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Sexual abuse impacted greatly on survivors’ mental health

Almost 90 per cent of victims and survivors of child sexual abuse have experienced mental health problems as a result of their trauma, according to a report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

Child crying on steps

The Inquiry revealed that almost all victims and survivors spoken to described some kind of impact as a result of the sexual abuse. As well as mental health problems this included victims and survivors’ relationships (54 percent), school or employment (42 percent) and their physical health (27 percent). Nearly half reported having an illness or condition that affects their everyday lives.

Mayan says: “I felt guilty like it was my fault anyway … my dad used to say, ‘It’s because you wear your skirts too short’ … that convinced me it was my fault ... Why would anyone say something like that?”

The Inquiry found that 88% of victims and survivors have experienced an impact on their mental health as a result of the sexual abuse, with over a third reporting depression. One in 10 disclosed the sexual abuse they experienced as a child for the first time when they spoke to the Inquiry’s Truth Project.

More than 5,600 victims and survivors of child sexual abuse have now shared their experiences with the Truth Project in England and Wales. Of these, 5,440 personal accounts have been analysed for research purposes.

Survivors told the Truth Project about sexual abuse taking place in the family home and across a range of institutions such as schools, religious institutions and foster care, as well as in sports locations and custody. Most victims and survivors said the sexual abuse started when they were of primary school age.

However, alongside the sexual abuse they experienced, the majority of survivors also reported other forms of abuse to the Inquiry, with physical abuse most commonly reported. This included accounts of being punched, choked or dragged by the hair. Almost 30% described psychological abuse, including fear and humiliation, whilst emotional abuse or entrapment was the third most commonly experienced. Most victims and survivors did not tell anyone about the sexual abuse at the time it was happening.

Survivors also discussed the barriers to disclosure including fear of stigma and not being believed. Many said that even when they tried to report the sexual abuse, they were ignored, threatened, or made to feel it was their fault.

Survivors also talked about changes they hope to see in future, such as greater education and a more open conversation in society about the impact of child sexual abuse. After sharing their experience with the Truth Project, many described feelings of empowerment and said that they hoped to help others who had been through a similar experience.

Aparna’s life has been devastated by the sexual abuse she suffered as a child. She says that when she heard about the Truth Project, she knew she had to share her experience. “Maybe something good can come out of it.”

The Truth Project is closing in October 2021, but victims and survivors who would like to share their experience can still do so in writing. More information about how to share can be found on the Truth Project website.

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