I beg to move,
That this House
has considered achieving quality information and support for adult survivors of child sexual abuse.
It is a true pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I declare an interest as an ambassador for the National Counselling Society. Child sexual abuse in the UK is a public health crisis. The number of victims is simply staggering: 7% of people aged between 16 and 59 report being sexually abused as a child, which equates to more than 2 million survivors in England and Wales alone.
The all-party parliamentary group for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, which I chair, recently published the results of a six-month inquiry into the impact of abuse, and the support and information that survivors need to recover. Of the 365 survivors who responded, 90% said that their intimate relationships had been negatively affected by abuse, 89% said that their mental health was negatively affected, 72% said that it was damaging to their career, 65% said that their education was affected, and 46% said that it had a detrimental impact on their financial situation.
It is common, if not typical, for mental health conditions triggered by the trauma of childhood sexual abuse to have a detrimental impact on all aspects of a survivor’s life if left untreated. They can cause survivors to fall out of employment, which jeopardises their financial situation and puts a strain on their family life. Some survivors accrue substantial debts while trying to pay for private therapy after they have failed to access appropriate support on the NHS. Others struggle to find jobs in the career they want to pursue, because their education was severely disrupted as a result of missing education because of abuse. For many survivors, the trauma of abuse makes it difficult to develop close trusting relationships.
The APPG’s report recommends that the Government publish an assessment of the economic and social costs of child sexual abuse, as the Home Office has recently done for domestic abuse. Having that information will help policy makers and the public to understand the scale of the issue.
The hon. Lady is making an excellent point. Of course, we have all seen many sufferers of sexual violence live with that for years and years, unable to express it, until a sudden trigger point means that they can come forward and say what has happened. Will she review those trigger points, so we understand them and can encourage them? Can she also tell us what she would recommend to encourage people to come forward as early as possible to discuss such issues? The earlier they are discussed, the easier it will be for the person involved.
The hon. Gentleman makes profound points that go to the nub of the argument. If survivors had confidence that the system would support them, I genuinely believe that they would come forward earlier. Early intervention is key—having a few sessions where people are listened to and fundamentally believed, and can then continue with the rest of their lives.
What tends to happen, however, as the hon. Gentleman has alluded to, is that survivors do not have that trust, so it can take decades for them to come forward, if they ever do. As a result, the spectre hanging over them infiltrates every aspect of their life. A trigger can be anything—the same aftershave that their abuser was wearing or a feeling of being enclosed in a space—so unless we address the actual issues and recognise that these people are victims of crime, they will not be able to lead their full lives and reach the potential that we all deserve to achieve.
I commend the hon. Lady for securing the debate and for her work on the subject across the House, in Westminster Hall and in the main Chamber, for which we greatly respect and are proud of her. I met a lovely lady who was repeatedly sexually assaulted in the worst imaginable ways. To say that she still bears the scars is an understatement. The support for her, and too many others like her, was not in place when it should have been. That failure has to stop. Does the hon. Lady agree that the time has come for us in this place to step up and do right by those who have been so terribly wronged? The system needs to be there at the beginning, and now, when they need it most.
I completely agree with those sentiments. It is a blessing that MPs such as the hon. Gentleman fight for people when they need it, but it should not come down to an MP fighting for an individual. They pay their taxes. We have a duty to support them. That support should be accessible to everyone as an automatic right.
Survivors told our inquiry that the impact of trauma caused by childhood sexual abuse is not widely recognised by professionals, which can make it hard to get the support they need. One survivor described visiting a GP as
“a lottery as to which kind of help they will get” and said that there is a
“lack of diagnosis and failure to understand the significance of the disclosure…many survivors are misdiagnosed with lower level issues such as anxiety and depression.”
Survivors feel that the effects of the abuse are not well known in the NHS. Frontline staff are not equipped to deal with disclosures, and they do not have the knowledge to direct survivors to appropriate treatments. It is telling that, although 89% of survivors said that their mental health had been negatively affected by abuse, only 16% said that NHS mental health services had met their needs. Another survivor told our inquiry:
“I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and of the mental health system.”
Recent studies have found that a wide range of social and environmental factors increase the risk of mental ill health, including growing up in poverty, early separation from parents and experiencing sexual abuse as a child. Professor Richard Bentall at the University of Sheffield has argued that the evidence of a link between childhood trauma and a future psychiatric disorder is at least as strong as the evidence of genetic causes. Solid evidence also shows that adverse childhood experiences can affect the brain structure, which then affects a person’s sensitivity to stressful situations and causes fluctuations in mood throughout adulthood. That has significant ramifications for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
Survivors of childhood sexual abuse have two cards dealt against them. Because the trauma of the abuse increases their risk of developing psychiatric disorders later in life, their risk of experiencing adverse conditions as an adult also increases. The findings of that research were borne out by our surveys, which demonstrated survivors’ experiences of poor relationships, unemployment and financial hardship.
