Judge says most sexual abuse goes undetected

News story
News story

A SENIOR family court judge overseeing a Wigan sexual abuse case says that many similar crimes go “undetected”.

Mr Justice Peter Jackson also questioned whether claims are always “adequately” investigated.

He said that people who have the “courage” to complain then are told that their allegations are “unsubstantiated” find themselves in an “extraordinarily difficult” position.

And he says “unsubstantiated” is sometimes a euphemism for “uninvestigated”.

The judge, who sits in the Family Division of the High Court, has raised concerns after concluding that a bar worker who was not prosecuted had sexually abused his two stepchildren - a girl now 17 and a boy now 16.

He says, in a ruling on the case, that he is satisfied to a “very high degree of probability” that the youngsters had been sexually abused and routinely subjected to violence by their stepfather.

Mr Justice Jackson had been asked to make “findings of fact” at a private family court hearing in Preston, Lancashire, by social workers with responsibility for making child welfare decisions.

No-one has been identified in the ruling - which was published on Wednesday – but Mr Justice Jackson said the local authority involved was Wigan Council.

And he said his ruling would be made available to police, the Crown Prosecution Service and senior social services managers at the council.

“The perpetrators of sexual abuse are inadequate individuals who control weaker people, often children, for their own gratification. Their behaviour is always an abuse of power,” said Mr Justice Jackson in the ruling.

“The effects of sexual abuse on the victim can be lifelong but, because of the way perpetrators operate, most abuse goes undetected.”

He added: “It takes courage to ask for help. Victims are beset by feelings of shame, guilt and fear. They should be able to have confidence that their accounts will be adequately investigated and that they will be appropriately supported.

“Instead, experience shows that the abuse is often compounded by sceptical or inadequate reactions within the family and beyond.

“It is not always possible to establish where the truth lies but where it is possible to investigate there must be a good reason not to do so.

“The position of a complainant whose allegation is described as ‘unsubstantiated’ is extraordinarily difficult, but sometimes ‘unsubstantiated’ is no more than a euphemism for ‘uninvestigated’.”

Mr Justice Jackson said the mother of the two teenagers in the case he analysed had a total of five children by two fathers.

The judge said the 16-year-old boy and the three youngest children - aged 11, six and two - had been placed into care in the wake of his findings.

He said the 17-year-old girl had complained when she was 15.

She had told police and social services staff that she had been “subject to years of gross sexual and physical abuse” by her stepfather.

Police and a social worker had treated her allegation as “credible” but “child protection procedures” had not been invoked.