The complicated costs of child sexual abuse

Child sexual abuse has become a ten-billion-pound problem, but there are solutions we can employ. So here’s our deep dive into the complex nature of abuse and how we can encourage disclosure across society.

What do the stats say?

The Home Office’s latest report on the economic and social cost of child sexual abuse estimates the financial and monetised non-financial cost relating to all survivors who experienced child sexual abuse in England and Wales up until April 2019 as at least £10.1 billion. Approximately half of this is the cost of the physical and emotional harm, whilst 13% accounts for lost economic output. A huge figure, but so is 3.1 million, the estimated number of CSA survivors currently living in England and Wales.

These overwhelmingly large numbers are are also reflected in our own data, with approximately 64% (7,100) of callers to our support line over the past 18 months citing CSA and 500,000 children experiencing CSA in England & Wales in 2019 alone.

We are in the throes of a public health crisis with extensive negative consequences on both a personal and an economical level. As such we’d like to focus this piece on robust support tips for survivors and how we can create a space in which more survivors feel comfortable in disclosing.

No ‘one size fits all’ approach  

One of the most important things to recognise is that sexual abuse is rarely only sexual. 51% of callers to NAPAC’s support line in the past 18 months also cited emotional abuse, indicating that these two types of abuse are intertwined, and sexual abuse is rarely committed without an emotional component.

It is vital that we acknowledge the complicated nature of the abuse. Often it is not readily apparent as to why a survivor has not yet spoken out about their experience, but there may be a wide range of social and cultural barriers preventing them from speaking up. The point here is that we must look beyond the label of sexual abuse, as the consequences are often extremely complex, with emotional and psychological impacts.

All too often survivors are given support in processing the sexual abuse itself but receive very little guidance on how to talk with their family, how to handle occasions on which they may be asked to see their abuser again, and how to address their own worries about safeguarding children and parenthood. The financial figures referred to in the introduction are a strong indicator of the need to manage abuse as a multi-faceted, individual experience, and whilst categorisations are useful to establish meaningful statistics, in the case of treatment these labels are often unhelpful.

Normalising disclosure 

Another way in which we can support survivors and enable them to speak out is through the normalisation of disclosure, which the Everyone’s Invited movement has so admirably brought to the forefront of public life. Survivors must be assured that there is no shame in what they went through, and that their emotional reactions are valid. Everybody reacts differently to trauma and there is no ‘right’ response to an instance of abuse.

Granted, normalising disclosure is a wonderfully beneficial practice, but we should also look to educate ourselves so that we know how to receive a disclosure in a safe and constructive way. Trauma informed training is vital to anyone who works in a care capacity with children and young people on a regular basis, but we’d advocate that we would all benefit from it. A disclosure could come from anywhere, a colleague, a member of your sports club, or a friend you have known for many years. NAPAC has seen great success in educating teachers, therapists, and frontline workers in the correct way to handle a disclosure.

Child abuse is a public health issue that is not going away. In order to fully support survivors, local communities, public health bodies, non-profits and governmental departments must work together to provide a better quality of prevention and care.

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