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Why Do Victims Delay Reporting Sexual Abuse?

View profile for Malcolm Underhill
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Yesterday, 2nd August 2017, saw two cases of sexual abuse against children reported in the media.

East London doctor, Manish Shah, a GP in Romford, has been charged with 118 sexual offences[1]

Dr Shah is accused of 65 counts of assault by penetration and 52 allegations of sexual assault, the Metropolitan police said. 

The 47-year-old is also charged with one count of sexual assault on a child under 13. 

The offences were alleged to have occurred at a GP practice between June 2004 and July 2013 and relate to 54 victims.

The charges announced on Wednesday follow a long-running investigation.

In addition, David Trainer, a former television and film worker admitted to sexually assaulting four children in the 1980s and 1990s.

The 63-year-old's victims came forward after they came to know of his previous trial at the same court in 2011, where he was jailed for eight years for sexual offences against young girls.  The youngest to be assaulted by Mr Trainer was just seven years old[2].

Fear of coming forward after sexual abuse has occurred

Many victims of child sexual abuse take years, even decades to come forward. There are many reasons for this.

  • Children often lack the language to explain what has happened to them –children don’t necessarily understand when their physical consent has been violated, and don’t know the language to talk about their genitalia.  According to a major study, “due to the specific traumatic characteristics of child sexual abuse, children will often delay disclosing abuse or altogether fail to disclose during childhood, deny abuse when asked, and often recant abuse allegations[3]”.  This was demonstrated in an NSPCC focus group study of 56 of Jimmy Saville’s victims in 2013[4].  When asked whether they reported the abuse by Saville at the time it happened, many stated that they failed to realise what was happening to them was ‘sexual’ in nature, as their understanding and knowledge of sexual behaviour was limited.  This was especially true of those who had suffered sexual abuse in the 1960s and 1970s, who said at that time, abuse was not openly acknowledged or discussed. They had never heard the word ‘paedophile’, and feared that they would be viewed as ‘bad’ or ‘to blame’ as children.
     
  • If the person is in a position of power or is famous, victims doubt they will be believed – in the case of Dr Shah and David Trainer, both these men were in position of trust and authority.  The deterring effect of an abuser’s power was clearly highlighted in the NSPCC report which stated that when asked why they did not report the abuse they had suffered at the hands of Saville at the time it occurred, an overwhelming majority said it was because they feared they would not be believed.  “Jimmy Savile was a powerful and influential adult, who was seen as a ‘charitable, good guy’, raising a lot of money for charity” the report stated.   It went on to say, “This led to feelings of helplessness and inferiority in his victims, who felt there was no way that their word, would have been believed over his. This was true for those victims who had been adults when they were abused, as well as for those who were children”.
     
  • Many victims, especially older teenagers (16-17-year olds) fear going to the police or court.   According to a report by the Children’s Society, entitled, ‘Seriously Awkward[5]’, many support services who could assist young adults in reporting sexual abuse lack awareness of the needs of this age group, often having a “they are old enough to look after themselves attitude”.  The report also identified clear gaps in legislation to protect young adults.  For example, the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 does not include 16–17-year olds in protection from child cruelty, despite other laws reflecting the determination in Article 1 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that a person is a child up to the age of 18 years.  It is therefore, perhaps unsurprising, that 16-17-year-old sexual abuse victims have a distrust of authority, especially if they lack support at home.

Helping victims have the confidence to report abuse

Our attitude and willingness to talk about and support the victims of sexual abuse has come a long way over the past 5-10 years.  However, there are still many victims who suffered abuse in earlier decades and have lived with the consequences their whole lives.

It is important for all survivors of abuse to remember that it is not too late to come forward.  Seeking justice, both through the criminal justice system and by claiming compensation from the people, schools, care homes, NHS or other bodies that failed to protect you from your abuser, can help to address a traumatic chapter of your life and assist in moving forward to a more peaceful future.

Our personal injury team, led by injury and abuse legal expert, Malcolm Underhill, has the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent you if you wish to make a claim following sexual or physical abuse. To talk about how we might be able to help, please phone us on 0333 123 9099, email us at enquiries@ibbclaims.co.uk or fill in our contact form.  Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence and handled with the utmost sensitivity.


[1] http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-london-40808531

[2] http://www.getwestlondon.co.uk/news/west-london-news/convicted-paedophile-admits-string-sexual-13423212

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18158687

[4] https://www.nspcc.org.uk/globalassets/documents/research-reports/would-they-actually-believed-me-savile-report.pdf

[5] https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/what-we-do/resources-and-publications/seriously-awkward-how-vulnerable-16-and-17-year-olds-are

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