Backlog of child sexual abuse cases rises by 70% during Covid

The backlog of child sexual abuse (CSA) cases increased significantly during the pandemic, leaving thousands of young people waiting for a court date and unable to access therapeutic support.

  • Our Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) reveals the number of outstanding CSA cases increased by 70% last year from nearly 2,700 to over 4,560.1
  • The large rise can be partly explained by the first national lockdown when courts were forced to close but also follows a reduction in funding over many years and permanent court closures.2
  • The new figures also follow our report last month that prosecutions and convictions for CSA cases halved in the last 4 years.

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Heidi's story

Heidi* was sexually abused by her step-grandfather from the age of 8 until she disclosed when she was 13 and discovered her cousin was being abused by him too.

It took over a year for the case to get to court and she was told she couldn’t access pre-trial therapy in the meantime. She eventually accessed support through our Letting the Future In service to recover.

After a re-trial, her step-grandfather was found guilty and sentenced to 13 years in prison.

Commenting on this experience, Heidi said:

“I got more practical support in the aftermath of the trial than I did during. It’s clear in hindsight I needed counselling or therapy even before I disclosed the abuse, but I was told I couldn’t have therapeutic support about the abuse during the trial, so I was signposted to my GP and put on antidepressants.

I had to stay on these until I could access support. I was referred to CAMHS and got an appointment after a 6-month wait. I was there for less than half an hour and left having been given the impression they thought I was too broken for them to help me and wasn’t offered their support.”

We're calling for government action

  • We’re now calling on Dominic Raab, Deputy Prime Minister and Lord Chancellor, to ensure that a proportion of the £477 millon received by the MoJ in the Spending Review is used to tackle the backlog of CSA cases in criminal courts.3
  • We’re also urging the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to finalise and publish their guidance on what forms of pre-trial therapy should be in place so witnesses and victims can receive support and are able to give their best evidence in court.
  • Current legal guidance says that children can access pre-trial therapy, but more intensive therapeutic support should wait as this may influence a child’s evidence and the outcome of the trial.4
  • Recognising that it is vital victims can receive effective treatment and therapeutic support as soon as possible, the CPS consulted on changing the guidance in 2020 but the final version is yet to be published.
  • The lack of clarity has caused confusion amongst some professionals, witnesses and victims about what they can and can’t disclose. This risks leaving some children without any pre-trial support, making them more vulnerable to anxiety and depression, eating disorders and even self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

Anna Edmundson, NSPCC Head of Policy and Public Affairs, said:

“Waiting to go to court can be a distressing experience for young witnesses and victims of child sexual abuse, and increasingly long delays without the necessary therapeutic support hampers recovery.

The government needs to urgently tackle the backlog that has ballooned during the pandemic through investing in the system and prioritising cases involving young witnesses and victims. At the same time, we want the Crown Prosecution Service to finalise guidance to provide clarity on the level of support available before a child sexual abuse case comes to trial.

Failure to do so is likely to have a knock-on that will be felt by witnesses and victims for many years.”  

DISCLAiMER

*This is a true story but names have been changed and photographs have been posed by a model.


References

  1. 1. The MoJ revealed via a Freedom of Information request that the number of outstanding cases in England and Wales increased significantly last year after years of gradually declining:

    Outstanding cases

    Mar-17

    Mar-18

    Mar-19

    Mar-20

    Mar-21

    3,923

    3,094

    2,268

    2,697

    4,562

  2. 2. The House of Commons Library released an insight briefing in 2020 that noted in 2019/20 the total MoJ budget was around 25% lower than in 2010/11.

  3. 3. The MoJ secured £477 million during the Comprehensive Spending Review to reduce the backlog.

  4. 4. Current CPS legal guidance on the provision of therapy for child witnesses prior to a criminal trial. The CPS consulted on the guidance for pre-trial therapy during summer 2020.