Call for hotline serving grown-up victims of child abuse

Call follows wave of victims coming forward in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal
  • @cahalan

In the age of Childline and anti-abuse campaigns specifically aimed at schoolchildren, the need for services specially tailored for the needs of the youngest in society is well understood.

Yet the wave of adults now beginning to re-open long supressed memories of sexual exploitation from decades before has led charities and lawyers to advocate a dedicated 24-hour national hotline to support fully-grown victims deal with their own issues.

The move, backed the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, the NSPCC and abuse victim lawyers, should help prosecute paedophiles in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal and the uncovering of other historic child abuse cases.

It follows the belief that, despite more victims approaching charities, many are still not reporting crimes to police because of the difficulties in raking over memories they would rather forget - leaving perpetrators like Savile free to attack others for years, sometimes decades.

One victim of abuse in London in the 1980s said he felt “isolated and helpless” after police investigating historic abuse knocked on his door earlier this year and that other victims felt the same.

“People are not just coming forward to report abuse, they are then not seeing it through because there is no support,” he said. “When they are visited by the police they realise they are left high and dry and there is nothing for them.”

Pete Saunders, chief executive of NAPAC, said: “The lack of support is absolutely stopping people coming forward. Why would they? These people are not now kids, they are savvy adults. They know what is out there and they know they are on their own. A dedicated helpline would be one way to address that.”

He added that as well as counselling or therapeutic support victims had to be offered on-going support.

He said: “We have to be talking about what the NHS can do for people. What politicians and police have got to understand, is what they are doing is almost potentially ruining peoples’ lives if they don’t get the support they need. The consequence for a lot of people – there will be broken relationships.”

NAPAC’s hotline – which is manned mainly by volunteers on a part-time basis - received 1,000 calls a week, up from 300, in the two months after the Savile story broke. Its workers can answer about 140 calls a week, but even today the charity receive about 500 calls weekly.

The NSPCC run ChildLine has been successful for many years, and while there are sporadic groups and agencies offering advice there is growing consensus of the need for a national focus.

How a new helpline will be organised and funded is yet to be discussed, but it has been suggested it could be manned by trained staff and act as a one-shop stop for adults - covering those who wanted to speak to someone about abuse they have suffered and for those who fear they are in a position where they themselves might abuse.

It could cost between £300,000 and £500,000 to run, it has been estimated – the NSPCC’s ChildLine, which last year made 27,000 referrals to authorities, costs £4m.

John Cameron, head of child protection at NSPCC, said there needed to be an environment where adult victims and those who thought they might be in danger of abusing others could come forward.

“There should be a national helpline for adults. Some of these adults who are victims have childcare responsibilities, and they struggle,” he said. “Some over-compensate by being over protective and others internalise their anger because they can’t get to the perpetrator, and hurt people around them.

“Also there are adults who contact us who are worried they might abuse someone in the future. They are getting aggressive easily or are having sexual thoughts. They too need anonymity and someone to speak too.”

Solicitor Liz Dux, who is representing 60 Jimmy Savile victims said: “People have come to us and we are the first people they have spoken to about it [abuse]”.

“I definitely think there needs to be something. One of the Jimmy Savile clients has said “I can’t deal with this’. What I want to say is here is the help. At the moment the spotlight is all focused on the criminal system . . .we also need to help victims.”

Case study: one victim of abuse in London in the 1980s

“I received a knock on the door from police this year which brought back the nightmare of abuse I suffered. My overwhelming response was of isolation and helplessness. It is the feeling that this [the process] is completely out of your control.

“After police interviewed me they gave me a leaflet on who I should call. It took me two weeks for me to contact an agency for help. They referred me somewhere else and it took me 10 days to ring those people.

“In all it has taken me four months to get any meaningful help and I had my first counselling session last week. The helpline has to provide help and support on an on-going basis.

“People are not just coming forward to report abuse, they are then not seeing it through because there is no support. When they are visited by the police they realise they are left high and dry and there is nothing for them.”