Child sexual abuse victims face longer delays to get to court as waiting times surge

Waiting to get to court can be extremely distressing for young victims, yet our research shows court waiting times for child sexual abuse cases have surged by 43% in four years. 


Young victims are facing extremely distressing delays in the justice system as waiting times for child sexual abuse (CSA) cases surge.

Data from the Ministry of Justice shows the average number of days between a defendant in CSA cases in England and Wales being charged and the criminal trial starting has risen by 43% in four years, from 276 days in 2017 to 395 days in 2021 - that’s almost four months longer. 

For a child who is already suffering with depression, self-harming, suicidal thoughts or PTSD as a consequence of sexual abuse, the drawn-out process of waiting for a trial to start, and then be completed, can be extremely distressing and add to the significant mental health impact of the original abuse.

There is also not enough access to therapeutic support to help young people cope and recover from sexual abuse. Often, only generic mental health services are offered rather than more effective specialist post-sexual abuse services. Even though there’s a high prevalence of PTSD in young abuse victims, only one in five young people who experienced PTSD say they have seen a mental health professional1.

Heidi*, now 25, was sexually abused by her step-grandfather over a number of years from the age of 8. She was 13 when she disclosed the abuse.

It took around a year for Heidi’s case to reach court, then when the case went to retrial, she waited another nine months. The perpetrator was found guilty and sentenced to 13 years in prison.

Heidi said: 


“As a child who had reported abuse to police, I remember asking my mum “What’s going on? Have you had updates?” and no one was keeping her updated. My laptop and phone were taken as evidence, and I’d ask my mum when I’d get this back; she wasn’t told. We didn’t know how long the process might take and there was a lot of waiting.

We’d get a letter, maybe after a few weeks of no updates, maybe after a few months, and that would say what we needed to do next, but we never had why these decisions were made explained to us.

From when I reported my abuse through to the court verdict took two years, so there was a lot of waiting.

It is 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 CAHMS and got an appointment after a six 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 be able to help me and wasn’t offered their support.”

The courts have suffered from chronic underfunding for many years which has impacted the efficiency of the justice system and resulted in a gradual rise in waiting times. The issues were exacerbated as courts were closed during the pandemic. Data from the Ministry of Justice revealed the backlog of CSA cases surged by 70% in just one year from nearly 2,700 in 2019/20 to over 4,560 in 2020/21. 

Despite the issues facing children, we’re concerned young people’s needs are being overlooked as there’s not a single mention of child victims of sexual abuse in the draft Victims Bill. 

We’re calling for the Justice Secretary appointed by the new Prime Minister to put children at the heart of the Bill, tackle court delays and ensure young CSA victims receive specialist mental health support to recover.

We’re demanding to see:

  • a proportion of the £477million received by the Ministry of Justice in the Comprehensive Spending Review to tackle the backlog is put towards decreasing waiting times specifically for child sexual abuse cases
  • the Bill must guarantee funding for and access to specialist mental health services to support the recovery of young victims of abuse, including pre-trial therapy
  • as part of this, the Crown Prosecution Service and the MoJ must ensure professionals across the criminal justice system are aware of and trained to enact updated CPS guidance on pre-trial therapy.

Sir Peter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive, said:


“Sexual abuse can have a debilitating impact on young people and rob them of their childhoods. But with the right support including, crucially, access to justice they can recover.

Unfortunately, children’s needs are not being met by the criminal justice system, with distressing delays to get to court and inadequate mental health support.

As opposed to supporting children on their path to recovery, the system can prolong their suffering with untold consequences for their future.

We are calling on the Justice Secretary appointed by the new Prime Minister to put children’s distinct needs at the heart of the Victims Bill to vastly improve their journey to getting justice and recovering. Only then can it truly be the landmark legislation that is so desperately needed.”


  1. 1. Lewis, Stephanie J, Arseneault, Louise, Caspi, Avshalom, Fisher, Helen L, Matthews, Timothy and Moffit, Terrie E (2019) The epidemiology of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder in a representative cohort of young people in England and Wales. Lancet Psychiatry, Vol.6, Iss.3