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How rampant is child sex abuse in Britain? Inquiry could last years.

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Courtesy of Britain's Home Office/PA via AP/File

(Read caption) This undated photo shows Justice Lowell Goddard.

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Britain has launched a potentially years-long investigation into decades of alleged abuse in Britain's schools, hospitals, and other institutions.

The independent inquiry will be spearheaded by New Zealand High Court Judge Lowell Goddard, who was brought in to chair the investigatory panel after previous chairs resigned due to potential conflicts of interest, the BBC reports.

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The sweeping investigation could last until 2020, Justice Goddard said on Thursday, adding that the scope of the crimes could be much broader than is currently understood. One estimate, referenced by Goddard, suggests that as many as one in 20 children have endured some level of sexual abuse.

"No one, no matter how apparently powerful, will be allowed to obstruct our inquiries," Godard said Thursday. "No one will be immune from scrutiny by virtue of their position."

Home Secretary Theresa May first announced the inquiry in July 2014, following claims of systemic cover-up of child sex abuse involving public figures, including politicians. Goddard, was appointed in February 2015 to investigate how public bodies and other non-state institutions handled allegations of child abuse.

The panel will not have the authority to find people guilty of crimes, but Goddard says it will not hesitate to publicly name abusers.

Child sex abuse allegations began to resurface in Britain after the death of the British entertainer Jimmy Savile in 2011, which was followed by numerous people coming forward and accusing him of child abuse.

The United States has struggled with similar issues in recent years. While a 2012 report from the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center found that child sex abuse in the US had dramatically declined since the 1990s, subsequent scandals involving buried allegations at the Boy Scouts of America and at Pennsylvania State University suggested that incidents of abuse in the United States may be underreported as well.