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…child sexual abuse and exploitation takes place everywhere, by a significant number of adults (mainly, the research tells us, men) and that there are a number of methods used. Survivors, feminist campaigners, child rights advocates and legislators – not to mention the church and other institutions – are well aware that child sexual abuse is an everyday event and not something that only happens to certain children in certain places.
Berelowitz was giving evidence to a home affairs select committee on grooming of children in the light of the recent Rochdale case. The media coverage of that case, and of previous prosecutions in which the defendants were all or primarily of Pakistani origin, was so focused on race that it might lead the public to imagine that all we need to do to eradicate child sexual abuse is to lock up all Pakistani men. The committee is hearing evidence, however, that online grooming, abuse within the home, within gangs, and elsewhere takes place and is perpetrated by men (and some women) from every demographic.
Research by the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit more than 20 years ago found shockingly high levels of child abuse in Britain. 59% of young women and 27% of young men disclosed, in a survey of 1,244 attending further education colleges, that they had experienced at least one sexually intrusive incident before the age of 18. The prevalence study also found that 21% of young women and 7% of young men experienced sexual abuse involving physical contact. 14% of the perpetrators were close relatives, 68% more distant relatives, and only 18%, strangers. Why did the government not act upon those findings? Why does it take a panic about race and culture to get people to sit up and listen to what children and young people have been telling us for centuries about being raped, prostituted and targeted by predators?
It seems we only choose to “know” about the most extreme cases, those involving strangers who abduct and kill children (the least common form of child abuse), or gangs located within one location or community. But while there are sexual abuse rings and individual abusers who target children unknown to them, most child sex abusers are children’s fathers, uncles, teachers, family friends and neighbours as well as sports coaches and clergymen.
Research from 2011 found that local safeguarding children boards are failing to protect young people and that the “current thresholds for intervention through child protection procedures are set too high”. That is likely to be because we have yet to acknowledge that the sexual abuse of children is largely carried out within the home, and that state agencies have proved to be reluctant to listen to and believe children when they disclose, or to fail to provide the tools for the victims to safely speak out. The conviction rates in child abuse-related crimes are appallingly low, and there are a number of pressure groups that seem hell-bent on claiming that children and their advocates dream up false scenarios of rape and torture.
More at The Guardian here.