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The quality of silence: observations on reporting child sexual abuse

Published: 3 Jul 2017

Observations of societal factors obstructing child victims and adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse from reporting their abuser.

42 page PDF


42 page PDF


The quality of silence: observations on reporting child sexual abuse
Best Practice

42 page PDF


Best Practice

The third aim of the Road to Change, after raising awareness of CSA and catalysing legislative reform, was to encourage international collaboration, which meant that as well as engaging the press and government of each country I also met with whatever NGOs currently exist who are focused on these issues. From these encounters, and the three years previous while touring 'To Kill a Kelpie' round USA, I detail below what I consider to be the most innovative and effective practices I have witnessed, across various sectors, which as a survivor from Scotland I hope our nation can be inspired by and learn from.

Support Services

l'association l'Ange Bleu

Justice Procedure


Police Practice

Roze in Blauw


Centrs Dardedze

Moira Anderson Foundation


CAST Training

l'association l'Ange Bleu

Paris-based, "L'Association L'Ange Bleu" (Blue Angel Association) focus on reaching out to pedophiles, individuals who identify themselves as having an attraction towards children, and support them in making safe and legal choses to steer their desires away from violating a child. A documentary on their work has been broadcast a number of times and always instigates a surge of emails from individuals desperately seeking compassionate support of this nature. President and Founder, Latifa Madam Bennari said she only knows the film has been shown again when she receives another barrage of emails, even from people in various other French-speaking nations across the world. What struck me about this organisation was Madam Bennari's conviction that her method of reaching out and supporting pedophiles before the become offenders is the only true action being taken by anyone to directly prevent the sexual abuse of children. She maintains that all awareness campaigns and personal safety training programs, which are often categorised as prevention methods, are in fact only education. They do not stop future sexual assaults on children; merely inform them, their families and relevant agencies how to react after an assault has taken place.

It is also her belief that sexually abusing children is not motivated by an individual's natural sexuality, rather a psychological malfunction caused by a significant yet unresolved experience in the pedophile's own childhood. Through her innovative therapeutic approach to psychology, many potential offenders have redirected their own thoughts and behaviours and countless sexual assaults on children have been prevented.

One example she gave was a man who called her from his mobile phone as he was walking down the street following a young girl he was about to rape. This assault was averted.

Plans to develop a new office in Luxembourg were halted when it was revealed that a member of the board of L'Association L'Ange Bleu is a convicted child sex offender. I appreciate why some may object to this but given the nature of their work, this individual's unique insights into the psychology of a child sex offender is invaluable.

Dublin's 'One in Four' organisation also conduct similar support programs but can only operate them once a week and must host them in the same building that is used to support victims the rest of the week. The practicalities of potential sex offenders sharing premises with sexual assault victims could make the already intense work very stressful for staff to coordinate.

The UK does have a phone line for such people here, operated by Stop it Now who have an office in Edinburgh, but examining their website it's clear that, understandably, they need to warn the people thinking of calling them for help that they can remain anonymous yet if they do share contact details and any suggestion that a child is at risk, their information will be passed on to the police. Consequently, the numbers of individuals utilising this service greatly under-represents the number who should.

The exact number of people in Scotland who conceal this sexual attraction towards children is unknown but if we subscribe to the Council of Europe's research that every fifth child in our nation will be sexually abused it confirms that we have a lot more people struggling with this attraction than we are currently comfortable accepting. We have only recently opened the gates to allow victims to speak out without causing hysteria. I can't imagine how long it will take before we are a society where anyone attracted to children can speak openly about their problem and receive only compassionate support. Hence, Scotland must greatly enhance services, and visibility of services, for our citizens who identify themselves as a potential threat to children and L'Association L'Ange Bleu are making the most measurable advances in reaching and supporting these individuals and preventing future sexual assaults on children.


"The Children's House started its operation in November 1998 and serves all of Iceland. It is founded on the American model for child sexual abuse services referred to as "Children's Advocacy Centre".

The Children's House is a child-friendly, interdisciplinary and multiagency centre whereby different professionals work under one roof in the investigation of child sexual abuse cases. It is a result of a partnership, among others between the State Police, the State Prosecution, the University Hospital and the Government Agency for Child Protection.

The basic concept of the Children's House is to prevent the subjection the child to repeated interviews by many agencies in different locations. Research has shown that when this happens, it can be very traumatic for the child and can result in "re-victimisation", i.e. it can have even more severe effects than the abuse itself. Also research has shown that repeated interviews are likely to distort the child accounts of events, in particular if there are many interviewers. Another important aspect of interviewing child victims is to reduce the level of anxiety of the child. Again research has shown that an anxious child is less likely to express itself than if it is comfortable. The Children's House is designed to maximise the child's comfort e.g. by toys, pictures and selection of colours.

In the Children's House, the child is interviewed in a special room by a trained investigative interviewer. The interview is observed in a different room by a judge, who is formally in charge of the procedure, a social worker from the child protection authorities, the police, the prosecution, defence attorneys and the child's advocate. The interview is videotaped and can be used in court at the main proceedings. This arrangement makes it possible most often only to take one interview with the child.

