Wednesday, 19 November 2014

What is Child (Sexual) Abuse? What should be included in a Child Abuse Inquiry?

When I wrote the draft proposals for an improved Child Abuse Inquiry, Scratchpad - Designing a once-in-a-lifetime Child Abuse Inquiry , I deliberately didn't include a consideration of the basic question, "what is child (sexual) abuse"?

That was partly because I think a detailed consideration of the question throws up some thorny, and likely controversial, "edge cases".

I think the following reasonably summarises (at least part of) the legal position. I would welcome any suggested improvements in my understanding from any lawyers who have expertise in this area.

I assume that the following should be included:

  • Adult male abuse on under 16s, male or female
  • Adult female abuse on under 16s, male or female
In that context I take adult to mean 18 or over. That's the legal definition of the supposed overnight transition from a child to an adult, but is it the correct one in the context of a child abuse inquiry?

And what of these situations?

  • Adult male sexual activity with a "child" of 16 or 17
  • Adult female sexual activity with a "child" of 16 or 17
As far as the Law is concerned a 16 or 17 year old is a child.

Paradoxically (although it varies by date) the Law also assumes that a 16 or 17 year old, whether male or female, can give consent to sexual activity.

If that's the case what factors, if any, should be taken to be sufficient to move mutually consenting lawful sexual activity into the "child abuse" category?

And what of activity of a Jimmy Savile type character with an 18 year old "vulnerable" adult?

By definition, that's not "child" abuse since the victim is 18 and therefore, in the eyes of the Law, an adult.

But it has similarities to child abuse  - an adult takes advantage for sexual pleasure of a defect in "capacity" of the victim.

And should abuse by a 16 or 17 year old "child" on another child be considered to be "child (sexual) abuse"?

If so, when should it be considered abuse?

How is it to be distinguished from lawful consenting sexual activity among 16 and 17 year olds? Are there criteria that can be easily expressed in a way that could be included in Terms of Reference?

These are just some of the questions that must be considered when the limits of what a Child (Sexual) Abuse Inquiry should consider.

And, again I'll mention the very difficult but very important issue that I touched on in the post, What of the missing children? - A question to send shivers down the spine, should missing children be included in a Child (Sexual) Abuse Inquiry?

It seems likely that at least some children who disappeared years ago and have never been seen again have been killed.

But if no body has been found can we assume they have been killed?

Can we assume they have been killed as part of some form of child abuse?

Can we assume they have been killed as part of some form of child sexual abuse?

And what of the situations where a badly decomposed body has been found long after the disappearance? The cause of death may not be capable of being determined.

The child is dead, "foul play" may be suspected, but in reality nobody (other than the killer) really knows the cause of death.

And nobody but the (assumed) killer knows whether sexual abuse was or was not a factor in the killing of the child.

Yet, is it a running away from reality if a Child Abuse Inquiry doesn't address the issue of missing children and the dreadful possibility that several, maybe dozens, maybe hundreds have been killed and their bodies never found?

I don't offer answers to these questions here.

These questions are put forward here to stimulate discussion about what the boundaries of a Child Abuse Inquiry should be.

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