Tackling child sexual abuse is everyone's business
Anyone who watched the recent Leaving Neverland documentary will have received a powerful insight into the horrific impact that child sexual abuse can have.
The documentary, based around interviews with two men who claim to have been abused by Michael Jackson as children, has served an important role in raising awareness of the psychological effects that abuse has on survivors, decades after it took place.
Often, perpetrators are so manipulative that their victims do not speak up until adulthood – and those long years of living in silence lead to depression, failed relationships and suicidal thoughts.
And, as Leaving Neverland showed, the shockwaves caused by abuse do not just effect the individual survivors. Their loved ones, spouses, and children can all go on to become damaged. Entire families can be ripped apart.
Although clearly, those responsible for this destructive crime need to face justice, child sexual abuse is a problem that’s far bigger than just policing. We need to be able to provide support to victims when they come forward, we need to understand the extent of the problem and to educate people about it – particularly those who may be able to spot the signs.
All of this requires a wide range of organisations to work together.
Whether you work in the third sector, whether you’re a social worker, a politician or a police officer - we all need to be bold, be brave and stick to the adage that you must all ‘know yourself, know your team, and know your business’ – as child abuse is everybody’s business.
We must also keep spreading the messages of the NSPCC’s PANTS campaign wide and far across Dorset, because a child who understands that message is a child that will know how to stay safe. More about this important campaign later.
And as for my role, these issues are very much my business too. As Police and Crime Commissioner, the heart of my work is around the objectives set out in the Dorset Police and Crime Plan, one of the main themes of which is protecting people at risk of harm. Many of my commitments in that area relate to tackling child sexual abuse.
Commitments to tackling problem
I want to increase the number of reports of this historically underreported crime. Although an increase in the number of reported cases might be seen by some as a cause for concern it would also mean that people feel safer about coming forward to report abuse.
My commitments also include increasing police resources to Dorset’s Paedophile Online Investigation Team and to the Safer Schools Community Team, which seeks to educate young children and parents about issues including online safety and child sexual exploitation.
Other commitments include tackling modern slavery and improving partnership working with the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub, in which police officers and local authority staff, such as social workers, operate together to ensure children are kept safe.
My office has supported projects including Dorset Rape Crisis, which provides specialist therapeutic counselling to people living, working or studying in the county who have experienced the trauma of child sexual abuse.
We have also worked with this marvellous organisation to provide an additional children and young person’s independent sexual violence advisor to support anyone under 18 – as well as their families and carers – who has experienced any form of sexual violence.
Raising awareness and improving responses
And we have provided funding to the Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards, to support their child sexual abuse training and mapping work, which has been showcased at today’s events.
This important project includes raising awareness of and improving responses to the issue – such as providing bespoke training sessions to staff from a range of agencies on the impact of trauma on victims and their families – as well as working with data to understand and monitor the scale of the problem across Dorset.
The project also includes partnering with the NSPCC’s PANTS campaign, featuring Pantosaurus – the pants wearing dinosaur which can be used by schools and featured at community events to help raise awareness of the issue.
Talking to children about dangers
AFC Bournemouth made an important stand against abuse when they brought out Pantosaurus ahead of their game against Manchester City. This syndicated game reached a global audience of one billion people.
Understanding how to talk to young children about the dangers posed by sexual abuse is something many parents and carers struggle with, and schemes like this are a helpful way of opening up conversations and giving young people important messages about staying safe.
This is a quick overview of some of the work going on to help us tackle the problem, but of course there is a huge amount more that still needs to be done. In the future, we need to pool our resources and work in true partnership to tackle abuse against people of all ages.