Child Sexual Abuse: Contradictions and Challenges for all of us

The issue of child sexual abuse is being discussed and debated widely in society today. The allegations relating to Jimmy Saville and the prominent sexual abuse stories centring on Children’s Homes in North Wales has brought one of society’s huge skeletons out of the closet and we seem to be struggling to put it back in. In this blog I wanted to explore my own thoughts and perceptions on this most sensitive of issues.

And sensitive it is indeed. The sexual abuse of children is an issue for our society. It has gone on, it is going on and it will continue to go on. It is insidious and unpalatable and yet it is something we all find difficult to talk about. It seems tied up in some many taboos that a balanced and reasonable discussion about it is very difficult to maintain. The place of the child in our society is seen as sacred we have an overwhelming desire to protect children. Not just because of their vulnerability but also because for many of us our children offer a future and it seems a natural human instinct to want the best future possible for them.

To think of children being sexually abused is extremely difficult. It is not a place we want to be and definitely not a place we want children to be. It wrecks lives and takes away childhood. We have a desire to see childhood as a good time as a positive time as a time we can reflect on and find happiness, most often happiness in innocence if that innocence is shattered then childhood is irrevocably changed. It’s a terrible place. And one we find difficult to inhabit but inhabit it we must. If only to provide support for those who live there and are not visiting. Providing services for survivors of child sexual abuse is one of the greatest challenges to our modern welfare state. Our systems and services were never developed to cope with this and you can see now that we are hideously un prepared to manage this.

Disclosing sexual abuse is incredibly difficult, how do children manage it? Who can they trust remember the abuser abused their trust, making it so difficult to trust again for fear of the same thing happening again. Once you do disclose how can you control what happens next? By disclosing what chain of events are set in place and does this mean you have to go back there? To revisit your abuse? To see your abuser again? For children this must be an impossible place to be.

And do we help? Does society help? Do social workers help? Take a look at registration statistics for child sexual abuse in Scotland in 2005 2006 given what we know does this seem fair and reasonable? We have some insight into the scope of the issue yet our only formal way of recognising it seems unable to grasp the extent of the issue. Disclosure of sexual abuse for children sees the law as having paramouncy; the emphasis in getting the right kind of evidence led carefully and sensitively from children seems to me to be an obstacle in supporting disclosure. The interview process in complicated and requires a child to disclose in front of a police officer and a social worker. Rest assured that if the case ever came to court the debate would not be on “did this happen?” but on “how was this information gathered?” After Orkney Scotland has struggled with Child Protection, local authorities have the responsibility to protect children yet faced with a restrictive economic climate and a mind-set that cannot seem to grasp the issue is it any wonder there is a sense of confusion?

It seems that everyone has an opinion on the issue. Open hatred for those who commit crimes against children is easy. Who would not have these feelings about people who do this? Not to feel this way could be construed as having some kind of support for them. Organisations that have dealt with this issue seem to miss the point instead of looking at the people they look at structures, at the role of managers and see opportunities for restructuring. Being tarnished with the issue results in responses that have little to do with children and much to do with using hindsight to limit or attempts to eradicate risk.

We seem unable to locate child sexual abuse in a place we can deal with it best. As individuals we seek to remove ourselves from it, almost to try and protect ourselves from being exposed to it in any way, it is toxic, it is dangerous and damaging and we don’t seem able to grasp it. All too often the drama is played out in the wings, surely our challenge is to put it centre stage.

7 thoughts on “Child Sexual Abuse: Contradictions and Challenges for all of us

  1. Interesting post and on the whole I agree wholeheartedly, however this section interested me : “As individuals we seek to remove ourselves from it, almost to try and protect ourselves from being exposed to it in any way, it is toxic, it is dangerous and damaging and we don’t seem able to grasp it”. Which individuals are we speaking of? The rising popularity of auto biographical recollections abuse (to the extent that bookshops have specialists sections) would say that people are exposing themselves to it to an extent, but does reading about it make them feel safer that it is removed to a book shelf? So more of an observation as it were.

  2. A difficult subject because historically and globally the legislation around he age of ‘consent’ etc. and the ‘norms’ of society have been a moveable beast over time, making child sexual abuse for an older child / young person more complex to deal with. The reported attitude of professionals, including social workers, in the recent Rochdale scenario exemplifies this well.

    Social workers put children in institutions, so if they are abused in those institutions because no one listens to them in a proper manner, the blame lies squarely on the social services /police child protection system. If all children were secure in the knowledge that they could get help from social services they would seek help from this source first.

    One cannot blame the BBC entirely because the child protection industry has been around for a long time but clearly has problems which are not going to go away. The other problem in recent times is the ‘compensation culture’ which can lead to some coming forward much later to report false allegations (happens with teachers for many reasons). It is a minefield that needs a radically different approach to ensure that the whole of society is engaged in noticing and in protecting children, reducing the need for statutory interventions- all else will just ‘tinker’.

    The truth is not necessarily clear cut.


  3. the major problem is, and will always be the majority of children who will never say or do anything bcause they actually enjoyed it. when society comes to terms with this terrifying concept then we might be able to start dealing with child sexual abuse with some intelligence. until then you are just going round in ever expanding circles

    • I feel shocked that any individual would think that a child subjected to sexual abuse would “enjoy it”
      These children are often subjected to degrading, violent and painful sexual acts, the meaning is in the word “abuse”
      Often feeling tricked, betrayed, ashamed and often living in fear of repetition or re-occurant future acts. They experience, isolation, loneliness, fear of death, generally displaying symptoms of post traumatic stress, unlike adults they cannot exscape into traumatic amnesia but instead denial, psychic numbing and hallucinations of perpetrators and the acts.
      No person of any age or gender that experiences sexual abuse, enjoys it!
      Every human being in Society has a right to protection and NOT be subjected to any form of abuse; violent, sexual, emotional, psychological or financial

  4. Lee, That has not been my experience. Never.

  5. I fully agree child sexual abuse is a sensitive area that undoubtedly makes people feel uncomfortable, however, as recent revelations has shown children are being let down as a result of adults misusing their position’s and the fact this topic is largely taboo. We as adults are aware of the damage and destruction sexual abuse can cause, not only in childhood but also through to adulthood, so why was there a culture of keeping quiet for so long? This I imagine is a question on many people’s lips. It seems to me that we are a long way from putting the real victims first and instead give preferential treatment to the perpetrators. After Orkney it could be argued that information gathering takes president as opposed to supporting our young victims. Society needs an approach where child sexual abuse can be reported and no matter what the individual’s status in society we will listen and act appropriately.

  6. Lee, that is the sort of ridiculous comment made by many an abuser during interview, You are an idiot.

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