to see us.”
The inquiry is due to hold hearings this week in seven of the 13 investigations that are being carried out. These include the first preliminary hearings into abuse in the Anglican and Catholic churches, abuse carried out overseas, and the conduct of the insurance industry.
The investigation into abuse outside the UK will focus on men and women who were transported in the child migrant programme from the UK to Australia, Canada and other Commonwealth countries.
Preliminary hearings will continue into the activities of the late Cyril Smith MP and Lambeth council.
The Goddard inquiry, which opened just over a year ago with a first-year budget of £17.9m, has hired 155 staff and held preliminary public hearings in the Royal Courts of Justice. But full evidence sessions have yet to be held.
It is examining five key areas of state and non-state institutions, people of public prominence, education and religion of all faiths, police and prosecuting services, local authorities and voluntary organisations, national and private organisations including the NHS, internet providers and insurance firms.
Reports suggest that on Tuesday the high court will be told the investigation into the late Lord Janner is to be delayed by six months.
Sharpling said it was important that great care was taken in setting up the truth project. “We have got to get it right from the outset,” she said. “We cannot experiment with people’s lives by having a process which doesn’t work.”
• The inquiry can be contacted via iicsa.org.uk/contact-us
If you or someone you care about was sexually abused and you would like advice from an attorney about the rights and options for victims of child sexual abuse, please contact Crew Janci LLP today for a free, confidential consultation at 1-888-407-0224 or by using our private online form. We will treat you with discretion and respect.