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Report cites racism in child protection system

Racism is felt to be systemic and endemic at every level of the child protection system, according to a report by The Race Equality Foundation.

The report, carried out for the Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse, into why children from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are under-represented in official reporting of service use relating to Child Sexual Abuse, found that racism, whether conscious or unconscious, was endemic in the child protection system.

The research, based on interviews with professionals with expertise in working with children from ethnic minority backgrounds in the voluntary sector, found that racism occurred “even among social workers from the same ethnic group as the children they work with”.

“Interviewees discussed how racist dominant narratives about Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities affect the delivery of support for victims of CSA – because, for example, professionals accept stereotypes presented in the media as true,” the report added.

The report explored possible reasons for the under-representation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds in official reporting of service use relating to Child Sexual Abuse. Between January and March 2020, qualitative interviews were conducted with 16 professionals working in the voluntary sector and local authorities in England with expertise in working with children from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

Based on the interviewees responses, the report states:

- There is often an assumption that girls and young women from Black and South Asian communities are unlikely to be victims of CSA – and where they do not conform to this stereotype, professionals may not know how to react.

- The dominant narrative of South Asian men as perpetrators and white girls as victims of CSA overlooks the experience of South Asian girls and women.

- Black and Asian boys and young men are often criminalised and assumed to be gang members; they typically come to services’ attention because they have committed offences or displayed harmful sexual behaviour, with no recognition that this may indicate they are victims of CSA.

- A perception of South Asian men solely as perpetrators of sexual abuse may lead professionals to disbelieve their disclosures of having been abused.

- Professionals may overlook the possibility that members of religions which they associate with humility and non-violence, such as Buddhism, are capable of perpetrating CSA.

- The families of some CSA victims, such as those in Asian communities, may be more likely than white British families to be suspected of covering up the abuse, and may receive a less positive response.

- A well-meaning desire to allow for cultural differences, combined with ignorance of specific cultures, may result in professionals failing to take action when they should do so: fearing being seen as racist, they may not intervene in some parenting practice or suggest that they see the child or young person alone.

While interviewees in the research identified a number of barriers as relevant to children from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, it is clear that similar barriers may also be present for White British children, the report said.

“Some victims and survivors of CSA – in South Asian Muslim and Haredi Jewish communities, for example – may be less able to name their experience as abuse because of a lack of knowledge about sex and consent; limited access to online sources of information was felt to contribute to this,” said the report.

“Gender expectations make it difficult for both female and male victims of CSA in some communities to talk about their experiences, interviewees said. The influence of religious leaders and elders within highly patriarchal cultures was a common theme,” the report added.

This included examples in which expectations around sexual ‘purity’ were likely to prompt some South Asian girls and young women experiencing CSA to feel shame or fear that they may be blamed for the abuse.

Interviewees felt that boys and young men who are sexually abused by males may feel conflicted, embarrassed or confused about their sexuality, particularly if being gay is considered a sin in their culture and examples were cited from Black, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities. It was highlighted that sexual abuse of boys or young men by women may be considered (by the victims and others in the community) less serious than abuse by men.

Even where a child knows they have been sexually abused, interviewees said, they may not tell anyone because they fear their parents and community will disbelieve or refuse to accept their disclosure. This fear was observed by interviewees in ultra-Orthodox Jewish and South Asian Muslim communities where it was thought to be greater if the perpetrator holds a position of power in the community.

Alongside the individual shame and stigma that children of all ethnicities may feel after experiencing CSA, interviewees considered that in South Asian communities these feelings may be linked to and amplified by ideas of family/ community honour and shame. To prevent disclosure and preserve family honour, some sexually abused children may be removed from the community, either forced into marriage or ostracised. Literature research has also identified honour and shame as barriers to disclosure for other communities, including African Muslim and Black Caribbean victims and survivors.

In terms of external barriers, the report highlights:

- Disclosure of CSA may be particularly difficult in ethnic communities living in extreme poverty.

- Those with an uncertain immigration status may fear deportation should they disclose CSA.

- Support services are insufficiently visible and accessible – particularly to people who do not speak English fluently.

- Perceptions and experiences of racism, discrimination, marginalisation, exclusion and cultural insensitivity Could lead to a distrust of statutory agencies, which may impact on people’s willingness to engage with voluntary-sector support services.

- Examples were provided of ways in which police, social services, schools and service providers display behaviours based on culturally insensitive attitudes.

- A lack of specialist services for minority and marginalised groups was noted.

- Children who have learning disabilities are particularly unlikely to be heard and believed.

“Interviewees argued that, where statutory agencies assume that victims and survivors of CSA from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds face the same issues and pressures as those from white British backgrounds, and do not account for relevant cultural difference, their ability to respond appropriately is diminished,” said the report.

The research makes a number of recommendations for overcoming the barriers when working with professional including increasing diversity in the workforce, addressing unconscious bias, developing cultural competency and sharing knowledge to improve practice. In terms of overcoming barriers in communities it recommends establishing services within the community and building trust, raising awareness of CSA within communities and challenging ideas that prevent disclosure and encourage victim-blaming.

Improving responses to the sexual abuse of Black, Asian and minority ethnic children

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