After the interview the child may have the medical examination in the on site medical clinic. The findings are documented by paediatricians through the use of a colposcope, state-of-the-art equipment that records the examination on a video.

The House also provides treatment services for child victims of sexual abuse and their families. The child is assessed for therapeutic purposes. Then an individual treatment plan is created and provided either at the facilities or, if the child lives outside of the capital area, as near to her/his home as possible.

On the 10th anniversary of the Children ́s House in November 2008 more than two thousand children had been referred to the centre for investigative interviews, medical examination or treatment." [1]

From my work as an adviser to the Moira Anderson Foundation, I have been privy to recent cases of child victims in Scotland who were so traumatised by our current process of victim interrogation that they literally soiled themselves in the dock while being cross examined in the courtroom. Our legislation supports this cruel counterproductive practice and I understand one pathetic measure allows our Judges to merely remove their wig if a child is becoming distressed.

To prevent this, the most effective process I have become aware of is the Icelandic 'Barnahus' (Children's home) system for sensitively supporting our child victims through the process. As our Assistant Chief Constable, Malcolm Graham, rightly commented on this idea, we cannot simply transplant a process from a foreign jurisdiction and expect the same success. Scotland's Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland agreed that we need to update our legislation to accommodate this advanced practice. Catriona Dalrymple, Head of Policy at Scotland's Crown office and I discussed a simple step towards such a reform, as I have already been invited by Bragi Gudbrandsson, the founder of the 'Barnahus', to pay a visit to their centre in Iceland. If a fact finding mission were sent to Reykjavík, Catriona suggested then sitting together and examining the specific Scottish legislation that would need reformed in order to progress towards adopting a system of its kind here. Following this, a presentation at Scotland's parliament could be arranged to share the discoveries with our policy makers and hopefully move on its introduction here.

Most crucial to the success of this model in Scotland is the mandatory adoption of its practice by all Judges in every case of sexual abuse of child victims. This may require new legislation specifically ensuring this. I visited Zagreb's Child Protection Centre, which has created a similar set up but despite the great expense invested in building the facility and training experts to use it, their process has not been endorsed by Judges nationally, and while this excellent process exists in Croatia only ten children in ten years have benefited from it.

Roze in Blauw

Like Police Scotland, Roze in Blauw (Pink in Blue) are members of EGPA (European Gay Police Association) and are a task force mostly comprised of homosexual or transgender officers focused on protecting and creating equality for the LGBTQ+ community within and out with the police. Established in 1998 in Holland, their successful model is now implemented in other provinces across the Netherlands. In Amsterdam, I met JT Loh who works with the founding group under their chairperson, Miss Ellie Lust. Miss Lust is also a spokesperson for the Dutch Police and her identical twin sister, Marja, is an investigator. The twins are openly lesbian and despite being respected professional police personnel both have short died hair which makes them quite distinct.

Refreshingly, the officers of Roze in Blauw's sexual orientation is as visible as it is inconsequential. Their ethos is that through being open about their sexuality they remain more approachable to victims of crime within the LGBTQ+ community. They attend and marching in uniform at many annual events throughout the Netherlands, such as Pink Saturday in June and the recent anti Putin protests.

Following my traumatic encounter with homophobia from officers of Edinburgh's Police back in 2003, I was quite moved when JT invited me to join the entire Pink in Blue squadron on their barge during the Gay Pride procession along Amsterdam's canals, the only gay pride parade in the world that is held on water.

Scotland has made great strides towards equality in the past decade but we still have far to go, especially with regards the circumstance for members of the trans community. As previously outlined in the Quality of Silence section, territories who promote fear of LGBTQ+ create an atmosphere that secures the silence of children abused by an adult of their same gender, for fear of the stigma of being involved in any perceivably gay sexual experience. Conversely, authorities that promote equality through leading by example are moving their society towards a more positive time when victims sexual crime of any nature are comfortable and confident enough to report their offender.

Centrs Dardedze

The innovate child training centre 'Dardedze', takes groups of infants on a beautifully orchestrated make-believe adventure where they visit various worlds that present them with a variety of challenges, constructed to help the children gain understanding and confidence in their own ability to identify dangerous people and situations and what actions to take. Purpose-built just on the outskirts of Riga, the centre serves all Latvia, and the day I visited they were hosting a training session with teachers from every region.

When children arrive, they are given an otherworldly cloak and tiny suitcase then board a Harry Potter style imaginary train where they are transported to another land. They stop at several destinations, each carefully designed to challenge their young minds in problem solving which sensitively encourage them to examine what they may or may not have been taught about the world and empowers them to speak up if anyone ever violates them.

For example, in one world the children are shown a host of characters that either seems kind or unkind from their perceptive. One drawing was of a man with a Mohawk haircut smoking a cigarette. The children initially avoid this person but when they picture is spun around we learn that this person is in fact very kind and approachable. In the UK, we have actively taught our children never to speak to strangers but in many situations a stranger is the only person who a child can approach for help. The heavy anti-smoking campaigns we promote to prevent our children from taking up the hazardous habit has imprinted a disproportionate discrimination against smokers, assuming them all to be 'bad people'. Another world teaches the children to scream, which in Latvia is culturally uncommon, perhaps a residual condition for their recent soviet occupation; it is essential that children know it is sometimes okay and important to scream.

