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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

G.4: “My suffering is invisible to the eye”

11. Many victims and survivors emphasised this sense of resilience in the context of coping with the severely negative impact of child sexual abuse. The vast majority described child sexual abuse as having had a negative impact on their mental health.

“I am traumatised”

12. Many victims and survivors said they were traumatised by child sexual abuse. Olivar described the “traumatic long-term effect” of sexual abuse: “I’ve thought about it for over 50 years”.[1] Twenty percent of Truth Project participants explicitly said that they were experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.[2]

13. The impact of trauma was described to the Inquiry in different ways. Some victims and survivors felt “tormented” by child sexual abuse.[3] Laurie said: “hardly a day goes by where I do not think about the events from 58 years ago”.[4] Charles also described the lifelong torment of child sexual abuse:

It doesn’t go away. So many wonderful things have happened in my life but this is the one I think about. For many years I would try and push it away, but it didn’t stay there, it kept coming forward.[5]

Charles, Truth Project participant

14. Others felt that flashbacks emerged at random times. Pamela said that she was unable to cope when the “torrent” of memories of child sexual abuse came at her.[6] Twenty-four percent of Truth Project participants reported experiencing traumatic nightmares, which “haunted” them and had an impact on their ability to sleep.[7] RC-A596 said that the priest who sexually abused him “still appears in my nightmares”.[8]

15. Some victims and survivors described being “triggered” by things that reminded them of being sexually abused as children.[9] Andres said that he did not feel he “lived a normal life” and that “sometimes things just trigger the awful memories”.[10] The school caretaker who sexually abused Vicky carried a large set of keys and “to this day” she hates the sound of rattling keys.[11] RS-A2 said that being sexually abused by her violin teacher “greatly affected” her relationship with music:

I’ve not played classical music since leaving there. I find it hard to listen to. I’ve burnt most of my music.[12]

RS-A2, Residential schools investigation

“I am anxious and depressed”

16. Victims and survivors, including 36 percent of Truth Project participants, often said that they had depression following child sexual abuse. Xavier described feeling “misery, bewilderment” after being sexually abused as a child.[13] For many people, depression continued into their adult life. Riona said that for most of her life she had been “miserable, depressed”.[14] Specifically, many felt a sense of grief over what they lost due to sexual abuse. India said: “I was never able to be nurtured … I have to grieve for the childhood I never had”.[15]

17. Victims and survivors also often described experiencing anxiety (33 percent of Truth Project participants). Anxiety was more commonly reported amongst women than men (36 percent and 26 percent of Truth Project participants, respectively). Bledig said that he often experiences a “‘fight or flight’ feeling”.[16] For some, this had an impact on their day-to-day lives:

I had anxiety walking down the street. I couldn’t, I couldn’t open doors for people. Like, I couldn’t really function.[17]

Truth Project participant

18. Some victims and survivors described feeling on edge and unsafe at all times. Isabel said that, as a child, she went through periods of not washing as she was scared of getting undressed. She would ask her mother to sit in the bathroom with her because she was frightened to be left alone.[18] Tamzin explained that she feels constantly vigilant, and can not tolerate anyone touching her: “I can’t join in with things in case anyone touches me … I freak out”.[19]

“I have no idea who I was meant to be”

19. Child sexual abuse often negatively affected victims and survivors’ self-esteem, either as children, as adults or throughout their life. A quarter of Truth Project participants reported low self-esteem. A greater proportion of female than male Truth Project participants reported low self-esteem as an impact (28 percent and 21 percent, respectively). Karyn shared that she has lived with a “crippling lack of self-worth” most of her life.[20] Similarly, August said: “I had a constant feeling I was never going to make anything of myself”.[21] Aparna explained the difficulty she experienced in trying to overcome these feelings:

I’ve tried to build up my self-esteem but it can unravel in seconds. I’m afraid to be truly joyful because I feel tainted – damaged goods.[22]

Aparna, Truth Project participant

20. Feeling “damaged[23] or “contaminated[24] was something that many victims and survivors described. Jade said she felt “dirty and unclean … I hated myself”.[25] Similarly, Marista said: “I felt and still feel disgusting … not worth anything”.[26]

21. Child sexual abuse sometimes undermined victims and survivors’ confidence in who they were. One victim and survivor said: “my sense of identity’s been lost ever since”.[27] Clive “didn’t feel like a ‘real man’” as a result of being sexually abused.[28] A small group of victims and survivors said that they had been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder and that this was connected with being sexually abused as a child.[29] Samual described his experience of dissociation: “trauma victims dissociate, but you are also on constant alert”.[30]

22. Others described confusion about their sexuality as a result of being sexually abused. This was much more common amongst men than women (12 percent and 2 percent of Truth Project participants, respectively). Colt felt that child sexual abuse “twisted” his sexual identity.[31] Having been sexually abused by two men, Iain said that he slept with lots of women to prove his sexual identity.[32] LGBTQ+ victims and survivors frequently described an impact on their sexuality. One member of the Victims and Survivors Forum said: “It took me a while to come out as I attached my child sexual abuse with being gay”.[33] Another Forum member said that it took her “a long time to realise I was a lesbian” because she felt that her “complete lack of sexual connection” with men was related to having been sexually abused as a child.[34] A small group of victims and survivors said that their sexuality was questioned by others:

When people learn of my experiences of sexual abuse, there has always been a follow-up question ‘Do you think this is why you’re … a lesbian?’[35]

Member of the Victims and Survivors Forum

23. Those who were sexually abused in a religious organisation sometimes said that they lost their personal faith (including 20 percent of Truth Project participants). Aalia stopped going to the mosque and lost her Islamic faith after she was sexually abused.[36] AN-A11 said that it was “very, very difficult” to be brought up with faith and to have it “shattered” by the men who sexually abused him.[37]

“I feel guilty”

24. Victims and survivors often described feeling responsible for having been sexually abused. Twenty-seven percent of Truth Project participants reported feelings of guilt. Bryce said that he felt guilty that he was not “braver” at the time and did not stop the abuse happening to him.[38] Even though Rhonda told someone that she was being sexually abused, she blamed herself for not doing more to stop it: “I feel so guilty about not stopping it. I know I was a child and I didn’t have the responsibility, but I feel guilty”.[39]

25. Some victims and survivors felt guilty for not telling anyone about the sexual abuse. They worried that other children may have been sexually abused by the same perpetrator and felt that this would somehow be their fault. Siriol said that she carried feelings of guilt that she “let it” happen to her sibling and that she could not protect them from the sexual abuse.[40] Flora said that she was tormented with feelings of guilt, wondering whether the man who sexually abused her had abused other children:

How many other people did he do it to … was it just me … could I have stopped it?[41]

Flora, Truth Project participant
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