Making Noise: Children’s Voices for Positive Change after Sexual Abuse
Children’s experiences of help-seeking and support after sexual abuse in the family environment
Making Noise: children’s voices for positive change after sexual abuse, commissioned by the Children’s Commissioner for England and published on 20 April 2017, reveals significant barriers stopping children accessing help after experiencing child sexual abuse in the family environment. These include the lack of appropriate provision; professionals and other adults continued failure to spot signs of children’s sexual abuse and a range of messages within communities and wider society that silence children from speaking out.
It just affected so many people’s lives, it’s like putting a pebble in a pond and all the ripples going out…
(Female 16 years)
There is also evidence that particular groups of children and young people – including disabled children and young people; those from some minority ethnic communities; boys and young men and care experienced children and young people – are likely to face additional barriers to identification or disclosure, and accessing services.
Approach and key findings
The research responded to a gap in evidence from the perspectives of children and young people affected by child sexual abuse (CSA) in the family environment. Using innovative creative methods, designed in partnership with NSPCC practitioners, researchers interviewed 53 children aged between 5 and 19 across England who were receiving support for experiences of child sexual abuse in their family. This was supplemented with focus groups and a survey of wider groups of children. The findings provide an insight into the lives of children affected by CSA in the family environment and highlight how experiences of abuse touch every aspect of children’s lives including families, schooling, friendships and health - demonstrating that no one aspect of help-seeking and support can be considered in isolation.
You might not think much of telling anyone, you might not realise how serious it is, you might be just like it’s a one-off thing. Especially if it’s your family - you still feel like you want to protect them. That’s why it’s harder. You might realise that people aren’t supposed to do it [but] I think it all just comes back to it’s still your family really.
(IV40, Female 17 years)
In addition the study found:
After abuse has been identified many victims of child sexual abuse are waiting months or years before accessing appropriate therapeutic support. The type and availability of support varies significantly across the country.
Professionals are often failing to pick up signs of child sexual abuse, unfairly placing responsibility on victims to make sure their abuse is identified
Young people are more likely to disclose experiences of sexual abuse to peers than professionals and this appears to be particularly evident for girls and young women. This has significant consequences for routes for accessing support.
Children’s familial ties to the perpetrator have significant implications for the impacts on families, exacerbating levels of disruption, division and/or distress.
Children and young people are acutely aware of, and hold a deep sense of responsibility for, changes to both family relationships and family members’ wellbeing. These concerns further silence children from talking about abuse or expressing the impacts upon them. Support to non-abusing family members is therefore critical for helping children and young people after experiences of CSA in the family environment.
Engagement in criminal justice processes after an experience of CSA in the family environment continues to be experienced as distressing and re-traumatizing – exacerbated by unacceptable delays in these processes.
Access to pre-trial therapy for those involved in criminal justice processes continues to be unfairly denied to some children after experiencing child sexual abuse – despite guidance to the contrary.
Protecting children from sexual abuse in the family environment– and helping them to recover means society wide changes to how we listen to and talk with children.
Challenging cultures of silence surrounding child sexual abuse in the family environment involves a society-wide shift in how we view and listen to children. Recognising the relationship between listening to children, knowing when and how to ask questions, involving them in decision making and protecting children is critical. Without this, efforts to address children’s physical, psychological and relational safety will fall short.