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Lack of trust prevents survivors of abuse from ethnic minority backgrounds from disclosing abuse

A lack of trust in professionals and institutions prevents victims and survivors of sexual abuse from ethnic minority backgrounds from disclosing or reporting abuse, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has found.

The IICSA report ‘Engagement with support services from ethnic minority communities’ found that victims and survivors from ethnic minorities do not trust social care services or the police which can be a barrier to reporting and disclosure.

“We heard that many victims and survivors from ethnic minority backgrounds do not trust organisations such as the police, health and social care, and sexual abuse services. We also heard that they can experience additional barriers to access, including racist behaviour or attitudes from statutory services,” said the report.

The Inquiry spoke to 107 organisations over the course of 18 months including domestic and sexual violence support services, women’s groups, religious charities, mental health agencies and specific ethnic minority organisations. All work closely with victims and survivors of child sexual abuse from ethnic minority communities.

Sixty organisations told the Inquiry that victims and survivors of child sexual abuse from ethnic minority communities do not trust services and organisations such as the police, social care services and specialist sexual abuse services, and this prevented them from disclosing or reporting child sexual abuse.

Many organisations said that victims and survivors reported that they did not trust their disclosure to remain confidential if, for example, interpreters are from the local community. They also reported inadequate access to service organisations that are meant to serve and protect them, for example because of insecure immigration status.

Some organisations told us that victims and survivors complained of racist behaviour or attitudes from statutory services, like the police or social services, and that many statutory services lacked ethnic diversity. Poor relationships with the police, which affected disclosure or reporting of child sexual abuse, were specifically mentioned by 33 organisations spoken to during the Inquiry.

The report detailed other key barriers to reporting child sexual abuse among these communities. This included:

- Language - heard that some police, social workers, counsellors, psychotherapists and professionals lack cultural competency or rely on harmful stereotypes when working with individuals from ethnic minority communities. They also heard that victims and survivors could be English speakers but still lack the language necessary to talk about child sexual abuse. “How do you say what you don’t know? Words around sex and child sexual abuse are literally barriers to disclosure in that children do not have the words.” - Mental health organisation

- Closed communities - Support service organisations often referred to ‘closed communities’ when talking about communities which remain outside mainstream society, including Romany, Irish Traveller, Ultra-Orthodox Jewish and some South Asian diaspora communities. The Inquiry heard that closed communities often provide their own, highly integrated non-statutory support services, sometimes including parallel religious councils or courts. However, we heard that ‘gatekeepers’ often restrict access to external support services in order to ‘protect’ the community and culture from outside influence or harm.

- Culture - Forty-one organisations said their clients faced cultural barriers to the disclosure or reporting of child sexual abuse. Sometimes support service organisations do not have the necessary cultural competency to provide access or support for victims and survivors from ethnic minority communities. Fifteen organisations said cultural norms, for example the taboos around sex, make it more difficult for victims and survivors to report or disclose child sexual abuse.

- Shame and honour - Forty-five organisations talked about how feelings of shame linked to specific cultural ideas or norms prevented victims and survivors from disclosing or reporting child sexual abuse. Nineteen organisations said that, in some communities, the disclosure of child sexual abuse can damage the honour of an entire family or community. There were reports of the burdens of shame and honour placed on victims and survivors, and how they are silenced.

- Education - Eighteen organisations said that education about sex and relationships affects victims and survivors’ ability to report or disclose child sexual abuse. Some parents remove their children from school relationships and sex education classes, or from school entirely. Organisations reported how victims and survivors can be affected by this lack of education and understanding of their body and consensual sexual activity far into adulthood.

“This engagement work has provided the Inquiry with helpful information from organisations’ experiences of supporting victims and survivors from ethnic minority communities. In addition, it has given the Inquiry valuable insight into some barriers that victims and survivors from ethnic minority communities may face when sharing their experience of child sexual abuse,” said the report.

“The Inquiry will continue to engage with ethnic minority communities and the organisations that support them through presentations and workshops identified through this engagement activity. The Inquiry will also consider the experiences of victims and survivors through the Truth Project and the Victims and Survivors Forum, and through the evidence obtained in its investigations and public hearings,” the report concluded.

Engagement report ethnic minority communities

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