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We All Need to Do More to Make Sure Abused Children Are Heard

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Imagine you were desperate to tell people about something but when you tried no sound came out. Like you'd had some awful spell cast on you that meant only you could hear the words.

That's how I think it might feel to be a child who has suffered abuse but struggles to find adults who will act upon their concerns.

The NSPCC has published a report today called 'No one noticed, no one heard' that reveals the experiences of young adults (aged 18-24) who suffered abuse in childhood. The researchers asked specifically about their attempts to tell someone about the abuse.

Previous studies typically concluded that abuse is under-reported and that most children don't speak out - often carrying the secret of what has happened to them for years.

In some ways today's report bears that out - it took seven years, on average, for children who had been sexually abused to successfully tell someone about what was happening and get help.

And yet, 86% of them said they tried to get help during childhood. They said they were ignored, not believed, or that signs they needed help - obvious to them - had been missed. Almost all the interviewees had a bad experience of trying to tell someone about the abuse they were suffering.

One young woman described the terrible handling of her attempts to report that she was being sexually abused by her father:

The first time I told, I told my teacher, and then a social worker came, and two police officers. But they invited my mum and dad and sat them in the room with me. Then they asked me what happened, and so I denied it and said: "No, nothing's happening", because I could see my dad in the corner and I just thought, "Oh my God!"

Yet, even when an abused child is heard, when adults take action, and a case gets to court, too often the odds are stacked against them.

This weekend the NSPCC reported that sexual abuse cases are collapsing because children are being denied the support they need to give evidence against their abusers. More than 23,000 child sex offences were recorded in the last year by police in England and Wales, yet less than a quarter were prosecuted.

These children have to publicly relive the most traumatic, upsetting and humiliating experience of their lives in order to try and get justice.

A victim of child sex abuse is often the sole witness to the crime and the strength of the case lies in their testimony. It is vital that children are supported by a registered intermediary when they are interviewed by the police and if they give evidence in a trial. Justice can only be served if they are able to give their best evidence.

Dealing with the police and the courts can be a daunting and intimidating experience for an adult, let alone a child. Where is the justice in putting children in a position where they don't know what is going on, they can't understand the questions and are unable to make themselves understood? All this does is risk the child being further traumatised and the guilty walking free.

The NSPCC wants all children who give evidence in sex abuse cases to have access to a registered intermediary who can explain criminal proceedings and legal language in a child-friendly way.

In the last year, ChildLine carried out over a thousand counselling sessions with children concerned about court cases.

One of them told us:

I am feeling so nervous about giving evidence in court. They are making me explain exactly what happened but I'm not sure I can cope with things like that just yet. Sometimes I wish I had never said anything. I feel like I have lost everything now and can't cope anymore.

As a society we must all make sure that abused children are able to speak out. And that when they do, they are not silenced once more by the system that should be bringing their abuser to justice.

Anyone who has concerns about a child should contact the NSPCC helpline immediately on 0808 800 5000, text 88858 or email help@nspcc.org.uk

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