How to report child abuse

Reporting or disclosing child abuse takes courage, whether you are a survivor reporting crimes that have been committed against you or if you believe a child is being abused.

Remember that taking action may help to stop the abuse, see the abuser brought to justice, prevent other children from being abused and allow the survivor to get help to recover. To start with, you may wish to learn more about the various issues and topics surrounding child abuse and the law.

In this piece, we take you through two separate circumstances:

  • What to do if you went through abuse as a child
  • What to do if you believe a child you know is being abused

For the second circumstance, it is important to know that you may have a legal obligation to report it if you suspect a child you know is being abused. This is the case if it is your own child who is being abused or if you are a professional who works with children.

How to disclose historical abuse

Going through abuse at any age is difficult, traumatising and unjust. If you are considering reporting a case of child abuse or neglect, please contact us so we can advise you further.

Remember that disclosing the abuse you suffered is completely your choice. Make your disclosure when and if you feel ready to do so, and to whoever you feel most comfortable telling. For example:

  • You may want to tell a family member, partner, friend or colleague.
  • You may want to speak to someone who doesn’t know you personally, such as your GP or counsellor.
  • You can also contact a specialist child abuse charity who can help guide you through disclosure to family, friends and the police.

If the person you disclose to doesn’t respond in a positive way, don’t be deterred. Find someone else who will be able to better support you through the process; whether this is a different organisation, a different person from the same organisation, or someone else you know. You can make the disclosure over the phone, in writing or even through a child abuse charity’s webchat service.

You don’t have to disclose everything in one go. Disclosure can be carried out in stages and should happen at a pace with which you feel comfortable. You may find it useful to read other child abuse survivors’ accounts of their disclosures to get an idea of the process.

Disclosing your experiences can feel like a great weight has been lifted from your shoulders. Remember that disclosure is your choice and, ultimately, you should deal with it when and how you wish to.

How to report the abuse you experienced to the police

It may be hard to accept, but if you have experienced child abuse or neglect, a crime has been committed against you, and you are the victim of that crime. It is also important to understand that you are also a survivor, and that by telling the police you may play a part in bringing your abuser to justice, and helping to stop or prevent the abuse of others. Gain an understanding of what child abuse is to determine if what has happened to you falls under this category.

When you feel ready to do so, speak to the police. Some of the options available to you include:

  • Visiting a police station:
    • You can ask to speak to a male or female police officer, whichever makes you more comfortable.
    • You can ask for a private room to talk about what happened.
  • Calling the non-emergency number for the police: 111.

You don’t have to do this on your own. You can ask someone else to speak to the police for you in the beginning, or ask them to make the appointment on your behalf. You can also take someone you trust to support you when you speak to the police. This may be a family member, friend or partner.

The police are trained in these matters and won’t be shocked by rude words or swearing. You can talk about what happened to you in a way that you feel comfortable with. The vast majority of our clients say that the officers they spoke to were sensitive and understanding and they felt the police were on their side, possibly for the first time in their lives.

It’s also a good idea to talk to a child protection officer even if you’re no longer a child. They deal with crimes against children and will be best placed to advise you on what to do and what to expect.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to deal with any of this all in one go. You can make an initial report to the police with very brief information and your contact details, and follow up later.

How Bolt Burdon Kemp can help

Regardless of how, when and if you decide to disclose or report the abuse you suffered as a child, it may benefit you to see a counsellor to talk through what happened to you.

If you choose to contact us, our experienced child abuse lawyers will deal with your enquiry at a pace that suits you, and will not press you to discuss anything you’re not comfortable with.

We can support you through every step of the process, from reporting child abuse to the police to building a case against the perpetrator.

How to report abuse of a child you know

If you’re worried that a child – that is, a young person under the age of 18 – is at risk or being abused, try to report your concerns as soon as possible. Keep in mind that you may be legally required to report it if you suspect a child you know is being abused. This is the case if it is your own child who is being abused or if you are a professional who works with children.

  • If you suspect someone is in immediate danger, call 999 to inform the police.
  • If it isn’t an emergency, you can report the crime to the police via their non-emergency number: 111. It’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • You can contact a specialist child abuse charity such as the NSPCC or Stop It Now. You can find more information about relevant charities on our partner organisation page.
  • You can also contact Bolt Burdon Kemp’s expert team who are on hand to offer guidance and advice about how to report child abuse.

You can report the incident anonymously if you wish to, and give as much information as you are willing to disclose. Also, remember that you don’t need to be sure or have all the details – it’s okay to report a suspicion and the police will follow it up. Often, the child will be assigned a social care team who will tell you what happens next but won’t be able to give you any confidential information.

How can Bolt Burdon Kemp help?

Whether it happened recently or a long time ago, if you know someone who has been abused or if you’ve been abused yourself, you can obtain free, no-obligation legal advice from us. We can talk you through the avenues that might be open to you, including the possibility of pursuing legal action against the perpetrator of the abuse.

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