Survivors need the professionals they interact with, whether they are child protection social workers, jobcentre work coaches, GPs or judges, to be curious about the circumstances that led to their current predicament, rather than just dealing with the presenting symptoms. Survivors told the inquiry they want frontline professionals to ask not, “What’s wrong with you?” but, “What happened to you?”. That professional curiosity will allow survivors to build relationships with professionals that are oriented to meeting their needs. It is key to achieving quality support and, ultimately, securing justice. Will the Minister commit to developing guidance and training on trauma-informed practice for frontline professionals, in conjunction with the specialist voluntary sector and his colleagues across Departments?
Survivors told the APPG that the support they found most important to their recovery is specialist voluntary sector counselling and therapy; I will shorten this to “specialist services” for the rest of the debate. Specialist services provide a range of options tailored to meet the needs of the survivor, including counselling, support groups and advocacy. Survivors say they value these services for a wide range of reasons: the services provide them with support regardless of whether they report to police; they are met by knowledgeable staff in a welcoming, non-clinical environment; and the staff recognise that there is nothing intrinsically “wrong” with them and that the issue is the effects of the trauma caused by the abuse.
We need to continue to develop what we know about child sexual abuse, its links to mental illness, and the most effective forms of support and therapies for survivors. The APPG wants the National Institute of Health Research to commission studies into effective therapies for survivors of abuse and I urge the Minister to support us in that aim.
The inquiry heard that specialist services face unprecedented demand without a related increase in their budgets. SurvivorsUK reported a 30% year-on-year increase in people attempting to access its services in each of the last three years. In 2017, the National Association for People Abused in Childhood—NAPAC—answered 8,500 calls and emails on its national support helpline, but that is less than a tenth of the 90,000 inquiries that it received that year.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and I congratulate her on securing the debate. She has mentioned one issue that we Rotherham MPs are all too aware of—without the proper services to support these people, justice will not be brought through the courts. If we look at the number of people who the Jay report says were abused, we can see that the number of people who come forward is far, far fewer than that, and without these types of services we will not get these people the justice that they deserve, and they all deserve justice.
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend, and I congratulate him, because as a Rotherham MP he has been an absolutely tireless campaigner, both to get justice for the survivors in Rotherham and to get the support services, which we are still waiting for.
The APPG’s inquiry into adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse found that the average male survivor waited for 26 years before disclosing abuse. Therefore, it cannot be right that, at the moment survivors are ready to speak about their abuse, they are forced to join the back of a queue, with waiting lists a year long, and sometimes waiting lists are closed, due to demand and the lack of funding to meet it. Across the country, the reality for survivors is a lengthy wait for support, or limits on the number of sessions available.
Although it was welcome that the Ministry of Justice increased by 10% the rape support fund, which provides grants to specialist sexual violence support services, specialist services are seeing demand increase far in excess of 10%.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate, and I am really pleased to have this opportunity to intervene on behalf of survivors in Nottingham. She is doing a fantastic job. Does she agree that there needs to be a specific pathway, so that people can get referred to robust trauma therapy without having to tell their story again and again, and wait for months? Actually, there is a model for such a pathway, because one has been established for veterans. Should not the same level of care and support be given to these people who—to be honest—have already been failed by the system once? Providing such a pathway would go some way towards recognising that we have failed them, by allowing them to be victims of child sex abuse in the first place.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend, and it should go on the record that she has been such a fighter for the survivors in Nottinghamshire, which is hugely appreciated. Yes, she is right that victims should not have to battle and beg to get support services to enable them to live their life. They are a victim of crime; access to such support should be an automatic right. But victims having to tell their story time and again is something that we keep hearing about. The thing that I am most fearful of is that some of the people going through that fight will just step away from it, and who can blame them for that? However, as a society and as a Government, we need to address that situation and we need to do it now.
To that end, would the Minister consider developing a mechanism for pegging the funds to uplifts in demand, so that specialist services and survivors are not forced to bear the effect of any funding shortfall? Instead, the Government would pre-empt that need and fund it accordingly. We all have to admit that for too long the Government have been behind the curve on this issue.
If we acknowledge the prevalence of abuse and its devastating costs to the individual and society, the logical policy to adopt is a transformative funding package that funds services that redress the trauma of abuse and help survivors to recover. Minister, that requires more than an occasional 10% uplift.
Will the Minister commit to asking the Chancellor for a cross-Government strategic fund, which meets the core funding needs of specialist services, to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse? He may find that he is pushing against an open door, because in March and again in the main Chamber yesterday the Chief Secretary to the Treasury spoke about survivors, saying in March that
“because they have been traumatised and left in despair after suffering the consequences of crime…it should be government’s responsibility to prioritise support for these people”.
