RACISM, sometimes in the form of “cultural stereotypes”, can lead to institutions failing in identifying and responding to child sexual abuse, an independent inquiry has found.
Collaborating with the Race Equality Foundation, the inquiry — which explored barriers faced by ethnic minority communities in reporting child sexual abuse — analysed the views and experiences of over 80 individuals from ethnic minority communities in England and Wales.
“Participants explained 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,” said the report released by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.
“They spoke of a lack of diversity within institutions and how this can exacerbate a sense of difference for people from an ethnic minority background.”
For instance, a female participant of a focus group covered by the inquiry said: “The social worker was white, okay, and she said to me, ‘This is not sexual abuse. This is your culture’. Even today, I’m so traumatised by this.”
Similarly, another victim recalled: “I just wished social services just barged in and took me into care, and took me and my siblings into care… but they were so intent on not coming across racist or coming across culturally insensitive that they forgot about the person that was being hurt here.”
The report highlighted the multitude of challenges victims and survivors from ethnic minority communities face, including denial, concerns over reputation, fear of ostracisation, and “simply having no one to report to”.
“The institutions weren’t there, the people that you could speak to weren’t there, and I had to do all of this work my own self…,” said a male participant in the inquiry.
Shame and stigma linked to abuse also contribute cement “a code of silence” within some communities, the report said, noting that “responses to abuse seek to preserve honour, with participants describing how secrecy may operate as a means of protection for the community”.
Many participants, the inquiry found, felt they would have “more to lose than gain” if they reported child sexual abuse.
One of them pointed to a sense of inhibition that “white people see us as bad and now you’re showing them how bad you are”.
“I was thinking that there’s a lot of pressure on the survivor not to speak, by their families, of bringing shame to the family and that shame to the community,” she said. “So, it can be your immediate family, your extended family… even your community.”
Victims and survivors who opened up to the inquiry said they felt “raw and damaged”, and often struggled with the feeling of being “robbed physically, emotionally and spiritually”.
Many of them also had to deal with being cut off from their families or communities following disclosure. And the majority of them said they didn’t know where to turn to, or services offering support were just not there.
Sabah Kaiser, ethnic minority ambassador to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (Photo: Twitter)
“As a victim and survivor who grew up as part of a South Asian family, I feel passionately about ensuring the voices of survivors from ethnic minority communities are heard,” said inquiry ambassador Sabah Kaiser.
“This report highlights the multitude of specific cultural barriers so many survivors face in disclosing child sexual abuse. If we are to truly overcome these barriers, it’s crucial that we listen to and recognise the uniqueness of these experiences. Only then can we learn from them.”
Holly Rodger, principal researcher at the inquiry, said the fear 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.”
Jabeer Butt, chief executive of the Race Equality Foundation, said participants in the research “conveyed powerful messages” on child sexual abuse within their communities, and described how “racial and cultural factors” impeded disclosure and access to support.
“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 said.