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Investigating Child Sexual Abuse: the length of crimimal investigations

Increased reports of sexual offences are placing a significant demand on police, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), local authority children’s services departments, the criminal and family courts, and specialist voluntary sector services for victims and survivors.

Investigations by Police and children’s services into child sexual abuse are life-changing for victims. Where capacity is stretched to meet the increasing demand on resources for investigations, there is a risk that cases will take even longer to resolve, exacerbating the trauma experienced by children and their families. Given this concern, the Children’s Commissioner’s Office has examined the length of criminal justice processes in child sexual abuse (CSA) cases.

The Commissioner has used Home Office data from 18 police forces and national data from the CPS to investigate the timescales involved in CSA cases in England between 2012/13 and 2015/161, from the point of initial report to finalisation in court.This report finds that

  • The investigative process for CSA cases is considerably longer than adult sexual offences. In 2015/16, the median length of time for investigations of CSA cases was 248 days. In comparison, the median length for the investigations of adult sexual offences was 147 days, which is 101 days less than the average for CSA offences.

Child sexual abuse investigations take longer than all other crime types according to the data available. For example, the median length of time taken from crime recording to a charge outcome in 15/16 in relation to drug offences (90 days), theft (73 days) and violence against a person (72 days) is considerably shorter than CSA offences (248 days).Although this may reflect the relative complexity of these investigations, it is clear that victims of CSA face a considerable wait to until the perpetrator is charged. This is likely to be a period of huge uncertainty for victims of sexual abuse – the police and CPS should explore ways of working more effectively to minimise delays and increase the speed of decision-making.

These findings strongly support the rapid implementation of three measures for improving the quality and speed of decision-making in criminal investigations of CSA – (i) a licence to practice for professionals working on CSA cases to improve decision-making in CSA investigations; (ii) embedding CPS Rape and Serious Sexual Offence (RASSO) specialists in police child abuse investigation teams to improve collaboration between the CPS and police officers; and (iii) the establishment and roll-out of ‘children’s houses’, child-friendly facilities where victims of CSA participate in police interviews, and also receive therapeutic support.