Both the NHS and the specialist voluntary sector have a vital role to play in supporting the recovery of survivors. On average, 17% of the budgets for specialist sexual violence and support services comes from the rape support fund, and 14.5% comes from NHS England and clinical commissioning groups, or CCGs. The APPG’s inquiry heard that CCGs have a responsibility for commissioning long-term therapeutic support for survivors. However, when I asked Ministers for an assessment of the effectiveness of CCGs in this regard, they told me that they do not even collect the data on it.
When survivors tell us that the support they need is not there, and specialist support agencies find many CCGs challenging to work with, I must say that this lack of data is extremely concerning. I therefore also ask the Minister to make representations to his colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care to collect this data centrally, so that proper analysis of it can be made. If it is discovered that CCGs are failing in their duty to commission such support, will he consider ring-fencing funding for the long-term therapeutic support that survivors need?
There also needs to be research into the availability of appropriate services for black, Asian and minority ethnic survivors; for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender survivors; and for disabled survivors. During the APPG’s six-month inquiry, we found virtually no evidence, or indeed recognition, of those survivors’ specific needs, nor a desire to commission the services that they need, which is of considerable concern.
Minister, a nationwide public health campaign about child sexual abuse is required. It would raise awareness and—importantly—reduce stigma. It should also aim to direct both survivors and professionals to sources of information and support. In the absence of professional expertise, survivors said that they need quality information about the impact of abuse and about where they can access support. To date, professionals are described as being “caught out” by disclosures, and therefore as being unable to provide up-to-date, relevant and accurate information. In such a situation, survivors usually take it upon themselves to find information and services on the internet, which has mixed results.
In parallel with a public health campaign, the Government need to address the fact that existing sources of information and support are patchy and disparate. The Government could do more, in co-operation with the specialist voluntary sector, to provide online resources about the impact of abuse, and information about the support services that are available, both locally and nationally. This will necessitate cross-Government working and marshalling existing online information from police and crime commissioners, specialist service umbrella agencies, and the Ministry of Justice’s own Victim and Witness Information website. Survivors and professionals need to know where they can source information and support; currently, there is just no clear answer for them.
If the hon. Lady will forgive me for saying so, I just cannot congratulate her enough, both on securing this debate today and on her work with the APPG, which I am proud to be a member of.
As Members of Parliament, we come to this place to speak for others, but I am sitting here and the hon. Lady is speaking for me, as a survivor of child sexual abuse myself, through the things that she is saying and the way that she is articulating the difficulties in coming forward—in admitting it even to yourself; admitting it to others is even more difficult. She talked about people taking an average of 26 years to talk about their abuse as a child. For me, it took 40 years, and here I am—an articulate, sensible, educated man.
I urge the hon. Lady to continue this campaign for greater awareness. We all understand that the more we talk about this issue, and the more we break down the stigma, the more that people will come forward. Since I spoke about my own individual case, I have been inundated by people in the same situation contacting me to say, “Me too. We went through that.” I have even had people who work in this place come up to me and say, “You are speaking for us.” I congratulate the hon. Lady, but will she continue to fight for that awareness campaign?
First, I promise that I will continue fighting for that awareness campaign, as the Minister knows. Secondly, I thank the hon. Gentleman for being so outspoken on this issue and using his own, personal testimony, because that is what resonates. The reason we set up the APPG was that a staff member in Parliament came to me and shared his experience. Looking around this room, and holding the statistic that 7% of adults in the UK are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, the hon. Gentleman will not be the only one present. I admire him, and thank him for sharing his story to help other people. I turn to the Minister after such a testimony and ask him to please address this worrying shortfall, and commit to developing a public health campaign, with the associated website and the information we need alongside it.
I thank all MPs present and the Minister, who I know cares deeply about finding solutions to these issues and has done so much so far. I thank all the professionals and specialists in the voluntary sector and across the board who have contributed to the APPG’s report. Most of all, I thank the 400 survivors of childhood sexual abuse—some of whom are in the room, and many of whom are watching on telly—who have generously given their time and experience to try to make positive change for all victims and survivors in future.
I have illustrated today that child sexual abuse is a public health crisis. The number of affected adults is in the millions, scattered across the four nations of the United Kingdom. The trauma of abuse has severe implications for a survivor’s mental wellbeing, which in turn negatively impacts their relationships, work and financial security. Fortunately, the solution lies before us: the Government can ensure that frontline professionals are curious about a person’s trauma, and are able to recognise how that trauma may impact behaviour and wellbeing. They can fund specialist voluntary sector services to meet demand while continuing to improve NHS pathways. They can take responsibility for the information available to survivors, harness new technologies, encourage better collaboration, and prioritise child sexual abuse as a public health issue.
