A mother has opened up about the trauma her young daughter experienced after waiting 18 months for her father to be convicted of child sex abuse — a report finding it takes years for cases to be resolved.
Erin, not her real name, discovered that her ex-husband had sexually abused their then seven-year-old daughter Ivy, a pseudonym, for at least four years in the spring of 2021.
He was eventually jailed for 17 years in September 2022 – but the year and a half it took to get there left the family in limbo, looking over their shoulders as he was free to live his life.
Erin speaks exclusively to Sky News for the first time as a new report, which compiles the latest information available sexual abuse of children Data is released.
The Child Sexual Abuse Competence Center (CSA Centre) was founded in 2021/2022:
• It took an average of 614 days from a child sexual abuse report to a court decision
• 15% increase in registered cases in England and Wales
• Police records more than 100,000 crimes for the first time (103,055)
• Sexual assault referral centers, which provide medical and forensic assistance to victims, had first contact with 8,213 children last year – a 13% increase from the previous year.
Survey data also suggest that at least one in ten children in England and Wales is sexually abused before the age of 16, leaving the majority of cases unreported.
One reason could be the long delays in the justice system.
The things he had asked of her
Erin told Sky News: “When she told me everything just tumbled out, everything, the things he, she, did together, slept without pajamas, in the same bed, things he asked her to do, things he did to her, inappropriate touching and it all just came out in one big rush.”
The horrified mother immediately told police and her ex-husband, Ivy’s father, was arrested – with officers then finding indecent child pictures of other children on his computer dating back 14 years before the former couple had met.
Her daughter had to undergo a forensic examination at a rape center, which was conducted by a male doctor.
Erin said: “That was the hardest part of it all, she looked so tiny, she had to take all her clothes off and wrap herself under this adult size dress.
“The doctor, I’m sure he was nice, but he was very tall and had a very heavy accent, she was scared.
Ivy’s father, who Erin said appeared to be a good father and had a high-profile job, was released on bail 48 hours after his arrest, but the terms stopped after three months. He had a restraining order so he could not go anywhere near the home or their school.
But even though Erin knew he had a new car, the police wouldn’t tell her what it was or where he lived. For a year and a half – until he was prosecuted – she was constantly looking over her shoulder, trying to protect Ivy.
You’re letting someone dangerous to children roam free
The detectives fell silent after the initial interviews, and Erin said they didn’t return her calls when she had questions, making her feel “as if time had stood still.” She even made sure Ivy’s passport wasn’t in the house in case he showed up.
He was able to live and work before he was charged, then eventually failed to show up for police questioning and fled.
“In my opinion, they’re letting someone out there who’s dangerous to kids roam unchallenged in their freedom for 18 months,” she said.
“They kept saying, ‘Well, you should be grateful, it’s really fast, you should be grateful.'”
Eventually, Ivy’s father pleaded guilty and was imprisoned for 17 years.
Erin said she believes he pleaded guilty so his crimes would not be exposed in court before his family. A court case would have drawn out the case even further.
“Delays in court are completely unacceptable”
Ian Dean, director of the CSA centre, told Sky News: “It is totally unacceptable that some children wait two years for their case to be completed in court.
“For any victim of sexual abuse this waiting time would be significant, for a child it is enormous.
“I’m really concerned that delays of this magnitude will put people off.”
The CSA Center is urging the government to conduct regular prevalence surveys to determine how many children are being sexually abused, believing the available data is just the tip of the iceberg.
It also calls for more training for social workers, as many do not have the formal training to recognize when child sexual abuse might be taking place.
Ian Critchley, the National Police Chiefs Council’s child protection chief, told Sky News that the full impact of COVID lockdowns on child abuse is also a major concern and “may take years to fully understand”.
He said police are investing in training and resources for those working on the ground, and are also trying to improve their data collection so trends can be more easily understood.
He added: “The fight against child sexual abuse will never end, and these latest figures reaffirm that all of us in society must focus our efforts on these horrific crimes that can cause lifelong harm to children.”
Clare Kelly, deputy director of policy and public affairs at the NSPCC, said the lengthy court delays “can be extremely distressing for victims and survivors and can take a toll on their mental health.”
The NSPCC is calling on the Government to implement a “robust” Victims Act that will ensure all victims of child sexual abuse receive specialized therapeutic services and the support they need to navigate the criminal justice system safely, and calls on Ministers to improve data collection.
Protection Secretary Sarah Dines told Sky News: “Child sexual abuse is a horrific, devastating crime that targets the most vulnerable in our society and this Government is committed to tackling it.
“I welcome this report, prepared by the Home Office-funded Center of Excellence on Child Sexual Abuse, recognizing improvements in identification and reporting.
“However, the proliferation of these heinous crimes is deeply concerning and we will be doing everything we can to prosecute criminals and protect children.
“We are putting the needs of victims at the heart of this work, including investing £477m over three years to reduce victims’ wait times in court.”
Anyone with a concern about the welfare of a child can call the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 or email [email protected].
Children can contact Childline on 0800 1111 or visit childline.org.uk.