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Survivors of child sexual abuse deserve better support

4 min read

Dealing with the fallout from sexual abuse is a moral duty for the country – and sound public policy, writes Sarah Champion 

The scale of child sexual abuse in the United Kingdom is difficult to comprehend. According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, seven per cent of people aged between 16 and 59 report that they were sexually abused as a child. This equates to over two million survivors.

This is a significant portion of the electorate, present in every constituency in the country.

It is to be welcomed that in recent years public consciousness of child sexual abuse has increased, largely because of reports of large-scale sexual abuse by Jimmy Savile, ordained members of the Catholic Church, football coaches and in constituencies like my own, Rotherham.

As a result, efforts by political actors and public bodies have understandably focussed on preventing the abuse of children and on securing the convictions of perpetrators. Less thought has been given to supporting survivors who are struggling to cope with the traumatic effects of abuse.

The APPG for Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse, which I chair, has been working with nearly 400 survivors across the country to determine the information and support they want to receive. I will be raising the findings of our report, Achieving quality information and support for survivors' in Westminster Hall on Wednesday.

Ninety per cent of survivors told us that abuse negatively impacted their personal relationships. Eighty-nine per cent of respondents’ mental health was negatively impacted by abuse, but only 16 per cent said NHS mental health services met their needs. Seventy-two per cent said it had negatively impacted their career, 65 per cent their education and 46 per cent their financial situation.

Survivors most value counselling or therapy from the specialist voluntary sector and yet many wait years on waiting lists, or receive limited sessions, due to the significant financial strain on the sector caused by rising demand and near stagnant income. The inquiry heard that some services have seen demand increase by 30 per cent year-on-year in some cases but Ministry of Justice funding has increased by only 10 per cent.

The APPG report recommends that Government address the needs of survivors in the upcoming spending review, with the core funding needs of specialist services being met.

We need a transformation in approach so that frontline professionals are better at recognising and addressing survivors’ needs. As it stands, survivors are often dealt with insensitively: Survivor A was repeatedly described as the ‘site of the crime’ by police officers. Others find professionals are poorly informed: Survivor B’s GP incorrectly told her specialist counselling was not available locally only for her to find out four years later that it was, and always had been.

Change requires all of us to think about one another a little differently. Each of us has been shaped by the events that have happened to us in our life. No one experiencing significant trauma goes unaffected. 

Survivors often feel blamed when the trauma of abuse prevents them from playing a full role in the economy and community life. They want a more understanding, empathic approach from the professionals they encounter. They want Jobcentre Plus work coaches to understand why it can be difficult to keep hold of a job. They want GPs to spot the signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Government departments can start by issuing fresh guidance and training to frontline professionals about trauma-informed care. A nationwide public health campaign would also help to raise awareness, challenge stigma, and provide crucial information that empowers survivors, and professionals.

Dealing with the fallout from sexual abuse is a moral duty for the country, but it is also sound public policy. I hope the APPG’s achievable and necessary recommendations are taken up by Government without delay.

Sarah Champion is Labour MP for Rotherham and chair of the APPG on Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse

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