Victims of child sexual abuse felt stereotyped after disclosing experiences – IISCA

More than three quarters of survivors of child sexual abuse felt stereotyped after disclosing their experiences, new figures have revealed.

A poll of 116 survivors from the Victims and Survivors Forum, part of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), showed that more than half did not report abuse due to concerns over how they would be seen by people around them.

Polling found that 95% of respondents believed encouraging open conversations about child sexual abuse would help stop the stereotyping of victims.

A total of 81% said they had felt stereotyped as an abuse survivor, while 69% said they did not speak out about abuse due to the fear of being stereotyped.

Survivors contributing to the poll said they had been labelled as emotionally unstable, damaged or weak after disclosing their abuse, which had a negative effect on their professional and personal lives.

One stereotype highlighted by survivors was that victims of child sexual abuse would go on to be abusers themselves, the inquiry said.

It said such assumptions led survivors to feel “stigma and shame” and prevented them from speaking out or disclosing abuse.

One poll respondent spoke of how they feared people’s “pity or distrust” if they shared their story, while another said there had been “too many obstacles” to them speaking out about childhood experiences.

Former professional footballer Paul Stewart, who was abused by a football coach when he was aged 11 to 15, said he was not surprised by the poll findings.

The now 54-year-old, who first spoke publicly about his experiences in November 2016, waiving his right to anonymity, said abuse survivors coming forward should not be “pigeon-holed”.

“Almost instantaneously you get labelled as victim/survivor and automatically you are looked upon as being a totally different person,” he said.

“I don’t think I’ve changed much in any way in terms of the person that I am,” he added.

He said stereotypes of victims as “weak” were “frustrating” and hindering efforts to help people share stories and raise awareness of the issue of abuse.

Mr Stewart, a former England international and Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur player, said: “One of the reasons, as a male, that you don’t come forward is that people will see you as being weak, will see you as being not a strong person. I was in a male-dominated sport at that time.”

He praised the “courage” of other footballers who had also shared their stories of abuse.

“You’re not looking for the pity, you’re not looking for people to feel sorry for you, you’re looking to raise awareness,” he said.

The inquiry said the findings highlighted the need to improve understanding and awareness of the impact of child sexual abuse on victims.

The IICSA is examining the extent to which institutions and organisations have failed to protect children in England and Wales from sexual abuse.

Its Victims and Survivors Forum provides an opportunity for abuse survivors to meet, discuss and contribute to the inquiry’s work.

More than 4,000 people have contributed to its Truth Project which listens to survivors’ experiences.

Inquiry panel member Drusilla Sharpling said: “Survivors of child sexual abuse come from all walks of life.

“If we are to make recommendations to keep children safe in future, we need to understand the wide range of survivor experiences.

“Whoever you are, and whatever your background, the Truth Project is here to listen to you.”

Survivors of child sexual abuse who would like to share their experiences with the Truth Project can get in touch via www.truthproject.org.uk or email [email protected].

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

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