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Open letter to Westminster Government: child sexual abuse policy

In response to recent political announcements around child sexual abuse, we and others were prompted to write an open letter. The letter is signed by over 60 individuals, from 13 practice and policy organisations and over 20 universities, who share a commitment to keeping all children safe. In the letter, we call for comprehensive, inclusive, evidence-informed responses to all forms of child sexual abuse, and all who experience it. Please see text of letter below (or download a copy [PDF]). Find out how to add your signature at the bottom of the page.

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Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Rishi Sunak MP
Rt. Hon. Suella Braverman MP, Home Secretary

Hon. Sarah Dines MP, Minister for Safeguarding
Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Unit, Home Office
Rt. Hon Sir Keir Starmer KCB, QC, MP, Leader of the Opposition
Rt. Hon. Yvette Cooper MP, Shadow Home Secretary

25 May 2023

Updated with additional signatures 15 July 2023


We are a group of UK based researchers, practice and policy leads whose work focuses on addressing child sexual abuse. As the Westminster Government releases its response to recommendations of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), we call for evidence-informed responses, that prioritise the needs of all victims and survivors, and respond holistically to all forms of sexual abuse.

This requires targeted action on many different fronts, implemented without delay. This includes challenging the damaging ‘myths and stereotypes’ noted by IICSA and the Westminster Government itself. To this end, we urgently ask all politicians to refrain from making partial, inaccurate or divisive claims about child sexual abuse. Doing so undermines attempts to ensure policy-making is evidence-based, fair and inclusive. Many recent political announcements and accompanying media discussions have clearly fallen short in this regard, perpetuating misinformation, racism and division. Whatever the intention, stereotyping around child sexual abuse (racial or otherwise) poses considerable risks, not least to children.

The Government has stated its commitment to ‘bringing child sexual abuse out of the shadows’ and ensuring ‘we do not fail children and young people’. These are important goals and action is long overdue. To that end, we highlight key principles that should inform all policy efforts to prevent child sexual abuse, protect victims and prosecute perpetrators.

Recognising the problem

The vast body of knowledge - from victims and survivors, practice and research - demonstrates that victims’ needs are best served by creating a society in which we openly confront the complex realities of child sexual abuse. Such abuse happens on an epidemic scale. Children are sexually abused across all strata of society and in every type of institution. That includes (but is not limited to) families, schools, sports and leisure clubs, care and welfare services, religious institutions, and within the criminal justice system. Prevention, early intervention and better support for victims are vital in all contexts in which child sexual abuse occurs.

Overlooking and/or misrepresenting the sheer scale and varied nature of child sexual abuse, however unintentional, is dangerous. It inhibits timely recognition, hampers effective responses and weakens the societal fabric necessary to keep children safe.

Policies which start from a basis of singling out one ‘type’ of abuse as more heinous and worthy of attention than any other are ineffective and unethical. Attempts to locate the problem of child sexual abuse (including child sexual exploitation) within a particular community, ‘type’ of perpetrator, or ‘type’ of victim, run counter to the extensive evidence base – including the Home Office’s own evidence on ‘group-based child sexual exploitation in the community’ (so-called ‘grooming gangs’). For example, a narrow focus on the perceived targeting of white girls overlooks the equally reprehensible victimisation of boys and young men, and victims from Black and minoritised communities. Evidence also shows significantly under-recognised abuse amongst disabled children. In a similar vein, a singular focus on groups of male abusers of British-Pakistani origin draws attention away from so many other sources of harm. Whatever the intention behind these partial narratives, children will almost certainly be less safe as a result.

Responding to the problem

Extensive evidence [1] from research and inquiries - including those which centre the expertise of victims and survivors - demonstrates remarkably consistent messages about what should be priorities for policy and practice. Many of these messages are echoed in other key initiatives within the field, such as the Westminster Government’s own Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy and the Multi-agency Practice Principles for responding to child exploitation and extra-familial harm. Future policy and resource allocation will have greater impact if grounded in these insights. This will include a focus on:

