‘Safe houses’ for young sex abuse victims to open next year

© Reuters
Two ‘safe houses’ offering medical care, psychological support and protection for child victims of sexual assault are due to open in London next year as part of a joint project between London Mayor Sadiq Kahn and Home Secretary Amber Rudd.

The Home Office funded facilities, which were modeled on the success of the Icelandic ‘Barnahus’ policy, will help an estimated 400 vulnerable children each year.

“Child sexual abuse is a horrendous crime that this government is taking action to tackle, both by protecting children from abuse and ensuring that offenders are swiftly brought to justice,” Rudd said in a statement.

Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield was optimistic about the initiative, which is now used across Scandinavia. 

“The Barnahus approach has doubled convictions, and improved access to therapy for victims," she said last week ahead of a meeting with West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner to explore the potential for a pilot 'Barnahus' in the area.

The facilities aim to provide child victims with a “sympathetic” environment and help them navigate the criminal justice system. As part of the effort, victims will give recorded interviews with clinical child psychologists and specially-trained police officers, reducing the need for children to repeatedly recount traumatic events to multiple agencies.

"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," Longfield explained.

The announcement comes as a commons select committee prepares to publish findings of an inquiry into sexual violence in schools later this week. Witnesses to the inquiry have called for children as young as four to be taught about sexism and sexual harassment in order to combat the rising tide of

Dozens of teachers reported a rise in sexualized language and behavior among very young children. Members of the Guardian’s online Teachers Network told the newspaper that sexual education in UK schools was inadequate ahead of the inquiry’s publication.

A BBC investigation last September found that 5,500 sexual offenses were recorded in UK schools over a three-year period, including 600 rapes.