Icelandic method could double number of child sexual abuse convictions

editorial image

Plans to introduce a pioneering Icelandic method of preventing child sex abuse in West Yorkshire has been discussed.

Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, says creating a ‘Barnahus’ could double the number of child sexual abuse convictions in West Yorkshire.

The concept has been in operation in Iceland since 1998. When child abuse is suspected all the services for victims are provided under one roof.

These include the forensic interview, medical examination and child or family therapy.

The Children’s Commissioner is urging all police and crime commissioners to establish a ‘Barnahus’ in their area. Two pilots have so far been proposed in London and one in Durham.

Ms Longfield chaired the meeting to discuss the subject in Wakefield earlier this week and was attended by the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Office, the police, the NHS and local authority directors of children’s services.

The introduction of a ‘Barnahus’ in Iceland in 1998 resulted in the number of convictions for child sexual abuse increasing from 49 between 1995 and 1997 to 101 between 2011 and 2013.

It is claimed that the approach minimises the trauma caused to children as they give evidence to a trained psychotherapist within days of reporting abuse and therefore do not have to recount their experiences of abuse multiple times to different professionals as part of evidence gathering.

The majority will quickly have access to therapy rather than waiting many months and even years in this country.

Ms Longfield said: “The Barnahus approach has doubled convictions, and improved access to therapy for victims.

“Many hundreds of thousands of children in England are abused and we need to get much better at identifying these children and supporting them afterwards.

“When it is suspected that a child has been sexually abused they currently often have to be interviewed many times by the police, social workers and medical professionals in an attempt to gather evidence so that a case can go to trial.

“It is a complex, gruelling process which often breaks down and which can take many months. This can be incredibly traumatising to the child and may delay their access to therapeutic support.

“The Barnahus approach has proved to be incredibly successful and I hope that it will be trialled in Yorkshire and beyond, as well as other police authorities around England.”

Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “I constantly review the support available to victims and it is crucial that the services for children and young people who have experienced these horrendous crimes are appropriate and consistently available throughout West Yorkshire.

“Working in partnership is vital in tackling child sexual exploitation and I am looking forward to the discussions with the Children’s Commissioner to determine whether the ‘Barnahus’ model may be something we can implement in West Yorkshire by working closely with our partners.”