Child abuse victims and survivors feel stereotyped after disclosure

More than three quarters of victims and survivors of child sexual abuse believe they were stereotyped after speaking out about their abuse.

Based on a poll of 116 survivors from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse Victims and Survivors Forum, new statistics found that more than half did not report the abuse because of concerns over how they would be seen by others.

“When I have disclosed my status as a survivor of child sexual abuse, I feel that people see me only as a victim. I have a senior role in business and people’s attitudes towards me have definitely changed when I have told them. They see me as weak,” said one survivor.

The forum enables survivors of child sexual abuse the opportunity to meet, discuss and contribute to the Inquiry’s work.

The statistics found:

– 95 per cent said that encouraging a more open conversation about child sexual abuse would help stop the stereotyping of victims and survivors.

– 81 per cent said they have felt stereotyped as a victim and survivor of child sexual abuse.

– 69 per cent said they did not speak out about the abuse due to fears of being stereotyped.

It found that many survivors revealed that they felt ‘put in a box’ after disclosing their abuse, describing how they felt that they been labelled as emotionally unstable, damaged or weak. They explained the detrimental impact this had had on both their professional and personal lives.

A common stereotype mentioned by survivors was that those who were sexually abused as children would become abusers themselves.

Survivors described how assumptions contribute to the “stigma and shame” which can still surround those impacted by child sexual abuse. They explained how stereotypes have acted as a barrier to them speaking out, or have prevented them from disclosing the abuse.

There is an urgent need for society to break down the wall of silence around child sexual abuse in order to help improve understanding and raise awareness about the impact that abuse can have on the lives of those affected, the poll found.

“It is important for people to understand that the legacy of child abuse affects every aspect of a survivor’s life. It has shaped our experience of the world and how we live moment to moment in it,” said another survivor.

The poll revealed that 95 per cent of victims and survivors felt that encouraging a more open conversation could help prevent the stereotyping of victims and survivors and ensure that those who feel ready to speak out are able to do so.

Meanwhile, it emerged that almost half of victims of child sexual abuse who have come forward to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse were under eight years old when their abuse began.

Almost 80 per cent of victims and survivors of child sexual abuse who have come forward to the Inquiry’s Truth Project were sexually abused by age 11 while 46 per cent of victims were aged under eight when the abuse began.

The Inquiry also reveals that almost half of abuse was committed by a family member.

Drusilla Sharpling, head of the Truth Project, and a Panel member said: “Thousands of victims and survivors have helped the Inquiry to understand the depth and breadth of the institutional failures that led to children being sexually abused.

“The information victims and survivors share with us are a vital part of the Inquiry’s work and will contribute to our final recommendations,” she added.

More than 4,000 survivors of child sexual abuse have now shared experiences with the Truth Project in England and Wales. Of these, 3,265 personal accounts have been analysed for research purposes.

The Inquiry has published a further 80 Experiences Shared with the Truth Project which show that even when victims came forward to report abuse to those in authority, they were encouraged to stay silent, ignored or threatened,

Victims were warned by those in authority, including the police and social services, that their accusations could ‘ruin’ the lives of perpetrators. Others were dismissed as ‘attention seekers’, or behaved badly at school, but the signs were not picked up by their teachers.

More than 85 percent of survivors told the Inquiry that the abuse they had encountered had a long term impact on their mental health, with over a third reporting depression.

Chris Tuck, a member of the Inquiry’s Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel, said: “I am a survivor of child sexual abuse, and I helped to design the Truth Project. It is a welcoming, supportive place where victims and survivors can share our experiences and put forward recommendations for change.

“If we are to protect future generations of children, we need to listen to those who have experienced abuse and learn from them about what went wrong, why it went wrong and what we can put in place to stop it going wrong in the future,” he added.

Survivors of child sexual abuse who would like to share their experiences in writing, over the phone or in person can get in touch with the Inquiry’s Truth Project. Visit www.truthproject.org.uk or email share@iicsa.org.uk

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