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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child sexual abuse in the context of children’s homes and residential care

Experiences of disclosure and responses by institutions

Under half of the participants sexually abused in a residential care context disclosed or reported the abuse at the time (42 per cent). Fear of retribution by the institution or perpetrator were common barriers to reporting as a child. Participants also spoke about the fear of not being believed.

Those who did disclose the abuse at the time often told someone in authority inside the place where they lived. While the reasons for this are not always known, it could suggest that they may have had constrained opportunities to report the abuse outside of their residential care at the time. In most of these cases, participants explained that their claims were denied, minimised or deflected, ultimately describing institutional failings to protect them.

Some of the barriers to disclosing as a child continued into adulthood for some participants. Those who did disclose as adults most often reported to the police. A smaller proportion of participants abused in the context of residential care spoke about disclosing the abuse to family members after the abuse had ended compared to those abused in other contexts. They also less frequently disclosed the abuse to mental health professionals than those abused in other contexts.

I thought it would just wash over me and everything would be okay. I’d be able to walk into the police station. “All right then, let’s sit down and talk about it”. But I didn’t. I cried my eyes out, and I was upset and everything, and I walked out of there, shaking like that, and I thought, “Wow, my God, what have I done? I’ve opened a can of worms now.”

- Truth Project participant sexually abused in a residential care context

Experiences of the police and criminal justice system more broadly were mixed. Some positive dealings with the police were described yet participants’ accounts highlighted inconsistency in case handling, within and across the police and other services. The following frustrations pertinent to reporting to the police and the process between reporting and case conclusion emerged:

  • being made to feel like they were not telling the truth or were in some way responsible for the abuse they experienced;
  • the process as lengthy, frustrating and emotional;
  • the lack of information or conflicting information throughout;
  • police officers perceived as inexperienced dealing with cases.
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