Camille Warrington writes about today’s launch of the ‘Making Noise’ report about the perspectives and views of children and young people affected by sexual abuse in the family environment.
You might not think much of telling anyone, you might not realise how serious it is, you might be just like it’s a one-off thing. Especially if it’s your family – you still feel like you want to protect them. That’s why it’s harder. You might realise that people aren’t supposed to do it [but] I think it all just comes back to it’s still your family really. (IV40, Female 17 years)
Today marks the launch of our report: Making Noise: Children’s voices for positive change after sexual abuse. The study, commissioned by the Children’s Commissioner for England, was carried out by staff from the International Centre: Researching Child Sexual Exploitation, Violence and Trafficking, in partnership with the NSPCC. Two years in the making, the research responded to a gap in evidence from the perspectives of children and young people affected by child sexual abuse (CSA) in the family environment and their views and experiences of help-seeking and support.
‘It just affected everything. It was like dropping a marble into a bowl of water and seeing the ripple effect.’ (Female 17 years)
The findings highlight how experiences of abuse touch every aspect of children’s lives including: families, peer groups, friendships, schooling, living arrangements, communities and physical and mental health. They demonstrate that no one aspect of help-seeking and support can be considered in isolation. Each chapter of the report explores another layer of this ‘ripple effect’ demonstrating how ever increasing aspects of children’s lives became affected not only by the abuse itself but also by the related processes, events and professional responses that ensue. The report seeks to acknowledge that responses to children and young people’s experiences of CSA within the family environment can be experienced as both helpful and supportive (reducing the difficulties a child has to manage) and as subjecting children to further challenges, disruption, distress and at times trauma (increasing the impact on them). It reveals pervasive barriers and delays for many in accessing professional support after the identification of abuse – with some groups of children at a particular disadvantage including: physically disabled children; those with learning disabilities or communication impairments; Black and minority ethnic children and boys and young men.
The research also highlights the importance of recognising the diversity of children and young people’s experiences. Despite strong evidence of a number of cross cutting themes, each child or young person who participated in this study represents a unique experience and set of circumstances. As one young woman eloquently noted in her interview ‘no-one has the same story’, highlighting the need for professionals to avoid assumptions about what will have happened to, or be needed by, any one individual. This emphasises the critical need for truly ‘child centred approaches’: listening to children and responding to their own individual circumstances.
Above all, the most significant message to emerge from this research is the feasibility and importance of listening to children’s own voices and perspectives on this subject and incorporating these perspectives alongside existing professional and policy discourses. To our knowledge, this research represents the largest sample of children and young people interviewed about experiences of CSA in the family environment. It has clearly demonstrated many children and young people’s own commitment and willingness to share their views and experiences for the benefit of others. It recognises the insight and reflective capacities of children and their ability to help us understand and respond to these issues better. Conversely, it also demonstrates the dangers of underestimating children’s capacity to support us to address them – overlooking critical resources in our efforts to prevent and respond to CSA in the family environment.
Recognising the relationship between listening to children, involving them in decision making (both at a personal and collective level), and protecting children is critical. Without this, efforts to address children’s physical, psychological and relational safety will fall short. This highlights the importance of talking about children’s rights in broader debates about CSA – demonstrating that addressing these issues must start with recognition of children’s mutually reinforcing rights to protection, provision and participation.
Nowhere in this research is this more apparent than when considering the role of the young people’s advisory group who continually helped to ground the process in the needs of those it sought to represent. They continually reminded us that the very act of talking openly to children about these issues is a preventative and political one – ‘making noise’ to challenge cultures of silence and impunity in which abuse flourishes.
For more information, please visit the Making Noise webpage.