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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

“People don’t talk about it”: Child sexual abuse in ethnic minority communities

Seven key research findings

1. Cultural stereotypes and racism can lead to failures on the part of institutions and professionals to identify and respond appropriately to child sexual abuse. They can also make it more difficult for individuals in ethnic minority communities to disclose and speak up about child sexual abuse.

Racism and cultural stereotypes were a consistent theme running through the discussions. Participants saw these as having an impact on many areas of how child sexual abuse is understood, identified,disclosed and responded to.

There are two broad mechanisms through which this can operate. First, through stereotypes and misconceptions about what is ‘normal’ or ‘acceptable’ for certain ethnic groups. These can lead to child sexual abuse going unrecognised or professionals taking no action in response. Secondly, the broader context of racism in society can make it harder for individuals in ethnic minority communities to speak up about child sexual abuse out of concern for reinforcing negative stereotypes. In addition, this can lead to institutions and professionals failing to intervene for fear of being labelled ‘racist’.

2. Some professionals only see a person’s ethnic group rather than the whole person.

The research highlighted the extent to which the experiences and treatment of ethnic minority people affected by child sexual abuse could be shaped by assumptions and stereotypes made by others based solely on their ethnic group.

Participants highlighted the importance of institutions and professionals seeing the whole person when responding to child sexual abuse. While important to some participants, others emphasised qualities such as being non-judgemental and appropriately trained above having professionals of the same ethnic background.

3. Shame and stigma were frequently mentioned by ethnic minority participants as leading to a code of silence.

While shame and stigma surround child sexual abuse across all communities, participants identified this as a specific factor influencing how child sexual abuse is responded to within ethnic minority communities.

Participants from a range of ethnic groups described how shame and stigma associated with child sexual abuse contribute to a code of silence on child sexual abuse within their communities. Shame and stigma can act as drivers of responses to child sexual abuse that seek to preserve honour rather than to meet the needs of the victim and survivor.

4. Child sexual abuse can have a serious impact on victims and survivors’ sense of identity and belonging within their communities.

For many victims and survivors in the groups, their experiences of abuse had a significant effect on their sense of identity and belonging in the community they grew up in. Following experiences of child sexual abuse, some participants had been ostracised from their communities, others had no longer been safe within them or had chosen to leave. The risk of being cut off from their families and communities could act as a barrier to victims and survivors disclosing abuse.

While participants had developed their own supportive communities of partners and friends, this isolation from family and community may have an impact on the support needs for victims and survivors from ethnic minority communities. In particular, participants identified peer support from others with similar backgrounds who had experienced abuse as beneficial.

5. The way that child sexual abuse is seen and responded to in ethnic minority communities is linked with expectations about gender within those communities.

There were clear gender differences across many of the topics discussed across the research. For example, participants discussed boys and men feeling less able to talk about child sexual abuse, and child sexual abuse being seen as having a specific negative impact on marriage prospects for girls in some South Asian communities. Such differences have an impact on: how children are protected from child sexual abuse; how child sexual abuse is identified; and how comfortable boys and men are disclosing – or even discussing – child sexual abuse; through to how child sexual abuse is responded to.

6. Participants’ perceptions and experiences of institutions in relation to child sexual abuse were mixed but tended to be negative.

Both specific experiences of racism and the context of wider relations between certain institutions and minority ethnic groups influenced how participants felt about approaching institutions about child sexual abuse. Some participants perceived institutions, such as the police or children’s social care, as ‘white’ and considered that a lack of cultural diversity in institutions is off-putting to members of ethnic minority communities and hampers the ability of institutions to respond. Participants described negative experiences and perceptions in relation to responding to child sexual abuse across a range of institutions, though not all related to racism. In among the negative accounts there were also some participants with more positive ideas about institutions and participants acknowledged the important role of institutions, particularly schools, in responding to child sexual abuse.

7. Although better than in the past, more can be done to raise awareness, remove barriers to disclosure and improve responses to child sexual abuse in ethnic minority communities.

Across the focus groups, participants expressed the view that there was more awareness of child sexual abuse and that both institutions and communities were responding better than they did in the past. Some participants also compared the situation in England and Wales favourably with the countries they or their parents came to England and Wales from. Participants thought that these improvements in awareness are driven by education (eg in schools) and media coverage. Despite these improvements, participants felt that there remain barriers to disclosure and other problems in the awareness of and response to child sexual abuse in ethnic minority communities.

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