On 7 November IICSA published the Truth Project Thematic Report on child sexual abuse in the context of children’s homes and residential care.
Readers of the Blog will be familiar with the Truth Project, which was established to hear in private from the victims and survivors of child sexual abuse about their experiences.
Some participants in the Truth Project consent to IICSA using information gained in these private hearings for ongoing research and analysis which is carried out by IICSA’s Research Team.
The phrase ‘children’s homes and residential care’ refers to institutions with a primary purpose of providing residential care to children, including children’s homes, secure children’s homes, or accommodation for care leavers under the age of 18.
This report is based on information provided to the Truth Project between June 2016 and March 2019 and considers the experiences of victims and survivors who were sexually abused in children’s home and residential care settings between the 1940s up to the early 2000s.
Key findings that are notable from the research carried out are as follows:
- This group of victims and survivors typically described disrupted, chaotic and, in some cases, neglectful childhoods characterised by fractured relationships with parents who were often struggling with alcohol misuse, mental health issues, or domestic violence and abuse.
- A greater proportion of victims and survivors abused in children’s home and residential care reported a disability or long-term illness than those sexually abused in other contexts.
- There were more men than women in this group of Truth Project Participants; this is unusual as the experience to date had been that more women had come forward to tell the Truth Project of their experiences than men.
- Survivors and victims described having experienced a general culture of aggression and violence while in children’s homes and residential care and that physical and emotional abuse was widespread. They also said that sexual abuse was often accompanied by physical or emotional abuse.
- Those participating in the research described the general lack of oversight in children’s home and residential care as one of the reasons why perpetrators could so easily sexually abuse them. Perpetrators could take the children off site and had easy access to other locations within the home or residential care setting where they could abuse the children. Six key factors were identified as facilitating the perpetration of sexual abuse in this context:
- an embedded culture of abusive behaviour;
- staff being given care responsibilities and trust without sufficient training, qualifications or support;
- lack of supervision and professional boundaries;
- being able to exploit the physical space;
- deflection of concerns or allegations;
- children having no trusted person they could talk to.
- Those abused in the context of residential care described repeated sexual abuse, including rape, over a prolonged period of time, with some experiencing sexual abuse in multiple residential care contexts.
- The perpetrators of sexual abuse in this context were identified as being residential care workers or a peer or older child, who in some instances, resided in the same home or care setting.
- The majority of perpetrators were male but there was a higher proportion of sexual abuse by female perpetrators in this context.
- The survivors and victims who participated in the research sensed that others working in the children’s homes and residential care settings and also some of those working in the associated social services knew or suspected that sexual abuse was taking place. 50% of those participating in the research and who were abused in this way had told someone about the abuse and in many cases it was reported to someone in authority inside the home or care setting.
- Victims and survivors outlined the adverse effects of the abuse both at the time that it took place and later in their lives and this included:
- Personally engaging or being surrounded by criminal behaviour
- Mental health impacts including suicidal thoughts and attempts
- Difficulties with sleep and nightmares
- Victims and survivors also experienced significant difficulties in moving from residential care to independent living in the community, they felt unsupported and with no proper offers of counselling they felt that this deterred their recovery.
Those who participated in the research made a number of suggestions to improve child protection and assist victims and survivors of child sexual abuse in future.
They suggested that there should be better communication between residential care agencies, and that it should be easier for victims and survivors to access their own information regarding their time in care.
Participants thought the assumption that claimants seeking compensation for sexual abuse just want financial compensation needed to be challenged.
They said that there needed to be greater awareness of child sexual abuse amongst children and young people, and that the power around people in positions of authority within residential care contexts needed to be challenged.
Victims and survivors thought that residential care needed to value and nurture children and that children with disabilities should be better looked after within the system.
It is worth noting that the research report was prepared at the request of IICSA’s Chair and Panel but the information presented in Truth Project research does not constitute formal recommendations by IICSA and is separate from legal evidence obtained in investigations and hearing.
When IICSA makes it final recommendations then we will see how persuasive this report and the underlying research has proven to be.
James Chambers, Associate, BLM