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IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Final report

D.3: “I was groomed and manipulated”

14. Victims and survivors, including 24 percent of Truth Project participants, reflected on how sexual abusers ‘groomed’ or manipulated them.[1] For many, this was something that they only understood later in life. Neve said: “I can see that over the years he did things that I would now describe as grooming”.[2]

15. While common, not all victims and survivors were groomed before being sexually abused. NO-A5 described a member of staff at his children’s home taking him to the laundry room in the middle of the night and “out of nowhere he spun me around, put me over that table, and he raped me”.[3] NO-A5 said that there was “no grooming beforehand”.[4] When he was 11 years old, Mick was raped by his optician. He remembered being given a glass of water beforehand which made him feel sick and dizzy; his next memory was of lying face down on the floor, in excruciating pain as the optician raped him. The optician said: “it’s your own fault, you’re so beautiful”.[5]

16. Others described how their circumstances meant that there was no ‘need’ for grooming, and said that perpetrators had absolute power over them and could sexually abuse them at their will.[6] Becca said that when she was a very young child her father was able to get into her bed to sexually abuse her.[7] Katie described inescapable sexual abuse in a children’s home:

I was running away, trying not to get raped. I had a single room; the night staff would come in and I would scream and shout.[8]

Katie, Truth Project participant

“I didn’t realise what had happened to me”

17. Many victims and survivors described being groomed and manipulated into sexual abuse. Often perpetrators gave children a huge amount of attention, making them feel “special”.[9] Alyssa was sexually groomed online from the age of 10. She said that the men who sexually abused her flattered her and made her feel good: “I was getting the attention online that I never got elsewhere”.[10] Alyssa said: “I didn’t realise what happened to me online was sexual abuse until I was 18 years old”.[11] CS-A12 said that the men who sexually exploited her pretended that she was “part of their family”:

They gave me somewhere where I felt like I belonged and somewhere where I felt like I was wanted”.[12]

CS-A12, Child sexual exploitation in organised networks investigation

18. It was common for victims and survivors to tell the Inquiry how, as children, they thought that sexual abuse was an expression of love or affection. Janine said she thought sexual abuse was “how daddies showed love”.[13] Amanda described being told by the man who raped her that he was “teaching her to love”.[14]

19. Other perpetrators led victims and survivors to believe that sexual abuse was normal. This was commonly described by victims and survivors who were sexually abused as very young children. When Margaret was nine, she was told that sexual acts were “what women do”.[15] From the age of seven, Lathika was sexually abused by her uncle. When she was later sexually abused by two other adult men, she “just presumed it was normal” because of the earlier abuse.[16] Young female victims and survivors reflected on the ‘normalisation’ of online child sexual abuse: “I have to deal with it every day … it’s kind of like a normal thing for girls now”.[17]

20. Some victims and survivors were manipulated to believe that they were in a consensual sexual relationship as children. Michelle said she thought she loved the teacher who sexually abused her and that “their relationship was a romance”.[18] She said: “he made me trust him, made me believe he had the same feelings for me”. Stuart was groomed into an “inappropriate relationship” with a man in his choir, who was about 20 years his senior. Stuart said that many people knew but, despite him being below the age of consent, “no one did anything to stop it or spoke to me about it”.[19]

21. As adults, many victims and survivors reflected on these ‘relationships’ and felt a sense of betrayal when they realised that they were sexually abused. Isla-Rose described feeling unsure of what had happened: “I felt as if I was in love with him, but now I see this as a result of his manipulation”.[20] RS-A301 said that looking back he could see that “it was inappropriate, really”.[21]

22. Some children were made to think that they were playing games during sexual abuse. From a very young age, Aryana’s older brothers made her play a ‘game’ in which the boys punished their sisters with sexual acts.[22] Macy was sexually abused by two girls at school during “truth or dare” type games.[23] She was forced to perform oral sex and was penetrated by various objects. Macy was seven years old at the time. She sometimes bled as a result.

23. A number of victims and survivors said that they were given drugs and alcohol to facilitate child sexual abuse. This was particularly common in the context of child sexual exploitation. When CS-A373 was 12 years old, she was given cannabis before being raped and forced to perform oral sex.[24] Gracie was trafficked to different locations, where she would be raped by multiple men she did not know. The man who arranged this plied her with alcohol and often spiked her drinks: “I never drank so much in my life”.[25]

24. Victims and survivors of child sexual abuse who were groomed online were often deceived by perpetrators. Perpetrators commonly lied about their age and identity to sexually abuse children. When Amy was a child she began chatting online to a male she thought was 18 years old. He turned out to be a much older teacher and he sexually abused her multiple times.[26]

“I couldn’t make it stop”

25. The vast majority of victims and survivors were sexually abused over many years. Amongst experiences shared by Truth Project participants, the average period during which sexual abuse took place was four years. This was longer for girls than for boys (five years and three years, respectively). It was common for victims and survivors to describe being manipulated so perpetrators could keep sexually abusing them. RS-A3 was told by her violin tutor that he would kill himself if she told anyone he was sexually abusing her.[27] Fazeen’s teacher threatened to harm himself if she ended their ‘relationship’ or reported it.[28]

26. Victims and survivors often lived in fear. The man who raped Zoe showed her videos of other girls crying as he held a weapon. She said: “If he hadn’t been arrested I don’t know how I would have escaped it … I was terrified”.[29] The male teacher who sexually abused Tasmin had a “fierce” emotional hold over her: “I did feel trapped”.[30] Ciar described how, for a long time, she felt unable to stop communication with the man who sexually abused her online:

When I tried to disengage, he threatened to screenshot our messages and show everyone how disgusting I was for seeing the things he’d sent … I was terrified and felt trapped.[31]

Ciar, Truth Project participant

27. In some cases, sexual abusers exploited a child’s poverty. Lysa’s older brother gave her money after sexually abusing her; she said her family were short of money and the children were often not given dinner money.[32] Lorna, who lived in the Philippines, was forced to perform sexual acts that were live-streamed online for foreigners to watch. She did these “shows” three times a day and was paid US$6.[33] She used the money to buy food. Others described how they were manipulated into sexual acts in return for food. One Truth Project participant said that the person who sexually abused him exploited the fact that as a child he “never had sweets or treats … because we had nothing”.[34]

28. In other accounts, victims and survivors described perpetrators deliberately undermining their credibility to continue sexually abusing them. Dana said that her father started sexually abusing her when she was seven; he would steal possessions from other family members and blame her. Dana thought that this was an attempt to stop her family trusting her, so they saw her as a “bad child”.[35]

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