A top judge has questioned whether police are investigating all sex abuse claims fully.
In a court ruling, Mr Justice Peter Jackson said most abuse goes undetected and asked whether cases are always “adequately” dealt with.
The judge, who sits in the Family Division of the High Court, was adjudicating in Preston on a case involving Wigan Council.
He raised concerns after concluding a bar worker had most probably sexually abused his two stepchildren – a boy now aged 17 and a girl now 16 – and was not prosecuted.
Mr Justice Jackson said people who had the “courage” to complain and were told their allegations were “unsubstantiated” found themselves in an “extraordinarily difficult” position. He added “unsubstantiated” was sometimes a euphemism for “uninvestigated.”
“The effects of sexual abuse on the victim can be lifelong,” he said. “But, because of the way perpetrators operate, most abuse goes undetected.
“It takes courage to ask for help. Victims are beset by feelings of shame, guilt and fear.
“They should be able to have confidence that their accounts will be adequately investigated and that they will be appropriately supported. Instead, experience shows that the abuse is often compounded by sceptical or inadequate reactions within the family and beyond.
“It is not always possible to establish where the truth lies but, where it is possible to investigate, there must be a good reason not to do so.
“The position of a complainant whose allegation is described as ‘unsubstantiated’ is extraordinarily difficult, but sometimes ‘unsubstantiated’ is no more than a euphemism for ‘uninvestigated.’
“The perpetrators of sexual abuse are inadequate individuals who control weaker people, often children, for their own gratification. Their behaviour is always an abuse of power,”
Mr Justice Jackson said the step-daughter had complained when she was 15. She had told police and social services staff that she had been “subject to years of gross sexual and physical abuse” by her stepfather.
Police and a social worker had treated her allegation as “credible,” but child protection procedures had not been invoked.
Lancashire Police declined to comment.