Chris Marshall: Past abuse victims deserve justice

Fears have been aired that the sheer number of historic child abuse cases could overwhelm the new unit. Picture: Colin Hattersley
Fears have been aired that the sheer number of historic child abuse cases could overwhelm the new unit. Picture: Colin Hattersley
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POSSIBLY the only positive to have come out of the Jimmy Savile scandal and the Rotherham child abuse inquiry is that this once taboo issue has now moved centre stage.

After decades of being silenced and ignored, survivors of child abuse are finally being heard and their allegations taken seriously by the authorities.

There was further evidence of that earlier this week when Police Scotland officially launched its National Child Abuse Investigation Unit.

In existence since January, the unit is based in Livingston, but its 50 dedicated officers are also spread across Aberdeen, Inverness and Glasgow.

Its creation reflects not only the new prominence given to child abuse in the media and society as a whole, but also the burgeoning caseload the police have on a day-to-day basis.

The proliferation of child pornography on the internet and the increasing numbers of those coming forward to report historical abuse has led to a position where sex crimes now account for around three-quarters of prosecutions in the High Court.

It is likely the new unit’s work will inform that of the national inquiry into historical child abuse announced by the Scottish Government last year.

Education secretary Angela Constance is expected to provide further details of the inquiry’s terms of reference to the Scottish Parliament next week.

If the inquiry is as wide-ranging as survivors hope it will be, it is predicted that the number of victims coming forward could be in the thousands – and that is likely to pose a significant resources issue for the nascent child abuse unit and its 50 full-time officers.

Survivors are already worried historical cases may be overlooked, set aside or even covered up due to the overwhelming job the police have on their hands. Sadly, past experience shows they are right to be concerned about this.

For their part, some police officers have expressed concerns that members of the force are being taken off frontline duties to help make up new task forces such as the one outlined earlier in the week. Police Scotland, however, was keen to put out that had not been the case in this instance.

Speaking at the launch of the new unit on Monday, Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham said one of its priorities would be to make sure abused children could report their experiences to the police now, rather than waiting until adulthood.

That is a laudable aim and the police should be congratulated for it.

But while there is a firm commitment being made to keeping today’s children safe, we must also make sure that those abused in years gone by get justice for what they endured.