Napac (National Association for People Abused in Childhood)

January 2024 – This chapter, which contains information for practitioners on the action to take if an adult discloses abuse they experienced in the past, is new. It includes advice on how to support the adult concerned.

1. Introduction

There may be times when an adult makes an allegation of abuse, including sexual abuse, that happened many years ago. This is often called historical or non-recent abuse. Most commonly it is an adult reporting abuse that happened during their childhood, but it could also be an older adult who experienced abuse as a younger adult. The impacts of abuse can last a lifetime and can have an ongoing impact on the adult’s physical and mental health, relationships and wellbeing.

There are a number of reasons why the adult may not have been able to report the abuse at the time it took place. This includes:

  • a concern that they would not be believed;
  • not understanding what was happening to them;
  • a fear of retaliation from the alleged abuser;
  • the consequences to themselves or others of the impact / fallout of reporting the abuse;
  • a power imbalance between the abuser and the adult.

Reasons why an adult may later decide to report abuse they experienced as a child include:

  • media coverage of other successful prosecutions of historical abuse;
  • being aware of other allegations against the abuser and wanting to stop them abusing others;
  • having shared their experiences with another person who will support them to report the abuse;
  • seeking a sense of closure.

2. Action to Take

An adult may disclose non recent abuse to practitioners from any organisation, or may go directly to the Police or social care (children’s or adults).

The adult should be supported to share their story at their own pace and reassured that they will listened to and taken seriously.

It is important to avoid asking leading questions, but the following information will help identify appropriate next steps:

  • When the abuse occurred (and if possible, over what time period);
  • Where did the abuse took place and if there were other victims;
  • Who the perpetrator was (if the adult will not name the perpetrator, try to establish the relationship, e.g. family member, teacher, care worker);
  • If they know if the alleged perpetrator is still alive, and where they may live.
  • Whether the alleged abuser is known to still be contact with children, and the identity of any child who may currently be at risk, if known.

It should be explained that information the adult gives may need to be shared – even if the adult does not want to make a formal report to the Police or social care – to protect other children from possible abuse.

If the alleged abuser was in a position of trust with children or vulnerable adults at the time of the offence/s, either children’s social care or adult social care (as relevant) should hold a strategy discussion to determine what is known about the alleged abuser now and whether any further action is required, including whether other children may also have been abused or if they still have contact with children or vulnerable adults now – either professionally or in their home lives. Discussions should involve senior police officers and partner agency managers to ensure there are appropriate resources, as required.

Historical abuse allegations can be more complex to investigate and prosecute due to the passage of time; there may be less evidence available and / or people may have left the area for example. However, evidence including photographs may still be available and people may be willing to give statements. There are however many examples of successful prosecutions of historical abuse.

For further information in relation to children’s safeguarding, see the Greater Manchester Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures.

For action in relation to adult safeguarding, see Safeguarding Enquiries Process.

3. Supporting the Adult

Adults should be offered appropriate support. This could include a referral to mental health services or signposting to local organisations who provide support for victims / survivors of abuse.

Agencies involved should agree who keeps the adult informed of progress with any investigation.

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