Child sex abuse victims `were not believed'

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The Independent Online
Children who had the courage to speak out about sexual abuse were not believed according to a study by a children's charity.

Almost half had said they had spoken out about being sexually abused when they were children and some talked to more than one adult in their efforts to be believed and have the abuse stopped. But only just over one-third of those who spoke out said they were listened to.

NCH Action For Children interviewed more than 100 adult survivors of child sexual abuse, who are mainly now in their mid-30s. For the majority of victims the abuse began at about the age of four and often continued for years. In two- thirds of cases the abuse continued for at least five years and for a quarter it lasted 10 years.

Most had only been abused by one person. The abuser was a stranger in only 7 per cent of the cases. Four out of ten said the abuser was their father, step-father or mother's partner. Family friends, lodgers, neighbours accounted for 17 per cent, with the rest being a brother or sister of the victim, or another relative.

One participantrecalled: "I tried to tell and was told I was dreaming so I couldn't say what had happened and I was terrified and all I could do was cry and cry and cry."

The report reveals that nine out of ten people interviewed said relationships with their partners in their adult lives had been affected. Almost three- quarters had suffered health problems including depression or breakdown. And more than half had suffered other effects as a result of abuse, including eating disorders and alcoholism.

Another victim commented: "It has wrecked my whole life. I am unable to go to college, work, eat, wash, function normally." The symptoms that those who had suffered abuse are similar to those found in post traumatic stress disorder - flashbacks, nightmares. disturbed sleep and feelings of emptiness and numbness.

In the study, the overwhelming majority (92 per cent) never forgot they had been sexually abused. Those who reported total or partial memory loss said they believed specific trigger events - usually death, the birth of their children or divorce - had been responsible for them recovering memories of abuse.

"Our report demonstrates the devastating effect of not disclosing sex abuse in childhood or not being believed," said Tom White, the charity's chief executive. "Yet our work also shows how it is becoming increasingly difficult for children to make themselves heard and prompt the necessary action to protect them. The adversarial nature of the court system, and examples of children's evidence being discredited, along with the current climate of disbelief in children's disclosures, have all contributed to children going unheard."

The charity is calling for reform of legal procedures to offer child witnesses better protection and minimise delays in cases going to court. It also wants national statistics of child abuse prosecutions and convictions to be collated, a coherent international child protec- tion strategy and measures to prevent convicted abusers from abroad coming to Britain.

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