I was immensely impressed by this facility and it's impact, as the children loved the journey while also becoming enlightened and empowered yet none are even aware that they have been though some of the most crucial lessons of their lives so far.

The Moira Anderson Foundation

Established in 2000, Airdrie based but serving all of Scotland, MAF support both child victims and adult survivors of CSA with counselling, therapy and legal advice. They also facilitate and deliver world class training for children and professionals such as the "Safe Hands" training courses and workshop programmes and awareness raising presentations to colleges, schools, nurseries, youth organisations, churches, etc., about keeping safe and the effects that childhood sexual abuse can have on the individual and society.

'Safe hands' was launched in Monklands in 2002 to promote 'Protective Behaviours', using a 'Whole School' approach and through workshops for parents and school assemblies. Talks to pupils are age appropriate from primary one to S6 and storytelling and drama sessions are available for pre- school pupils, which introduce the concept of feeling safe and sharing worries. Safe hands training can also be aimed at all ages and groups to promote personal safety strategies for everyone. It has been well received by many people including teachers, police, nursery staff and many other professionals and non-professionals.

The content of the training continues to evolve and incorporate latest information and MAF are currently developing a new curriculum that will span a child's entire school years with developmentally appropriate educational programmes, which already have drawn interest for various local authorities. Research indicates that children who have received such training are three times more likely to disclose abuse, and this is not only crucial for our ability to identify and remove dangerous individuals from contact with other children, the child's own psychological recovery and the prevention of the aftermath outlined in the ACE study can only begin with this crucial disclosure.

The Moira Anderson Foundation has had much success in reaching children across North Lanarkshire. Unfortunately, a postcode lottery dictates wither your child will benefit and again Scotland's denominational schools have been resistant to this training. In September 2015, Glasgow's City Council to voted on adopting the Council of Europe's 'One in Five campaign', which was unanimously welcomed and my hope is now that they collaborate with MAF to incorporate the more details and advanced materials which they have generated within Scotland for Scottish children, then seek to gain an endorsement from the Council of Europe on the new system, which could possibly then travel back to Strasbourg from where our new world class system could be adopted by other nations.

The most crucial point is to make the public aware that these materials do not sexualise the child. Parents fear their child is too young to learn about sexual abuse but I always remind them that sadly their child is never too young to be molested. All this training does is teach infants and teens how to disclose any difficult experience to people who can help them and we will not progress without empowering all of our children in how to communicate. We cannot continue on this path and expect to eradicate abuse but resistance to this training has been met in various countries and most commonly from religious territories or schools. Children are equally at risk of sexual abuse regardless of their family's religion or culture and so we must now find a amicable but mandated means of reaching all children receiving this training. Article 17 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Scotland is subject to, states that children have the right to information that is important to their health and wellbeing. Nothing is more threatening to a child's wellbeing, nor their entire future, than being sexually abused. A national strategic approach needs to be introduced to distribute this training to every child, which could require new world-leading legislation that circumvents any denominational objection.


Child Advocacy Studies Training ( CAST) was developed in USA by Victor Vieth and has so far trained over sixty thousand professionals, and growing. At the NYC Male Survivor conference in November 2012, while I was preparing for the walk, Victor gave a presentation on the high profile case of Gerry Sanduski. Highlighting the series of mistakes and malpractice that accommodated this one offender's prolific career of sexual assaults on children, Victor exposed how lack of appropriate training within the entire workforce involved in child maltreatment prosecution was the reason why so many disclosures were made by his victims and even witnesses to his assaults yet repeatedly no meaning action was taken.

Considering how most police, social workers and judges etc. do not feel fully equipped to handle the needs of their communities until they have been in their job for a number of years, Victor created the Child Advocacy Training Centre, a purpose built facility which contains various mock-up crime scenes or real life locations, such as apartments, houses, interview rooms, hospital and court rooms. The course is undergone by personnel from the entire spectrum of workforces involved in child protection and maltreatment prosecution.

Using case studies of actual incidents, actors are employed to play families or employees and they trainee has the opportunity to learn in situ the professional level of decision-making and practice that in reality is required to protect our children and ensure justice for victims. Similar approaches have practiced in Scotland with actors training doctors, lawyers and police but nothing on the scale and complexity of the Child Advocacy Centre, which continually incorporates developments in research to ensures all staff graduating from the training have a far more advanced comprehension of how to protect children based on the best information that exists.

CAST is beginning to enter Europe and so we could and should have it here in Scotland. As the entire program in designed to equip each trainee with a comprehensive spectrum of experiences, recreated from actual scenarios while incorporating the very latest discoveries from other fields, such as the most recent neurological impact studies, CAST is the best training being practice anywhere.


Email: Julie Crawford,

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road