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Children from ethnic minority backgrounds under-represented in official CSA reporting

Sexual abuse of children from a range of different groups is less likely to be identified and responded to, including children from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, a new report finds.


Children from ethnic minority backgrounds under-represented in official CSA reporting

New research has found that levels of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) for children from ethnic minority backgrounds are under-represented in official reporting.

The Race Equality Foundation (REF), commissioned by the Centre of Expertise on CSA, found that although levels of CSA do not vary significantly with social class or ethnic group, children from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds – defined in the report as all ethnic groups other than White British – are under-represented in official statistics.

Authors say that possible reasons for this under-representation include difficulties faced by these children in disclosing the sexual abuse they have experienced, and agencies’ resistance to acknowledging that they can be victims of abuse.

Professionals interviewed as part of the study identified barriers preventing children from disclosing their experiences of CSA and accessing services; both internal, such as cultural issues, and external, such as societal and organisational barriers.

Poverty and insecure immigration status were a barrier to disclosure, the research noted, as families with an uncertain immigration status are unlikely to seek help or support following CSA because they fear deportation. Researchers found that there may be limited awareness of support services, or an inability to access them, for people who do not speak English fluently.

Citing examples in South Asian, Black and Haredi Jewish communities, interviewees also said that perceptions and experiences of racism and cultural insensitivity could lead to a distrust of statutory agencies.

There was also found to be a lack of ‘cultural understanding’ in statutory agencies and service providers. The authors attributed these behaviours and attitudes to a lack of diversity in the workforce, as well as a lack of research evidence on which to build good practice.

Racism and unconscious bias were also found to play a role, with interviewees noting it was “systemic and endemic at every level of the child protection system”, occurring even among social workers from the same ethnic group as the children they work with.

“[From] the person making the referral, the person recording what those concerns were, the social worker going out to the home, making decisions, the management who are challenging or not challenging those decisions, to [child protection] chairs, to the [independent reviewing officers], to the panels, to the judges, there is no one part of the system that is exempt,” one participant in the study said.

Interviewees also discussed how the dominance of racist narratives about Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities affect the delivery of support for victims of CSA – because, for example, professionals accept stereotypes presented in the media as true.

Interviewees also noted that a well-meaning desire to allow for cultural differences, combined with ignorance of specific cultures, may result in professionals failing to take action where they should do so.

Fearing being seen as racist, some professionals may not intervene in some parenting practices or, for example, suggest that they see the child or young person alone, the authors noted.

Interviewees also observed how “cultural insensitivity by agencies and service providers” could reduce communities’ trust in them.

The research found that some victims and survivors of CSA may be less able to name their experience as abuse because of a lack of knowledge about sex and consent. Published research has identified that similar issues can affect Somali communities, and noted that some languages lack words for CSA.

Gender expectations were also found to make it difficult for both female and male victims of CSA in some communities to talk about their experiences, with the influence of religious leaders and elders within highly patriarchal structures being a common theme.

Even where a child knows they have been sexually abused, they may not tell anyone because they fear their parents and community will disbelieve or refuse to accept their disclosure, interviewees said.

The research also found that while children of all ethnicities may feel individual shame and stigma after experiencing CSA, for those in South Asian communities these feelings may be linked to and amplified by ideas of family and community honour.

Commenting on the research, Jabeer Butt, CEO of the Race Equality Foundation, said he was shocked.

“Back in 2000 I carried out a review for (what was then) the Social Services Inspectorate, and now more than 20 years later the same patterns were presenting. Two decades on, based on the findings of this and other recently published work we really have made very little progress.”

“The same barriers are preventing children and families from getting the protection and support they need.

“Professional responses to children seeking support continue to draw on stereotypes that minimise the abuse or lead to disbelief.

“Unfortunately, for me, this study shows that actually too little has changed, and what is, isn’t happening fast enough.”

As a result of the study, the authors suggest addressing the issues by increasing diversity in the workforce, addressing unconscious bias, and developing cultural competency among professionals.

They also suggest working with communities to establish services within different communities and build trust, raise awareness of CSA, and challenge ideas that prevent disclosure and encourage victim-blaming.

“Policymakers, service commissioners and team managers need to forget the assumption that some communities are closed off or hard to engage,” Jabeer Butt said.

“Instead, we must recognise that the process of building trust requires skill, effort and repetition.”

“The workforce hasn't become as diverse as I expected; the improvements in practice we had hoped for in relation to working with children and families from different backgrounds haven’t materialised, and the funding to drive this work hasn’t been committed.

“Put simply, children aren’t being better protected. Not only that, but too many agencies appear to have lost interest in understanding and addressing differences too.”

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