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Victims and survivors tell Inquiry that physical and sexual abuse was endemic in children’s homes and residential care

7 November 2019

New research from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse found that 39 percent of children sexually abused in residential care also experienced physical abuse - and a fear of retribution stopped many victims from speaking out.

Based on the accounts of almost 200 victims and survivors who came forward to the Truth Project, the report analyses experiences of abuse in establishments such as children’s homes, secure children’s homes and accommodation for care leavers under 18. 

Physical and emotional abuse were rife in residential care homes. Nearly 40 percent of survivors reported physical abuse including being punched, hit with objects and forced to fight each other, even to the point of being hospitalised.  And almost one fifth described bullying, where they were called names, shouted at and threatened. Almost one in five survivors did not report the abuse at the time due to fear of retribution (19 percent), or concerns they would get into trouble (14 percent). 

Downstairs they had a room with nothing in there, just an empty room, with no windows. And they stripped me naked and threw me in there. I was there for three days, and they’d come in, they’d abuse me, they’d throw water over me.

- (Truth Project participant)

The report paints a picture of environments that enabled abusers to behave with impunity. Nearly half of victims (47 percent) told the Truth Project that they were sexually abused by a residential care worker and describe abuse taking place in communal areas such as bathrooms and shower rooms, with rooms seemingly dedicated to the sexual abuse of children. A further 50 percent of victims knew of someone else being abused in the same institution.

You don’t know whether to bite the pillow, eat the pillow or just scream. If you scream, no-one’s going to come anyway.

- (Truth Project participant)

Many participants described the detrimental impact the sexual abuse had on their mental health, with 27 percent attempting suicide.

Some also explained that continuing to be let down by residential care institutions hindered their recovery. They describe cover ups, missing files and a failure to take responsibility for the abuse. 

Dr Verena Brähler, Head of Research at the Inquiry, said:

“In this report, ‘unsafe’, ‘cruel’ and ‘violent’ are the words used by victims and survivors to describe their experience of living in children’s homes and residential care. Participants’ accounts were examined to provide a more in-depth insight into abuse in these settings, with many reporting that physical and sexual abuse were embedded and accepted within the institution. 

“It’s clear that concerns about retribution were a significant obstacle to children disclosing abuse, as was a fear of not being believed.”

Phillip, who was sexually abused as a child in a children’s home, said:

“I was mentally, physically and sexually abused during my time growing up in a childrens’ home. This report reflects my experience, and I’m relieved the Truth Project is shining a light on what we all went through in residential care.

“The abuse was something I locked away for so many years, and it took me a very long time to be able to open up. I felt that the Truth Project was the first place I was really listened to - it’s given me my life back.”

Survivors of child sexual abuse who would like to share their experiences and put forward recommendations for change can get in touch with the Inquiry's Truth Project. Visit or email


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