Yesterday the Lampard Report into Jimmy Savile’s appalling activities within the NHS is published, the facts are laid bare about how we have let down victims of abuse over the years. Savile is, of course, not the only perpetrator, just the most high profile one and the one that was more clever than most at hiding his activities in full view.
The most shocking thing about yesterday’s revelations is that many of his victims actually told somebody at the time about what he had done, though many others were not confident that they would be believed so kept quiet for years. There is no such thing as “historic child abuse”. It has an effect on the victim right through life, often interfering with all their future relationships and even producing serious mental health problems. So we owe it to victims to respond to their difficult revelations and we owe it to potential future victims to change our culture of silence about these things.
Telling the correct authorities about abuse, or reasonable suspicion of abuse, is not “telling tales”. It is a public duty and I believe the law should say so. That is why I am calling for “mandatory reporting”. That is a new offence of failing to report what they know for those in caring positions in what we call “regulated activity”, schools, hospitals, care homes, the police, etc. There have been far too many cases of people keeping quiet about serious abuse because they fear for their jobs or they fear reputational damage for their school, care home or other institution. That means that the victims go untreated, perpetrators carry on doing it and abuse other people and the whole horrible cycle continues.
In Australia they have introduced mandatory reporting to considerable success. Of course, like the Australians, we would need to protect confidential helplines such as Childline. Children need to be able to speak to them in confidence. But when Childine advisers urge the child to confide in a trusted adult, the child must have confidence that the adult will do something about it to bring an end to the abuse. Many young victims find it very difficult to give clear and consistent evidence in court. That is why we need the corroboration of a responsible adult to help us bring perpetrators to justice. Unless we encourage and support people who come forward to defend young victims by giving them the protection of the law, we will continue to have these things swept under the carpet and hundreds of victims will not receive the justice they deserve.