New research commissioned by the Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse and Bedfordshire’s Institute for Health Research, has been exploring how to address knowledge gaps around professional practice in supporting children from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds who are at risk of, or experiencing, child sexual abuse.
Research has found that levels of child sexual abuse do not vary significantly between social class or ethnic group, but children from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are under-represented in official reporting of service use relating to child sexual abuse.
Possible reasons for this under-representation include particular difficulties faced by these children in disclosing the sexual abuse they have experienced, and agencies’ resistance to acknowledging that they can be victims of abuse.
These findings were developed from interviews with 16 professionals working in the voluntary sector and local authorities in England. All the interviewees had expertise in working with children from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds who had experienced child sexual abuse.
Below is an overview of some of the key findings which highlight the barriers to disclosure of child sexual abuse and how such barriers could be overcome. Further details about the findings and recommendations for professionals can be found in the full report.
Barriers to Disclosure
- Some victims and survivors of child sexual abuse, for instance those in in South Asian Muslim and Haredi Jewish communities, 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.
- 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 – observed by interviewees in ultra-Orthodox Jewish and South Asian Muslim communities – was thought to be greater if the perpetrator holds a position of power in the community.
- Interviewees believed that disclosure of child sexual abuse may be particularly difficult in ethnic communities living in extreme poverty, and that families with an uncertain immigration status are unlikely to seek help or support following child sexual abuse because they fear deportation.
- Interviewees discussed how racist dominant narratives about Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities affect the delivery of support for victims of child sexual abuse. For instance, narratives that consider risks only in terms of forced marriage or honour-based violence for South Asian girls and women can result in signs of child sexual abuse being missed.
- Similarly, Black and Asian boys and young men are often criminalised and 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 child sexual abuse.
The research explored what good practice looks like and how professionals and organisations could overcome the barriers faced by racially diverse communities in disclosing child sexual abuse.
- Building trust in the community was seen as essential by interviewees, alongside reassuring people that their disclosure would be treated with confidentiality.
- Raising awareness of what healthy relationships look like and how to stay safe online is important when working with young people. From 2019, it is compulsory for school students in England and Wales to attend sessions on healthy relationships.
- Interviewees also highlighted the importance of raising awareness about how to recognise and respond to concerns about child sexual abuse when working with parents and religious or community leaders.
- Interviewees who were not from the same ethnic background as their service users discussed the importance of learning about
the service users’ culture. This enabled them to provide better support.