THE BLOG

Icelandic Approach to Tackling Child Abuse Doubles Conviction Rates

26/04/2016 11:46

It's a statistic that never fails to shock: the vast majority of all child sexual abuse is concealed and never reported to the authorities. Only one in eight victims ever come to their attention.

There are several reasons for this - abused children often don't know that their experiences constitute abuse; some do but don't have the vocabulary describe it; whilst others might not feel that they can trust anyone enough to speak out. Many worry about the impact reporting would have on the family they rely on.

Because the number of children who are sexually abused and the harm it causes are so significant - according to the NSPCC, 1 in 20 children will be sexually abused -- preventing abuse must be a priority for all of us, not just the police and children's social workers.

That is why we need to find practical ways to help children: to gain confidence in the authorities; to tell others about what's happened to them; to provide robust and credible evidence to the police; and to get the help they need to recover and move on.

One model that is gaining increased attention from specialists and across Government is the Barnahus and this week I will be taking a dozen officials to see how it works in practice in Iceland.

The Barnahus - first developed in Iceland and now being replicated in other countries - is an innovative model that supports victims and investigates abuse. It has proved so successful there that the number of convictions of perpetrators has more than doubled. Importantly, the process significantly lowers the chances of children being re-traumatised by having to relive their experiences in open court.

Translating literally as Children's House, Barnahus removes the child from the courtroom. Instead they are interviewed by a specialist child psychotherapist in a child friendly environment. Cameras allow officials from other agencies including child protection services, the medical profession, police and prosecutors to inform the interview. The technique replaces the need for repetitive interviews by a range of professionals in different locations, which can be harmful or confusing for a child and can lead to distorted and conflicting accounts, damaging the quality of the evidence.

Iceland's population is much smaller than ours and their laws and procedures are different, but this bold and innovative approach is getting impressive results. If the Barnahus can be adapted to the English context, children who have suffered abuse could gain powerful new support. The next stage will be to test out and pilot. In ten years' time I hope the Barnahus is something that we will all recognise and value as a vital tool in this country's armour to tackle and prevent child abuse.

Comments

CONVERSATIONS