  • Better identification of all forms of child sexual abuse to limit the impact and prevent further harm. This means fostering a society in which those who experience abuse feel safe and supported to tell, and where others are empowered to recognise potential signs of child sexual abuse and respond effectively. It also means challenging the silencing and stigma that is associated with such abuse, and the silencing victim-blaming narratives that often accompany this.
  • Timely access, for victims and survivors, to effective long-term support to address therapeutic, advocacy and wider support needs. This should address children’s intersectional identities and associated needs, recognising how multiple forms of discrimination compound vulnerability and limit access to services. It should also extend to support for adult survivors and non-abusing family members of both victims and of those who abuse.
  • A trauma-informed and responsive criminal justice system that centres victims’ and witnesses’ needs, processes cases effectively, and proactively seeks to reduce attrition.
  • Appropriate education and awareness raising within schools and wider society to support children, young people and adults to recognise abusive, coercive and controlling behaviours; understand consent; recognise routes to help; and foster a society which will not harbour or tolerate abuse.
  • Improving collection and use of data to inform responses. Criminal justice statistics need to be improved, whilst recognising that most abuse remains unreported. To understand the hidden picture and keep pace with rapidly changing patterns in abuse perpetration and victimisation, it is vital to invest in a regular, representative prevalence survey among children and young people.
  • Improving understanding of what is effective in preventing child sexual abuse, how it works (or doesn’t) and under what circumstances. Too often, responses to child sexual abuse are reactive - coming after the harm is done. Building and acting on a stronger evidence-base around prevention would help treat child sexual abuse as the public health priority it should be.

This list, though not exhaustive, is key to better policy and practice around child sexual abuse. This Government - and any future Government committed to tackling child sexual abuse - must do better to ensure no child is unseen or left behind. That means acting on the existing evidence base, listening to the expertise of victims, survivors and professionals, and prioritising meaningful impact over short-term media cycles. Children deserve nothing less.


Yours Sincerely,


Dr Helen Beckett, Director, Safer Young Lives Research Centre, University of Bedfordshire

Dr Ella Cockbain, Associate Professor in Security and Crime Science, UCL

Dr Camille Warrington, Associate Professor, Safer Young Lives Research Centre, University of Bedfordshire


Dez Holmes, Director, Research in Practice

Dr Lucie Moore, Faiths Against Child Sexual Exploitation (FACES) & Visiting Research Fellow, University of Bedfordshire

Diana Fawcett, Chief Executive, Victim Support

Anna Edmundson, Head of Policy and Public Affairs, NSPCC

Sheila Taylor MBE, CEO, NWG Network

Patricia Durr, CEO, ECPAT UK (Every Child Protected Against Trafficking)

Victoria Green, CEO, Marie Collins Foundation & Visiting Senior Research Fellow, University of Suffolk

Kate Wareham, Strategic Director, Young People, Families & Communities, Catch22

Duncan Craig OBE, CEO, We Are Survivors & Honorary Senior Research Fellow, School of Criminology, University of Manchester

Sherry Peck, CEO, Safer London

Abi Billinghurst, Founder and CEO, Abianda

Cath Wakeman OBE, Chief Executive Officer and Trauma Therapist, Imara CIO

Rehana Faisal, Co-chair, Faiths Against Child Sexual Exploitation (FACES)

Robert Balfour, Founder/CEO Survivors West Yorkshire (Bens Place) and Honorary Supervisor Department of Clinical Psychology, University of Liverpool

Sharon Martin, Chair, National IRO Managers Partnership (NIROMP)

Maggie Atkinson, Former Children's Commissioner (England); Freelance Consultant

Lucy Duckworth, VSCP/London Training Manger, The Survivors Trust

Fay Maxted OBE, Chief Executive of the Survivors Trust and member of the VCSP, IICSA

Nicky Hill, Safeguarding Consultant, Re:form Consulting

Jayne Butler, CEO, Rape Crisis England & Wales

Sophie Olson, Founder/managing director, The Flying Child CIC

Moya Woolven, CEO, Basis Yorkshire

Richard Barber, Director, Leeds Visible Project

Karen Garland, Lawyer/Child Safeguarding Specialist, HCI

May Baxter-Thornton, Marie Collins Foundation and IICSA VSCP

Chris Tuck, Former VSCP Member and Consultant to IICSA/Founder & Director of Survivors Of aBuse (SOB)

Stephanie Grimshaw, Head of Public Affairs and Communications, Welsh Women's Aid

Welsh Women's Aid, Welsh Women's Aid

Dr Elsie Whittington, Greater Manchester combined authority

Vanessa Dixon, CEO, The Birchall Trust

Nichola Williams, ISVA CYPISVA Coordinator at Horizon SV, Cyfannol Womens Aid

Lisa Lenton, CEO, S.H.E UK

Anji Hall, Clean Slate

Dianne Ludlow, Advocacy Manager, One in Four

Dr Louise Hill, Head of Policy, Evidence & Impact, Children 1st

Steve Canning, Project Director, Operation Emotion

Claire Bloor, CEO, SARSAS (Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Service)

Caroline Freeman, CEO, First Step, Leicester & Rutland

Namita Prakash, CEO, Trust House Reading

Mary Trevillion, CEO, Family Matters - Sexual Abuse & Rape Service

Mags Godderidge, CEO, Survive - Support for survivors of rape and sexual abuse

Sarah Lyles, PSHE, Wellbeing & Surrey Healthy Schools Lead, Surrey County Council

