“There is already a robust body of evidence in Northern Ireland about the weaknesses in the current system of investigating and prosecuting sexual crimes against children[i]. The need for system change was reiterated by professionals from across criminal justice, health and social care and the voluntary sector in this research.
“The young people who took part clearly outlined their need for their experience of sexual abuse to be believed and validated. They also talked about a loss of identity and their fear of sharing their experiences within the criminal justice system. All evidence that children have not been at the centre of these processes. They make the strongest case for why the system must change.
“If we took a ‘Barnahus’ approach, children would be interviewed and medically examined for forensic purposes, comprehensively assessed, and receive recovery services from relevant professionals all within one location, “under one roof”. This aims to prevent re-traumatisation during the subsequent investigation and court proceedings. Barnahus is designed around the needs of children and young people, not the criminal justice system.”
‘Barnahus’ a Scandinavian word for ‘Children’s House’ is currently in various stages of implementation across 22 countries including England and the Republic of Ireland.
Koulla said, “We know that for children the journey from initial disclosure of abuse through to when the case is completed at court can be long and daunting and can hinder their recovery. This is not in the interests of child victims or in the wider interests of justice.”
Recent PSNI statistics indicate that children are the predominant victim group for sexual offences in NI with 56% (2197) of all recorded sexual crimes in 2021 being committed against under 18s[ii].
“We need a better system that supports them right through from disclosure, to seeking justice and recovery.
“Our report builds on the Department of Justice scoping review from October 2019 and makes a clear statement that Barnahus is the most supported model in which to progress this.” said the Commissioner.
During the research process Sir John Gillen, who led an independent review of arrangements around the delivery of justice in instances of serious sexual offences in NI, said “The attitude [toward Barnahus] must be a “can do” not “I can’t do”. We should be saying what can we do here to do this? Because the concept is absolutely first class. It’s worked in Norway, Greenland, Denmark, Finland, and Lithuania, it’s working in England. I’m just a bit concerned that you can sit down if you’re a civil servant and think of 100 reasons why all the money shouldn’t be spent here. You know children are being absolutely devastated by this whole process – that’s without price.”
The Commissioner concluded: “Children should not have to put their lives on hold for months and years as they wait for cases to be concluded. They must never again feel lost in the system which aims to support them. The report and its recommendations act as a roadmap by which a Barnahus service can be realised in Northern Ireland. Time to get on with implementation.”
Notes to Editors
*Trigger warning: Please include this information when reporting
This report explores themes some people may find upsetting including sexual abuse of children and young people. Please talk to a trusted person if you are affected.
While most children and young people in Northern Ireland will not experience any kind of sexual abuse, some do. If you are affected or are worried about someone you know please ask for help from a trusted adult to help you get the help you need or contact social services or police.
If you feel you can’t speak to an adult you trust like a parent, youth worker or teacher, then please contact ChildLine (08001111 or Lifeline 0808 808 8000; they both offer free, confidential advice and support to young people, are open 24 hours a day.
[ii] In 2020/21 of 3865 recorded sexual offences 2197 were committed against U18s; PSNI and NISRA Police recorded crime statistics in NI update to 31 December 2021 (and Pivot Table 2 data) https://www.psni.police.uk/globalassets/inside-the-psni/our-statistics/police-recorded-crime-statistics/2021/december/crime-bulletin-dec-_21.pdf