Up to 49.5% of childhood sexual abuse occurs in the family environment. This is one of the data revealed this Thursday by a new Save the Children report that has analyzed 394 sentences handed down in 2019 and 2020. Although the organization warns that most of the cases remain hidden, the study aims to get closer to how they occur. that they have ended up in court, a process in which they have identified a range of “system failures” that end up revictimizing minors, the study points out.
The keys to the new law against violence against children: what changes for children
At least 84% of the aggressors are people known to the victim (in 1.2% of the cases the sentence does not detail it), among which those who belong to the family stand out, who constitute half. Of them, the most frequent abuser is the father, who assaults minors in 12.3% of all cases and in one out of four if we only analyze family members, the mother’s partner (9.3%), grandfather (6%) or uncle (3.2%).
Contrary to what is usually thought, Andrés Conde, Save the Children general director, explained, “abusers are people with whom minors live” and they are “perfectly integrated citizens of society, of whom no one suspects anything” . Outside the family environment, but aggressors from the victim’s environment, the family’s acquaintances, friends or colleagues and educators stand out.
Regarding the profile of the victims, the characteristics revealed by the new report suggest that the average age is 11 years and in the vast majority of the sentences analyzed, 78.9%, are girls.
In 80% of cases the testimony is not recorded
Research adds to the pioneer who four years ago presented Save the Children, in which estimates of the prevalence of childhood abuse were thrown, a reality that is usually invisible but more common than it may seem: “between 10 and 20% of the population has suffered it”, but “only 15% of the cases are denounced “, counted the NGO. This leads the organization to conclude that the available complaint data constitutes “the tip of the iceberg” of sexual abuse in Spain.
Even so, the figures suggest that in 2020, an anomalous year due to the pandemic, 5,865 complaints were filed, 16 a day. They are half of the total number of complaints for sexual crimes. In 2019 there were 6,153. But what happens when the judicial process begins? 63% of the cases analyzed lasted two years, an improvement over the 2017 report, when the average was three years. Although, the organization warns, “there are still processes that exceed five years” in duration.
The average number of statements that children must make during the process is four, in which they have to repeat what has happened to them. “This means that they tell their story to various professionals, exposing themselves to reliving the abuse and damaging the credibility of their testimony,” says the study. To avoid the journey there is the so-called ‘pre-constituted test’, which consists of recording the statement once and using it throughout the process, but it is hardly used: in 77.3% of the rulings the testimony was not recorded.
The NGO, however, does see a tendency, “although slight and insufficient”, to increasingly use the pre-constituted test to avoid added harm to minors, something that the recently approved Organic Law for the Comprehensive Protection of Children and Children. Adolescence Facing Violence incorporates an obligation for minors under 14 years of age, except if it is “motivated” by one of the parties. However, from Save the Children they demand that it be generalized for all minors.
The unique door of the Barnahus model
Save the Children assures that the judicial process is a “painful” path for the victims that can turn into a new “traumatic experience” and has identified several “flaws” in the system that it asks to correct. Among them, the lack of specialized training for professionals who care for minors or the existence of “inappropriate spaces” for children. “It must be taken into account that for boys and girls these are places where criminals go, something that corroborates their experience of guilt, which is another characteristic of this type of violence,” said Conde.
In this sense, it considers a success to implement in Spain the model of the so-called ‘children’s houses’ or Barnahus model, widespread in other countries. These child-friendly spaces become the place of reference and all the professionals involved in the case move there, so that the minor is not subjected to the journey that they are normally forced to go through, that is, a kind of door only. Along with this demand, the NGO calls for the specialization of the courts and a specific prosecutor’s office for this type of crimes, as well as guaranteeing the specialization of forensics, lawyers and other professionals involved in the process.
Several of these measures are included both in the Child Protection Law, which has already entered into force, and in the Organic Law of Comprehensive Guarantee of Sexual Freedom currently being processed by Congress, but the organization demands agility and implementation March of the first of the norms in this sense: “The justice system should be adapted to the needs and interests of children”, concludes the investigation.