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Improving reporting of sexual abuse - how?

(1 Post)
JiminyCricket Mon 05-Nov-12 14:22:56

I am wondering if others agree that there needs to be an improved structure for the reporting of sexual crimes, as we know as a society that many offenders have a number of victims, and that it is very traumatic to report sexual crime.
I work in mental health and in the course of my work I sometimes am told about historical sexual abuse by victims. They are of course given support and offered or directed to appropriate counselling or therapy. However, we also talk about issues of reporting the crime. The first disclosure of abuse is rarely, in my experience, a time that the individual wants to consider reporting, though about a third to a half in my experience do at some point later consider reporting to social services or the police. However, this process is always lengthy (e.g. time of response by police, long process of gathering evidence) , always extremely stressful (video interviews, examination of individuals credibility as a witness). It is a very lonely process for the person reporting the crime, as they are given no information about, for example, the existence of reports by other victims. The person can have been made to feel very ashamed about what has happened, and to believe so thoroughly that it is their fault, that it is very hard for them to conceive that there may have been other victims. Of course there are many different emotions and experiences to those. I have never seen one get to court, although I have seen perpetrators barred from certain professions.

I wonder if there could be a statutory legal form on which individuals could report their experience. This would be a way of 'putting a statement on the record', which could then be available (and invaluable) to authorities investgating an individual, and could allow the person reporting the crime to make a number of choices eg.

Contact details
Description of what happened to you
Dates of Offences being reported (or date period)
Name of person/Names of People committing the offences being reported
Other identifying details of the person committing the offences being reported e.g. job title, place of employment, address
Details of any children who you think might be at risk
Details of anyone who knew about what was happening but did not prevent or report it
Details of anyone who might be able to confirm your account, or offer additional information e.g. friends, other victims of crime, GP, therapist
Would you be prepared to make a statement to police following this report?
If no, would you consider making a statement in the future if contacted in the course of a further police/criminal investigation?
Can we contact anyone you have named above who might be able to confirm your account?

Information about support networks etc, plus a statement confirming receipt of the information and what will happen next could be sent out.

It seems to me that having a structure for reporting (that professionals or support agencies can help people with) would increase the probability that, having disclosed abuse, someone would feel able to proceed to the reporting stage, knowing that the information might be useful to the current or future investigation and prevention of sexual abuse. It would also be possible to explain upfront (on the form) what would happen to any information, and what the rights and responsibilities of the person reporting the crimes are. Information could be assessed, with appropriate safeguards, for credibility and corroboration, and be used to contribute to the vetting and barring/CRB process. It would be very frightening sometimes for the individual to put that information on a statement, but it might also feel quite validating. And more within the persons control than calling the police (or having a therapist do it on your behalf) and then having to wait not knowing when you will be contacted or what will happen next.

I realise that there are multiple legal difficulties (and psychological barriers)and that prosecution cannot proceed on the basis of a statement - but what if multiple statements provide a picture, and this allows a better case to be built, with more chance of success, with the potential to then ask the person reporting the crime to appear in court, but not always expecting them to stand alone.

I think reports currently are too often filed and forgotten about, because the person reporting cannot face proceeding with a court case (due to the difficulty of the process, mental health or other issues - often caused by the sexual abuse), or because police reluctantly decide the prosecution is unlikely to be successful. What if there were more reports, and they were better used?

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