Emma Lewis MBE, Victim and survivor consultative panel member, Previously IICSA

Rachel W, Managing Director, Animal Assisted Therapy for young people

Dr Craig Barlow, Independent Forensic Social Worker and Criminologist, Craig Barlow Consultancy & Training

Carolyn Webster, CEO, CLEAR Emotional Trauma and Therapy Specialists

Patsy Johnson-Cisse, Managing Director, Brave Futures

Deborah Denis, Chief Executive, Lucy Faithfull Foundation

Sara James, Service Manager for Quality Outcomes for Children and Families, Wiltshire Council

Julia Carver, Head of Strategy and Development, Safety Net (UK)

Sarah Pritchard, Consultant social worker and trainer, Barnardo’s

Lisa Thompson, Chief Executive Officer, Rape & Service Violence Project (RSVP)

Peter E Saunders, Founder of NAPAC. Author of The Truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth….so help me.

Catherine Bedford, Safeguarding Specialist

Anna Racher, Co-author of multi-agency Practice Principles responding to child exploitation and extra familial harm

Poppy Eyre, Ambassador for Family Matters UK

Dr Grace Robinson, Founder and CEO, Black Box Research and Consultancy

Lynne Sanders, CEO, Swansea Women's Aid

Dr Sara Scott, Director, DMSS Research

Fiona Ellis OBE, Co- founder & CEO, Survivors in Transition; PhD Student & Visiting Fellow Institute Social Justice & Crime University of Suffolk

Dr Sarah Lloyd, Trainer and Researcher

Adrian Phillip, IBM

Frida* (*not her real name), Survivor of child sexual abuse & NSPCC Real Life Story Volunteer

Bronwen schewitz, Survivor of CSE

Bernice Giggins, Internal Communications Manager & Survivor

Rampaul Chamba

Elle Aburrow

Lois Ainger


Professor Nasreen Ali, Professor of Public Health Equality, University of Bedfordshire

Dr Katherine Allen, Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Social Justice and Crime, University of Suffolk

Professor Felia Allum, University of Bath

Professor Rachel Armitage, Professor of Criminology, University of Huddersfield

Dr Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson, Everyday Disasters and Violences Research Group Lead, UCL

Professor Christine Barter, Co-Director, Connect Centre for International Research on Interpersonal Violence and Harm, School of Social Work, Care and Community, University of Central Lancashire

Professor Claudia Bernard, Goldsmiths, University of London

Safina Bi, PhD Researcher, University of Birmingham

Dr Lisa Bostock, Principal Research Fellow, Institute of Applied Social Research, University of Bedfordshire

Dr. Silvie Bovarnick, Visiting Research Fellow, Safer Young Lives Research Centre, University of Bedfordshire

Rose Broad, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, University of Manchester

Dr Isabelle Brodie, Principal Lecturer, University of Bedfordshire

Dr Kate Brown, Senior Lecturer, University of York

Professor Sarah Brown, Visiting Fellow, University of the West of England

Dr Sangeeta Chatterji, Lecturer, Social Work, University of Edinburgh

Pinar Celik Chippari, Phd student, Queens University Belfast

Professor Christine Cocker, Head of School of Social Work, University of East Anglia

Dr Claire Cody, Senior Research Fellow, Safer Young Lives Research Centre, University of Bedfordshire

Dr Stephen Cowden, Senior Lecturer in Social Work, University of Gloucestershire

Professor John Devaney, Chair of Social Work, University of Edinburgh

Dr Sukhwant Dhaliwal, Course Leader, Woman and Child Abuse programme, London Metropolitan University

Dr Katie Ellis, Senior Lecturer in Child Welfare, University of Sheffield

Dr Fiona Factor, School Enhancement Lead & Academic Portfolio Lead (PG), School of Applied Social Sciences, University of Bedfordshire

Dr Elizabeth A. Faulkner, Lecturer in Law, Keele University

Professor Carlene Firmin MBE, Professor of Social Work, Durham University

Professor Anita Franklin, Professor of Childhood Studies, University of Portsmouth

Professor Deborah Fry, Director of Data for Childlight – Global Child Safety Institute, Moray House School of Education and Sport, University of Edinburgh

Professor David Gadd, Professor of Criminology, School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester

Pippa Goodfellow, University of Bedfordshire

Dr Fiona Vera Gray, Deputy Director, The Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit, London Metropolitan University

Dr Sophie Hallett, Senior Lecturer (Social Policy), Cardiff University & Reader in the Prevention of Interpersonal Harm, Connect Centre, University of Central Lancashire

Megan Hermolle, Research Fellow, University of Suffolk

Dr Kristine Hickle, Senior Lecturer in Social Work, University of Sussex

Tanya Horeck, Professor, Anglia Ruskin University

Professor Miranda Horvath, Director of the Institute for Social Justice and Crime, University of Suffolk

