Support Services for adult survivors of CSA

Following on from the presentation of the research in to the impact of child sexual abuse (CSA) the IICSA held a panel discussion about support services available to adult victims, together with victim comments and stories of their experience of the same.

Highlights from this discussion were:

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Impacts of Child Sexual Abuse (“CSA”) on victims and survivors

As noted last week, the IICSA held the second event in its research seminar series. It began with a presentation and discussion of a Rapid Evidence Assessment (“REA”) which had been completed by the IICSA’s Research Team into the impact of CSA on victims, their families and society as a whole. The aim of the REA was to draw conclusions from the body of the academic literature, and to identify areas of further research.

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The challenges posed by online grooming

Social media use as we have already reported this week is prevalent among children, with an estimated 20% of children aged 8 to 11 years old said to have a social media profile in the UK, notwithstanding that the social media providers require all users to be over age 13 before having their own profile. The figure rises to 70% among children aged 12 to 15 years old1. The potential for online grooming is huge and is already being exploited as we have noted when commenting on the rise of sexting.

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Cyberbullying – understand, respond and prevent

Cyberbullying – when the internet, telephones and other forms of digital technology are used by individuals to threaten, tease, upset or humiliate someone else.

This modern form of bullying has sadly become more prevalent. Whilst it is increasingly becoming a public concern more awareness is needed by society to help address and prevent it.

As with many changes in society, the internet and social media have changed the way bullying occurs. Digital technology enables multiple devices to be used to spread and repeat hurtful and intimidating behaviour. Technological platforms provide cyberbullies with the means to reach a vast audience making it harder to police and punish cyberbullies whose identities are mostly anonymous.

The UK has no legal definition of cyberbullying but it is possible to apply some existing laws to cases of cyberbullying and online harassment. These include the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, the Communications Act 2003 and the Defamation Act 2013.

Ideally, cyber-specific laws should be introduced but policymakers face problems in creating the same including:

  • Cyberbullying is an international problem. Consequently, countries have to consider ways to combat this issue and a coordinated worldwide approach is needed to tackle it. Policing remains a real issue, currently victims are not protected if their cyberbully is outside the UK.
  • What is the role social media outlets have to play, should they do more or be criminally responsible themselves? Where does freedom of speech sit in this arena?
  • How should cyberbullying/cyber stalking be defined? As a growing modern problem is it possible to define such terms without running the risk of not keeping up with the rapidly evolving digital age?

Despite the difficulties society, especially educators, need to be aware of the problem and undertake steps to try and prevent cyberbullying. Some of the strategies recommended are:

  • Inform children about the way information online can be used and shared globally.
  • Explain and identify the risks of sharing information online.
  • Inform children about the impact of spending too much time online.
  • Use parental controls and set up children’s devices to maintain a degree of control especially in relation to privacy settings.
  • Be aware of “Masquerading” – the use of a fake identity to bully or harass individuals anonymously. Recently there have been reports of increased use of celebrity identities to exploit children and groom them.

Cyberbullying is also a problem within the workplace. Research suggests 1 in 5 employees have experienced a form of cyberbullying resulting in stress and illness. Employers owe their employees a legal duty of care to provide a safe working environment. If a company’s technology is used as a platform for cyberbullying employers potentially face breaching their own duty of care.

If a child or an employee reports cyberbullying it is important to:

  • Provide support to the victim.
  • Record the incident and investigate if necessary.
  • If no criminal acts are involved undertake steps to ensure the offensive material is removed to prevent further upset. If a criminal offence may have been or has been committed report it to the police.
  • Try to contain the incidente. stop the content that has been used from spreading. If the person who posted the content is known get them to remove the material; if they are not known contact the service provider and submit a report to get the content taken down.
  • Inform others and raise awareness.

The internet and social media allow society to share and learn in a positive manner. However, all must be alert to misuse. Prevention via greater knowledge is essential but society and the law must accept not all cyberbullying will be prevented and so when it does happen there must be clear responses and action to bring it to an end.

Written by Miriam Rahamim, solicitor at BLM

Social Media and sexual abuse – is a statutory code of practice the answer?

Across the UK in the last three years, 22 police forces have cumulatively reported an increase of 44% or 7,000 sexual offences involving children and young people where social media applications have been the means to facilitate the contact.  Some of the reports have involved children as young as three years old.  A separate, but related, concern is the access to inappropriate material children and young people can obtain through the use of social media and the internet.

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Short, medium and long term impacts of child sexual abuse

The impacts of child sexual abuse are huge and cannot be ignored. Yesterday and today the IICSA has been considering the impact on victims and survivors, their families and society as a whole. As part of research in this area, consideration has been made of the cost of abuse to the UK, as calculated by the NSPCC, at £3.2 billion per annum. The first day of the seminar however was not just focused on the financial impact but the much wider impacts of abuse.

Some of the topics discussed yesterday included mental health, processes connected with disclosure, support services in the NHS and voluntary sectors, the impact on families as well as the abused. There are due to be two further seminars today to explore these topics further.

Next week we will produce a series of blogs which focus on the topics highlighted in the seminars.

jefferson_p_web Written by Paula Jefferson, partner at BLM

A move to stop criminalising children for consensual sexting

Should a child be labelled a ‘sex offender’ when involved in sexting with another child? How should the police and organisations such as schools respond to the rapidly developing world of sexting?  The College of Policing (“CP”) last year produced a briefing note ‘Police Action in Response to Youth Produced Sexual Imagery (Sexting)’ which aims to develop a more robust and consistent response to sexting incidents among under 18s.  This follows the publication of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) non-statutory guidance for schools and colleges on managing incidents of sexting by under 18’s.

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