Strong need to counter widespread sexual abuse of children

Around 1 in 8 women have experienced sexual violence before they were 15, according to FRA research. Such widespread abuse points to the urgent need to renew efforts to tackle this pervasive problem, as the first-ever European day against child sexual abuse and sexual exploitation on 18 November helps remind us.

The results of FRA’s violence against survey underlined the scale of childhood abuse throughout the EU. Such figures do not correspond to official figures, suggesting low levels of reporting to authorities. The results also revealed strong links to adult experiences of violence, as evidence of cycles of abuse – 30% of women who had been sexually victimised by a partner also experienced sexual violence in childhood. Addressing and preventing abuse early in life is therefore vital to help stop such cycles.

According to the EU’s Victims’ Directive, which Member States had to transpose by 16 November, victims of abuse should receive targeted and well-resourced victim support services. This will ensure child victims have real access to justice for the suffering they have endured and their rights are respected. This means not just legal support but psychological and emotional support, as well as information about their rights and the support on offer, as FRA’s report on victim support services underlined.  

In addition, justice systems must do more to cater to the needs of children involved in judicial proceedings, according to FRA’s report on child-friendly justice. This would also help prevent victims being re-traumatised during proceedings. Making justice more child-friendly is also in the best interests of the child. It improves child protection and their meaningful participation in judicial proceedings. If children’s rights to be heard, to information, and to privacy and to protection are respected, they will feel safe and comfortable when contributing to proceedings. In 2016, FRA will launch a new report where children, including children victims of sexual abuse, have been interviewed about their experiences with the justice system.

All told, the need to continue countering sexual abuse and exploitation of children is clear. The EU Directive on combating sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography and the Council of Europe’s Convention on Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse are good starting points. They require sexual offences against children to be criminalised. They also urge all States to take measures to prevent sexual violence in the first place, and to ensure that when there are cases of abuse that procedural safeguards exist to avoid re-traumatisation when interviewing children, for example, and that perpetrators are brought to justice.