Dr Nathalie Huegler, School of Social Work and Social Care, University of Sussex

Professor Patricia Hynes, Professor of Social Justice, Helena Kennedy Centre, Sheffield Hallam University

Professor Liz Kelly, Director, Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit, London Metropolitan University

Joseph Kiff, Research Fellow, Safer Young Lives Research Centre, University of Bedfordshire

Dr Juliane Kloess, Lecturer in Forensic Clinical Psychology, School of Health in Social Science, University of Edinburgh

Dr Aravinda Kosaraju, Lecturer in Child Protection, University of Kent

Professor Michelle Lefevre, Director of the Centre for Innovation and Research in Childhood and Youth, University of Sussex

Dr Jenny Lloyd, Assistant Professor, Durham University

Professor Samantha Lundigan, Director of the Policing Institute for the Eastern Region (PIER), Anglia Ruskin University

Stacey Maher, Doctoral Researcher, University of Huddersfield & Child Sexual Abuse Practitioner and Advocate

Dr Gary Manders, Senior Lecturer, School of Applied Social Sciences, University of Bedfordshire

Nicholas Marsh, Social Worker & PhD Researcher, University of East London

Dr Elena Martellozzo, Associate Professor in Criminology, Middlesex University

Dr Franziska Meinck, Senior Lecturer, University of Edinburgh

Hannah Millar, Research Assistant, Safer Young Lives Research Centre, University of Bedfordshire

Dr Mary Mitchell, Senior Lecturer in Social Work, University of Edinburgh

Dr Fiona Morrison, Lecturer in Childhood Studies, University of Edinburgh

Dr. Carole Murphy, Director, Bakhita Centre for Research on Slavery, Exploitation and Abuse Abuse, St Mary's University

Alexandra Myers, Doctoral Researcher, University of Huddersfield

Dr Rachael Owens, Assistant Professor (Research), Durham University

Professor Jenny Pearce OBE, Professor of Young People and Public Policy, Safer Young Lives Research Centre, University of Bedfordshire

Keith Pringle, Professor Emeritus in Sociology with s specialism in social work work, Uppsala University

David Porteous, Associate Professor (Criminology), Middlesex University

Professor Ethel Quayle CBE, Professor of Forensic Clinical Psychology, School of Health in Social Science, University of Edinburgh

Dr Theresa Redmond, Dawes Senior Research Fellow, the Policing Institute for the Eastern Region (PIER), Anglia Ruskin University

Professor Jessica Ringrose, Co-Director Centre for Sociology of Education and Equity, University College London

Julia Rudolph, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Greenwich

Dr Tina Salter, Senior Lecturer in Applied Social Sciences, University of Bedfordshire

Dr. Mia Scally, Lecturer in Forensic Psychology - Forensic Criminology, Middlesex University

Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs OBE, Emeritus Fellow, Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit, London Metropolitan University & Founder and CEO, Surviving Economic Abuse

Claire Soares, Research Fellow, Safer Young Lives Research Centre, University of Bedfordshire

Professor Sundari Anitha, Professor of Gender, Violence and Work, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Lincoln

Professor Ravi K. Thiara, Department of Sociology, University of Warwick

Dr Roma Thomas, Principal Lecturer, School of Applied Social Sciences, University of Bedfordshire

Professor Kay Tisdall, Professor of Childhood Policy, University of Edinburgh

Dr Waqas Tufail, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Leeds Beckett University

Joanne Walker, Assistant Professor, Durham University

Camille Waring, Researcher & Academic, University of Westminster

Dr Jo Woodiwiss, Reader in Sociology and Youth Studies, University of Huddersfield

Professor Richard Wortley, Jill Dando Institute of Security & Crime Science, University College London

Dr Lauren Wroe, Assistant Professor (Research), Department of Sociology, Durham University

Alice Yeo, Senior Research Fellow, Safer Young Lives Research Centre, University of Bedfordshire


[1] See for example the extensive research evidence reviewed within the following documents: i) Child Sexual Abuse in 2021/22: Trends in official data; ii) Tackling Child Exploitation Practice Principles Research Summary; iii) The Scale and Nature of Child Sexual Abuse: Review of Evidence; iv) Group based child sexual exploitation characteristics of offending – Literature Review; v) What works in responding to child sexual exploitation; vi) Child sexual exploitation: Definition & Guide for Professionals.


We are aware that following publication of this letter there may be others who wish to sign. If you would like your name added to this as a signatory, please complete the contact form below before the 23rd June 2023. After this date we will add verified signatures and re-publish an updated letter.

In the meantime, we encourage you to use and share this letter as you find helpful. We hope it helps in supporting efforts to enable better responses to child sexual abuse in all its forms.

Contact us to sign the letter


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