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Racism can lead to failures in identifying child sexual abuse

Racism can lead to failures on the part of institutions in identifying and responding to child sexual abuse, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has found.

Racism, sometimes in the form of cultural stereotypes, can act as a barrier to reporting abuse, describing a sense of feeling ‘othered’ by institutions, creating mistrust, which also underpinned issues around disclosure and reporting, the inquiry found.

Holly Rodger, Principal Researcher at the Inquiry said: “In this report, victims and survivors describe the impact of cultural stereotypes and racism on how child sexual abuse is understood, identified, disclosed and responded to across ethnic minority communities.

“Participants’ feelings of being ‘othered’ by professionals and institutions was a significant obstacle to reporting abuse, as were feelings of shame, stigma and a fear of not being believed. The importance of education, greater awareness and listening to the voices of survivors from ethnic minority backgrounds is clear,” she added.

Racism and cultural stereotypes were a consistent theme running through the discussions during the inquiry.
Participants saw these stereotypes as having an impact on many areas of how child sexual abuse is understood, identified, disclosed and responded to.

There are two broad mechanisms through which this can operate: firstly, through stereotypes and misconceptions about what is ‘normal’ or ‘acceptable’ for certain ethnic groups which can lead to child sexual abuse going unrecognised or professionals taking no action in response and secondly, the broader context of racism in society can make it harder for individuals in ethnic minority communities to speak up about child sexual abuse out of concern for reinforcing negative stereotypes.

“In addition, this can lead to institutions and professionals failing to intervene for fear of being labelled ‘racist’,” the report added.

It highlighted that often the experiences and treatment of ethnic minority people affected by child sexual abuse could be shaped by assumptions and stereotypes made by others based solely on their ethnic group. Participants highlighted the importance of institutions and professionals seeing the whole person when responding to child sexual abuse.

Participants from a range of ethnic groups described how shame and stigma associated with child sexual abuse contribute to a code of silence on child sexual abuse within their communities. Shame and stigma can act as drivers of responses to child sexual abuse that seek to preserve honour rather than to meet the needs of the victim and survivor.

The report highlighted that child sexual abuse can have a serious impact on victims and survivors’ sense of identity and belonging within their communities, with many victims and survivors being ostracised from their communities. The risk of being cut off from their families and communities could act as a barrier to victims and survivors disclosing abuse.

Boys and men felt less able to talk about child sexual abuse while girls, particularly in some South Asian communities, felt it would have a detrimental effect on marriage prospects.

Both specific experiences of racism and the context of wider relations between certain institutions and minority ethnic groups influenced how participants felt about approaching institutions about child sexual abuse. Some participants perceived institutions, such as the police or children’s social care, as ‘white’ and considered that a lack of cultural diversity in institutions is off-putting to members of ethnic minority communities and hampers the ability of institutions to respond.

“Although better than in the past, more can be done to raise awareness, remove barriers to disclosure and improve responses to child sexual abuse in ethnic minority communities,” said the report.

Participants in the research reported that there was more awareness of child sexual abuse and that both institutions and communities were responding better than they did in the past. Some participants also compared the situation in England and Wales favourably with the countries they or their parents came to England and Wales from. Participants thought that these improvements in awareness are driven by education, for example, in schools and media coverage.
Despite these improvements, participants felt that there remain barriers to disclosure and other problems in the awareness of and response to child sexual abuse in ethnic minority communities.

The research findings are set out under these four headings:

- Understanding of child sexual abuse in ethnic minority communities.

Child sexual abuse was considered to be a taboo subject in participants’ communities. The shame and stigma attached to child sexual abuse across participants’ communities further contributed to secrecy around child sexual abuse.

- Barriers to disclosing child sexual abuse

Recognising when child sexual abuse has taken place can be challenging for victims and survivors who may not recognise that the behaviour they have experienced constitutes abuse or that the behaviour was wrong.

- Experiences of institutions in relation to child sexual abuse

Overall, participants tended to hold negative perceptions of institutions, particularly the police and children’s social care, and there was a general sense of mistrust and lack of confidence relating to institutional responses to child sexual abuse.

- Impacts of child sexual abuse and support for victims and survivors


Victims and survivors reported a diverse range of adverse impacts as a consequence of child sexual abuse. These included emotional and mental health difficulties, problems with education and employment, relationship difficulties and drug and alcohol use. Some participants reported an impact on their identity and a sense of loss following separation from their community and culture.

The report was collated following collaboration with the Race Equality Foundation.

Jabeer Butt, Chief Executive of the Race Equality Foundation said: “Those that took part in this research, including men from ethnic minority communities, conveyed powerful messages about their views and experiences of child sexual abuse within their own communities, describing the racial and cultural factors that acted as barriers to disclosure and their ability to access the right support from the relevant institutions.

“Whilst evidence suggests that this issue is being more openly discussed, it’s important that we continue to challenge the stereotypes and take steps to ensure that children from all communities are better protected from child sexual abuse,” he concluded.

“People don’t talk about it”: Child sexual abuse in ethnic minority communities

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