This blog reflects on the findings of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse’s latest research report exploring child sexual abuse in ethnic minority communities.
“What I needed at that particular time was somebody who was sensitive enough to see that this was a vulnerable person here. The issue was actually not about the anger and the aggression, or the violence, it’s actually about somebody who was actually crying out for help.”
These words are from a male victim and survivor of child sexual abuse who contributed to our latest research report, together with over 80 other individuals from ethnic minority backgrounds, both men and women, some of whom were victims and survivors.
Male voices from ethnic minority communities are often underrepresented in research on child sexual abuse; as the Race Equality Foundation put it: “the absence of African, Asian and Caribbean men’s voices in previous research on the experience of child sexual abuse is a striking omission.” We worked with the Foundation to help ensure their views were represented, through the inclusion of a male-specific focus group in our research. We wanted to shine a light on the experiences of men from ethnic minority communities specifically, with the hope that voices less often heard in relation to child sexual abuse are amplified, acknowledged and learnt from.
One participant described how professionals just saw him as “a difficult black boy”, which resulted in a failure to identify him as “a vulnerable person …who was actually crying out for help”. Another echoed this view, stating that he believed a white child would have been responded to more effectively than a child from an ethnic minority background. We heard that his “bad” behaviour was interpreted by professionals as “typical” for a black child:
“I did a lot of bad things; I was playing up, and I think it should have been picked up on that something’s wrong … But I think if a child of colour or black kid or Asian kid maybe plays up and, you know, does things and gets violent or whatever, it’s sometimes seen as typical. It’s not investigated … whereas I feel if it’s a white kid that maybe does something wrong it’s, “Oh, something’s got to be wrong, let’s look into it. Let’s find out why he’s behaving this way.” – Male focus group participant
We also talked with research participants about barriers to disclosure of abuse faced by ethnic minority communities. Gender was seen as a factor that could make child sexual abuse difficult to talk about, with men who took part in the research citing specific barriers that were different from female participants as to why they may not feel able to talk about it.
“”Do I even have a right to talk about sexual abuse when I’m a man?”, and it’s usually men that, you know — sometimes it’s kind of shameful even to admit you’re a man sometimes in the kind of current society we’re living in. So, sometimes, we’re, I don’t know, “Am I equipped to talk about child sex abuse?”” – Male focus group participant
One male participant cited the views held by people within his community, illustrating how silence around abuse, and fears of not being believed can be barriers to speaking out:
“”But we don’t do this; this doesn’t happen in my family, my community, my neighbourhood; it doesn’t happen here. It happens over there, for sure, but not over here”.” – Male focus group participant
Men who took part in the research talked about masculinity and machismo-orientated culture, describing how abuse was largely understood in gendered terms. Expectations around masculinity left some male participants feeling unable to talk about abuse, or feeling emasculated because of the abuse.
For example, a male victim and survivor described how he was blamed by his father for “allowing” the sexual abuse to happen, for not being “man enough” to stand up to it, particularly as the abuse had been perpetrated by women. This highlights how gender norms, leading to victim-blaming, can silence and shame male survivors as well as female survivors.
Gender was also cited as a key characteristic where support was concerned, with the men who contributed to the research highlighting the importance of being able to speak to someone who could understand their experience. Participants argued for the need to have gender-specific support, including safe havens for men, suggesting that men may feel more comfortable talking to another male about abuse.
“So, if you’re from a community in which there is maybe a hyper-masculinity, or masculinity is seen as an upright man who is very strong etc., doesn’t necessarily interact with his emotions, it becomes quite complex about how you share or who you share that information with – the white community aside – and whether you can access services, internally, within your own community, becomes very challenging.” – Male focus group participant
As the experiences within this research so starkly illustrate, there is still so much to be done. The Inquiry continues to engage with ethnic minority communities as part of our work and this research and our engagement programme will help to inform the Inquiry’s final recommendations. If we are to better protect children now and in the future, we must continue to shine a light on their experiences, and this includes making extra efforts to hear from male voices.
Written by Holly Rodger, Principal Researcher at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.