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Exposed – the system that abandons abuse victims

This article is over 8 years, 6 months old
We’re often told child sexual abuse is mainly carried out by ‘grooming gangs’. But, as Sadie Robinson found out, the real problem lies elsewhere in society
Issue 2478
most of the survivors interviewed were abused within the family
most of the survivors interviewed were abused within the family (Pic: Graphic: UCS and Survivors in Transition)

There is a dire lack of support and services available for adult survivors of child sexual abuse (CSA).

That’s the finding of a new report from the University Campus Suffolk and the Survivors in Transition charity.

The report was based on a survey of 395 adult survivors. More than half said that when they built up the courage to approach A&Es or social

services, they were not believed, listened to or respected.

The report found that most survivors, 70 percent, were abused within their family or extended family. It also noted that survivors are more likely to be women.

It said, “Abuse by adults outside family networks is not typical.” The research highlights “the inaccuracy of linking most abuse with ‘stranger danger’”.

People suffered abuse on average for seven years.

The vast majority didn’t report it to police. And it took an average of 12 years for survivors to receive support.

Most survivors said the service they found most helpful was counselling and psychotherapy. Some 57 percent of those surveyed said they would like more of these services. Yet this is woefully underfunded.

As one survivor put it, “I had to wait two and a half years to get dynamic psychotherapy because of staff shortages and waiting lists.”


Another said they only received therapy “through feeling suicidal and in desperation”.

The report condemned “insufficient free-at-point-of-use provision, long waiting lists for too brief counselling programmes and limited options in terms of therapeutic techniques”.

Politicians like to wave away criticisms of past failings by claiming they are now taking the issue seriously. Yet the report found that services have not improved over time.

The authors noted that the government has provided a new victims’ fund of £5 million for organisations to support survivors. But the report said, “While increased funding in a period of austerity appears positive, this £5m needs to be viewed in the context of the anticipated cost of the Independent Inquiry, which could be in excess of £260m.”

Researchers noted that high profile abuse scandals, such as that involving Jimmy Savile, may have encouraged more victims to come forward.

But they warned that inadequate services could put people off. “There is some evidence that a poor service experience can represent a barrier to further service use,” they wrote.

Several survivors described stressful or traumatic experiences when trying to get help.

One said, “Statutory agencies have no understanding, no empathy and you are treated as a target or a tick box instead of a real person.”

Download the report at

‘I fell through the net’ – how survivors are ignored

Many survivors said they felt ignored when they were abused as children.

One said, “People didn’t listen. Abuse was hidden and not talked about.”

Another said, “I displayed all the signs in childhood and teenage life particularly at school but not one noticed, or did anything.

“I fell through society’s net.”

One victim felt they were “written off as delinquent” because of their behaviour. Many found negative attitudes as adults too.

As one survivor put it, “It took my whole adult life to find a service that listened to me.”

Another said, “I was not believed. I stopped expecting anybody to believe me.

“Only when I had a complete breakdown did I feel somebody was finally listening.”

As well as asking questions, researchers gave victims space to talk more generally about their experiences of accessing support.

The report said, “The strongest single theme was the problem of restricted access to counselling and psychotherapy.”


Abuse has a long-lasting impact.

One victim described suffering mental health problems including anxiety and depression “on and off over the last 35 years”.

This is because, as they put it, “The abuse I suffered as a child has never been addressed.”

Survivors need sustained support—but the government has failed to fund services to provide this.

One survivor said, “What next after therapy? I feel so alone and abandoned.

“I feel ready for some group therapy but there’s none available.”

Victims spoke of feeling “fobbed off” with short term, relatively cheap forms of therapy.

Several said they only received help when they felt suicidal—and even then it didn’t last long enough to make a real difference.

“I went to the GP when I was in crisis and had to wait a year for around ten sessions,” explained one victim.

For some the lack of care for victims reflects a deeper problem. The lack of “a society where it’s ok to disclose abuse, accepts how prevalent abuse is, that meets disclosures with kindness, compassion and belief”.

The long wait for support

Nearly 79 percent of those interviewed for the report were under 11 when they were first abused. Many of those included in the report, 42 percent, didn’t receive support until long after disclosure.

Let down by the police

Only 30 percent of survivors questioned said they had reported the abuse to police. When it was reported, nearly two thirds of the alleged perpetrators were not prosecuted.

The report said, “Even among CSA survivors who have disclosed and accessed support services, almost 90 percent have not seen their abusers brought to justice.”

Some 37 percent did not think police believed them.

Tories slash support funds

Services for abuse victims are being slashed despite the fact that more are asking for help.

The Ministry of Justice funded Survivors UK, a charity for male abuse victims, with £70,000 a year for the past four years.

But now funding is the responsibility of Tory London mayor Boris Johnson.

He has axed it altogether.

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