I will leave Members with the words of a survivor from my constituency of Rotherham:
“We need counselling and we need therapy. We need the little things. There’s nothing there. Just a chance to rebuild our lives. It’s. Not. Our. Fault.”
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, as I do so frequently these days. I thank Sarah Champion for securing a debate on such an important subject, and I will start by briefly acknowledging her work and dedication to the cause of improving support for those who fall victim to the horrendous crimes of sexual violence and child sexual abuse. One of the very real pleasures of doing the job of victims Minister is that I have been able to work closely with the hon. Lady, with all the knowledge, passion and determination to improve things that she brings to all she does in this House.
As the hon. Lady highlighted, she has chaired two all-party parliamentary groups on these topics, producing two extremely useful reports with recommendations. I hope that at some point soon, with her permission, I might be able to meet the all-party parliamentary group for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. I welcome both reports, and commit to giving their recommendations the full and proper consideration they deserve and that the hon. Lady would expect. I will respond to her in due course about the detail of those reports.
I also thank all survivors who took the time to share their experiences to inform the report. I know it takes great courage to speak out about such difficult issues, and I commend them for coming forward for the benefit of other victims and survivors. In that context, I particularly recognise the bravery of my hon. Friend Andrew Griffiths in speaking up very movingly in this House on a number of occasions about his own experiences, and his commitment to doing everything he can to ensure no one else has to suffer in that way. I want to ensure that we do not lose momentum in this space, and that we build on recent achievements such as the victims’ strategy.
While the Minister is being nice to me, let me just draw out one point in relation to compensation. I know that we are due to meet—I had to reschedule our meeting—but compensation for victims for child sexual abuse is simply not good enough. Of the 6,861 convictions for child sexual abuse in 2017, compensation orders were issued in only 26 cases. Will the Minister keep that at the forefront of his mind, and make sure that victims of child sexual abuse get the compensation they deserve?
I know that my hon. Friend has recently made this issue the subject of a ten-minute rule Bill. Although the imposition of those orders is a matter for the judiciary, he is quite right that I am due to meet him shortly, when we can discuss what more can be done to raise awareness of the ability to use them.
We know that these crimes can have lifelong, life-changing impacts on victims, as the hon. Lady has set out. It is therefore essential that high-quality support and information is available to those who need it, when they need it, to do what is possible after such a horrendous crime to help individuals rebuild their lives and come to terms with the trauma.
On a point of information, the Minister may be aware of the Beecholme children’s home scandal of the 1960s. Victims of that scandal have told me that they have had difficulty with the co-operation of, and getting access to information from, local authorities. Does he believe that local authorities should have a responsibility to be as fulfilling and forward with information as possible?
My hon. Friend makes his point well and powerfully. I hope he will forgive me for not commenting on the detail, as it is still subject to a live investigation, but he has placed on the record his views on that important subject.
I believe we are making good progress, but there is much more to do. Since becoming the victims Minister, as the hon. Member for Rotherham alluded to, I have made it my priority to provide more funding to rape and sexual abuse support services. I wished to do three things: the first was to increase the amount of funding available, which we did by 10%. The second was to address the sector’s calls for a multi-year funding settlement, moving from one year to three years. The third, which we continue to work on, was to simplify the process for those organisations applying. The APPG’s report quite rightly highlights the need to pay for counselling as a barrier to accessing support, and I am happy to say that this funding ensures that victims of rape and sexual abuse can access any of the centrally funded support services free of charge in any of the country’s 42 police and crime commissioner areas, regardless of whether they report the crime. That is, of course, on top of £68 million of funding to police and crime commissioners to support victims of crime.
However, the hon. Lady has rightly highlighted a bigger picture. We must seek to replicate what we have achieved in that area more broadly across the funding space, with multi-year settlements, sustainable and appropriate funding levels, and simplification. When she talked about pegging funding to demand and cross-Government work, she highlighted that the most effective vehicle for that will, I suggest, be active engagement with the forthcoming spending review and with the Treasury. I will not pre-judge that spending review or the hon. Lady’s conversations with the Chief Secretary, but I know it is something that the Treasury are very much alive to, and rightly so—in large part because of her work in this area.
The hon. Lady also highlighted the importance of cross-Government working. Departments have joined together across Government to offer additional funding to support victims identified as part of Operation Stovewood in her constituency. We are also working to update and improve the information for victims on gov.uk.
I am conscious of the clock ticking, but I will conclude with a number of points. The first is that, of course, I am always happy to meet the hon. Lady if she wishes to pick this issue up separately. I will also commit to raising the specific issues that she has touched on about the NHS, CCGs, and training and standards in my regular meetings with my opposite number at the Department of Health and Social Care. Once again, I thank the hon. Lady for securing the debate, and look forward to working with her, all hon. Members, Ministers across Government, the sector, and survivors themselves to ensure that victims receive the best care and support we can offer.
Motion lapsed (