More kids face summer violence

"Summer, sun - and beatings." That's how Sunday's SvD started their report on the summer season of violence against children. Whilst many children look forward to the school holidays, for others they just mean more problems.

“For them, the summer holidays are a torment. Their lifelines disappear during the summer,” said Gunnar Sandelin, press officer for Bris, a charity championing children’s rights in society. Figures of support, such as a friend’s mother or a football coach, disappear. Bris have noticed that increasing numbers of children contact their helpline at the start of the summer.

This impression is strengthened by statistics from Brå, the crime prevention council, which reported that reports of violence against children between 7 and 14 had increased by 14% so far this year compared to last year. The number of reports has increased every year since 1999.

Most victims are abused by people they know. But despite this and other telling evidence from Bris, one in four local authorities are cutting down on summer camps and other free or subsidised activities, which could provide respite for vulnerable children. “There are children who need to get away and relax. At a camp, they can be children and don’t need to worry about abuse, assault or the family finances,” said Lena Holm, general secretary of children’s organisation, Majblomman.

Majblomman, a national organisation, which sells flowers every May to raise money for summer camps and other holiday activities, have conducted a survey on local council spending on recreational summer activities for children. The results show that some councils don’t provide any activities at all during the holidays, whilst others are increasing their spending.

“It’s extremely unequal and it depends to a large extent on where a child lives. It’s simply a question of political priorities within each council,” explained Holm. “We view savings in this area very seriously. Eleven weeks’ holiday is a very long time and children can get extremely depressed.”

It seems that children are also being let down by police forces up and down the country. Sunday’s DN reported that the National Police Board have carried out an investigation into how cases of sexual abuse against children are handled.

There are national guidelines governing the conduct of the preliminary investigation in such cases which are not being followed. Less than 10% of reports of child abuse end up in court.

Breaches of the guidelines include failure to liaise with prosecutors and to have specially trained personnel, such as psychologists, present at interviews. Christian Diesen, professor of legal procedure, commented, “The child’s story is the only evidence. That means generally that everything depends on the first police interview. If the child is good and can explain what happened, the investigation can proceed. But if the child doesn’t say enough, the case is closed at an early stage, maybe even before the suspect has been questioned.”

The answer to the problems includes “education, guidance and new personnel”, according to Inspector Gunnar Jakobsson of Skåne police and one of the report authors. Every police authority should have investigators with knowledge of sex crimes and specialist guidance. There’s also an interest in developing an Icelandic model, in which the police work in a multi-disciplinary team with social workers, psychologists and paediatricians.