Guest post: “We must have the courage to face child sexual abuse”
“The latest report from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner is heartbreaking – but it must also be our wake-up call, says broadcaster Tazeen Ahmad.
The number one question I’ve been asked since my BBC2 investigation ‘The Truth about Child Sex Abuse’ aired is this: “How do I talk to my kids about something this dreadful?”
Over the past several months I’ve been working with the BBC to investigate child sex abuse in the UK, using the findings from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s latest report. I’ve been reporting on this crime for over five years, but even so, I was shocked by the scale of it. According to the OCC, between 2012 and 2014:
• 425,000 children (equivalent to one in every UK classroom) were sexually abused
• there were fewer than 6,500 convictions
• of those who were abused, only one in eight reported it
• in three out of four cases, no criminal charges were brought
• two-thirds of victims were abused by someone in their family, or someone they knew through their family
The statistics tell a clear story, but it’s not one we want to hear. The greatest risk to our children isn’t stranger danger. Nor is it gang grooming or high-profile abusers. The biggest risk lies closer to home. We thought that if we kept our kids off the streets and told them not to talk to strangers, we could keep them safe. But how do we protect them from the unknown enemy within, people they may like and trust: neighbours, family friends, the nanny, babysitter or au pair? Or even people we love or trust: their uncle, stepdad, grandfather? Their father?
MOSAC, a remarkable charity that has worked for over 21 years with the parents and carers of sexually abused children, has long known where these crimes take place and by whom they’re committed. They say it generally happens in or around the family environment, carried out by someone the child knows. Our own investigations bore this out: we spoke to several young people who’d been abused by a close family member: fathers, stepfathers, family friends; even, in one instance, a mother.
Educating children offers one answer, but it’s only half the battle. It’s grossly irresponsible to place the burden on a traumatised and terrified child to report abuse.
If anything good came out of the vile crimes of Jimmy Savile et al, and the child sexual exploitation stories that I’ve often reported myself, it’s that tough, unpalatable discussions are now taking place in the public domain. The next step is to find a way to share that discussion, difficult as it is, with our children. The NSPCC’s Underwear Rule Campaign offers brilliant tips on teaching children about their privacy and explaining abuse. This discussion needs to extend into schools across the country too.
During an interview to publicise the film, I was asked: “Why don’t children report this crime?” The truth is that a child who is scared and has been intensively groomed will be confused, traumatised and unsure of where to turn. They may feel guilty, be afraid their family will split up as a result of their speaking out, or be trying to protect themselves or their non-abusing loved ones. They may have been manipulated into distrusting everyone, or not have found an opportunity to tell. Children also often don’t know what’s permissible and what isn’t, in the way that adults do. The reasons are complex and countless. Abusers know all of this, and they exploit it.
So educating children offers one answer, but it’s only half the battle. It’s grossly irresponsible to place the burden on a traumatised and terrified child to report abuse. After all, a baby or very young child cannot carry this responsibility. We need to look at what more we adults can do to identify, investigate and prosecute this crime. One thing’s clear: our disclosure-based legal system isn’t working. “We have to change the system, we have to change our approach,” said Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner. How a child takes on their adult abuser legally is a pressing matter for our criminal justice system to address.
One sign of hope comes from the internet, which while arguably part of the problem, also offers a solution. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) told me that child sex abuse images shared on the internet provide vital clues; last year it helped them locate and save a hundred children from further abuse. Those images can also provide much-needed corroboration when someone is arrested on child abuse charges. If police seize technological devices – phones, cameras, laptops – when they make an arrest, it could provide crucial evidence to back up a child’s claim. This needs to be mandatory for police forces around the country. Our criminal justice system evidently has a lot of work to do.
For the rest of us, the first step is to educate ourselves and our children. We also need to look out for signs and symptoms of abuse, because children often don’t use words. Extreme bedwetting, withdrawal, inexplicable anger, self-harm and behavioural changes are just some of the indicators – though these can, of course, be the symptoms of development stages or other anxieties. One key piece of advice: listen to your gut.
The figures, heartbreaking and horrific, are a wake-up call; we are letting our children down. We can take steps to identify and protect against these terrible crimes, but first we need the courage to face them.
Full article: http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/guest_posts/a2520658-Guest-post-We-must-have-the-courage-to-face-child-sexual-abuse