What do British actress Emma Watson, statutes of limitation and insurance companies have in common? We’re about to find out.

Whilst the nation watches on as the Child Abuse Inquiry gets underway, inquiries further afield are already giving us a feel for what’s to come. The eery familiarity of our own, limited, progress in relation to our abuse inquiry in Britain owes as much to its many false starts as it does to the predictability of a process which bears many of the same hallmarks as investigations currently taking place in Australia and Ireland.

The big news from Australia this morning is the lifting of time limits for survivors seeking to make compensation claims against a person or organisation for child abuse. As a result, the government is bracing itself for a flood of class actions and other types of law suits which could impact state-run schools, orphanages and detention centres there.

It is not inconceivable that this might happen here. With the current inquiry’s remit set to go back as far as Word War II, and perhaps farther still, the scope for thousands of victims to come forward will be set, whom quite rightly, will be angry and suppressed, and looking for justice. For many, that justice can now only come in the form of compensation, with historic abuse often leaving its long passed abusers languishing in graves or knocking on hell’s door. And we are already starting to see the effects. Child sexual exploitation figures have exploded in the last few months, with police appearing to uncover new spates of abuse cases. Perhaps not a coincidence that their past reticence to investigate these crimes has now turned into fevered action post the Inquiry’s inception.

Feeding into the concern that the government is about to get it from every quarter is the latest revelation that insurance companies and local authorities have been complicit in hiding the scale and extent of child abuse for their own ends. Confirming what Researching Reform, and many others including the often maligned John Hemming MP (often portrayed as a Hollywood villain, part Dr Evil, part Lothario) have been saying for years, the BBC reports this morning that insurance companies and local authorities have tried to suppress allegations of abuse to avoid pay outs and excessive premiums, with some insurers threatening to remove cover completely, such is the scale of the problem.

As you might imagine, this stance has led to councils trying to sweep abuse allegations under the carpet to avoid losing their insurance cover. We don’t need to tell you the impact that would have had on vulnerable children not getting the help they so desperately needed.

Nevertheless, Emma Watson, who is a UN ambassador for women, made a powerful point on this issue, albeit indirectly, in a speech she made in New York last year. She highlighted the fact that in the UK alone,  suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20-49. We also know that a significant portion of those who commit suicide, both men and women, are victims of abuse as children. Many also go on to die prematurely as a result of poor health which stems directly from their abuse. International statistics tell us that:

  • 40 million children are subjected to abuse each year, and that;
  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents globally.

In the UK alone, of the child deaths on record in 2013, a staggering 65% died as a result of deliberately inflicted injury, neglect or abuse, although the research wonks are quick to advise caution when interpreting this data. 

So what does this all mean for the nations’  statutory inquiry into child abuse? Put bluntly, it means those involved are going to have to make a lot of enemies if they want to do the job properly. The Insurance sector will need to be thoroughly investigated. Local Authorities’ policies and practice protocols will need to be stripped down and analysed. The source of every action condoning both implicitly and explicitly the kind of behaviour which has failed to protect our children from abuse also needs to be found and scrutinised. Motivations for these cover ups and breaches of process need to be fully investigated and proposals for putting together child-friendly policies need to be made, much like the now infamous Family Test Prime Minister David Cameron proposed last year but which has yet to be implemented.

This inquiry is going to get ugly. It will be a Monster’s Ball. But we will all be watching, because unlike The Oscars, every one has a stake in the outcome.

Lowell Goddard, Chair for the Statutory Inquiry Into Child Abuse

Lowell Goddard, Chair for the Statutory Inquiry Into Child Abuse