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New Inquiry research finds that racism and cultural stereotypes impact institutional response to child sexual abuse

25 June 2020

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has published new research exploring barriers faced by ethnic minority communities in reporting child sexual abuse.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has published new research exploring barriers faced by ethnic minority communities in reporting child sexual abuse. 

Working in collaboration with the Race Equality Foundation, the report analyses the views and experiences of over 80 individuals across a range of ethnic minority communities, including victims and survivors. It considers three key areas: barriers to disclosure; experiences of institutions; and support for victims and survivors.

The report finds that racism, sometimes in the form of cultural stereotypes can lead to failures on the part of institutions in identifying and responding to child sexual abuse.

“The social worker was white, okay, and she said to me, ‘This is not sexual abuse. This is your culture’. Even today, I’m so traumatised by this.”

Female focus group participant

Participants explained how such stereotypes can act as a barrier to reporting abuse, describing a sense of feeling ‘othered’ by institutions, creating mistrust, which also underpinned issues around disclosure and reporting. They spoke of a lack of diversity within institutions and how this can exacerbate a sense of difference for people from an ethnic minority background.

“I just wish social services just barged in and took me into care, and took me and my siblings into care … but they were so intent on not coming across racist or coming across culturally insensitive that they forgot about the person that was being hurt here.” 

Female focus group participant

The report shines a light on the multitude of challenges victims and survivors from ethnic minority communities face in disclosing child sexual abuse including denial, concerns over damage to reputation, a fear of being ostracised from the community for speaking out, or simply having no one to report to.

“The institutions weren't there, the people that you could speak to weren’t there, and I had to do all of this work my own self...”

Male focus group participant

It finds that shame and stigma associated with abuse can contribute to a code of silence within some communities; rather than meet the needs of the victim, responses to abuse seek to preserve honour, with participants describing how secrecy may operate as a means of protection for the community.

Many participants felt they’d have more to lose than gain if they reported child sexual abuse, given the structural barriers that people from ethnic minority communities may already face.

“I was thinking that there's a lot of pressure on the survivor not to speak, by their families, of bringing shame to the family and that shame to the community. So it can be your immediate family; your extended family, but even your community. And there's also a sense of, white people see us as bad and now you're showing them how bad you are.”

Female focus group participant

Some survivors said they felt raw and damaged as a result of the abuse, and described how they battled with feeling robbed physically, emotionally and spiritually. A number of participants reported having to deal with the impact of being cut off from their families or communities following disclosure, making other forms of support more crucial. Whilst a few participants did describe a positive experience of support, this wasn’t the case for the majority. Survivors said they didn’t know where to turn, or services offering support were just not there.

Sabah Kaiser, Ambassador to the Inquiry said:

“As a victim and survivor who grew up as part of a South Asian family, I feel passionately about ensuring the voices of survivors from ethnic minority communities are heard.

“This report highlights the multitude of specific cultural barriers so many survivors face in disclosing child sexual abuse; if we are to truly overcome these barriers, it’s crucial that we listen to and recognise the uniqueness of these experiences. Only then can we learn from them.”

Holly Rodger, Principal Researcher at the Inquiry said:

“In this report, victims and survivors describe the impact of cultural stereotypes and racism on how child sexual abuse is understood, identified, disclosed and responded to across ethnic minority communities. 

“Participants’ feelings of being ‘othered’ by professionals and institutions was a significant obstacle to reporting abuse, as were feelings of shame, stigma and a fear of not being believed. The importance of education, greater awareness and listening to the voices of survivors from ethnic minority backgrounds is clear.”

Jabeer Butt, Chief Executive of the Race Equality Foundation said:

‘Those that took part in this research, including men from ethnic minority communities, conveyed powerful messages about their views and experiences of child sexual abuse within their own communities, describing the racial and cultural factors that acted as barriers to disclosure and their ability to access the right support from the relevant institutions. 

‘Whilst evidence suggests that this issue is being more openly discussed, it’s important that we continue to challenge the stereotypes and take steps to ensure that children from all communities are better protected from child sexual abuse.’

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