Stereotyping by practitioners preventing disclosure of child sexual abuse in ethnic minority groups

Child sexual abuse inquiry finds people from ethnic minorities told abuse was part of their culture, practitioners not acting for fear of being seen as racist and 'whiteness' of institutions dissuading victims from disclosing

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Cultural stereotyping among social workers and other professionals is creating barriers to people from ethnic minority communities disclosing child sexual abuse, the inquiry into CSA has found.

Victims and survivors reported being told that abuse was part of their culture and also said that professionals failed to act for fear of being perceived as racist, said a report last week from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in partnership with the Race Equality Foundation.

People interviewed for the study also said that the ‘whiteness’ of children’s social care and other institutions created further barriers to disclosure by exacerbating people from ethnic minority communities’ sense of difference.

This added to the impact of racism in wider society, which fostered  fears that communities would be stigmatised and further disadvantaged by reporting CSA, said the report, which was based on a literature review and the views of 82 people in 11 focus groups, three of which were of victims and survivors and eight of people with no known experience of abuse.

Victims’ and survivors’ testimony

“I just wish social services just barged in and took me into care, and took me and my siblings into care …but they were so intent on not coming across racist or coming across culturally insensitive, that they forgot about the person that was being hurt here.”
Female focus group participant

“The social worker was white, okay, and she said to me, ‘This is not sexual abuse. This is your culture’. Even today, I’m so traumatised by this.”
Female focus group participant

“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 … Where 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

Cultural stereotyping

A common theme from the focus groups was participants’ perceptions that some public bodies and individuals, including in children’s social care, held racist and cultural stereotypes that affected their response to child sexual abuse in ethnic minority communities. As a result, participants felt ‘othered’ by institutions and reluctant to disclose abuse, with this distrust deepened by a perception of institutions being ‘white’.

The report quoted one female victim saying she had been left traumatised by her social worker telling her that the abuse she faced was part of her culture, which the report said illustrated the power that professionals’ responses to victims and survivors’ disclosures had.

Some participants saw particular problems for boys from ethnic minorities, whose ‘bad’ behaviour was perceived as typical, rather than a sign of vulnerability, as would be the case with a white child.

Racism in society suppressed reporting of child sexual abuse among ethnic minority communities because of fears that this would be seen as representative of the group and reinforce negative stereotypes.

This fear can be exacerbated by unhelpful media narratives that emphasise the ethnicity of perpetrators when they are from an ethnic minority group, but do not do the same when they are from a white ethnicity,” the report said.

Shame and stigma

The taboo round child sexual abuse within communities also presented a significant barrier to disclosure, as it led to actions being taken to protect individual, family or community ‘honour’, rather than to protect victims.

Participants reported that victims and survivors risked being ostracised by disclosure, with one saying:

You’ll be hated; you’ll not be accepted; nobody would marry you; nobody would like you; your parents will disown you.”

Some described being cut off from their families and wider communities, or being intimidated into leaving or doing so for their own safety.

CSA was also understood in gendered terms, with expectations around masculinity making it harder for male victims to be identified or talk about their abuse. For girls, abuse was seen as being a source of dishonour, particularly among South Asian communities, with victims under pressure to stay quiet in order to protect their marriage prospects.

Fears of being ‘othered’

“In this report, victims and survivors describe the impact of cultural stereotypes and racism on how child sexual abuse is understood, identified, disclosed and responded to across ethnic minority communities, said Holly Rodger, principal researcher at the inquiry, said Holly Rodger, principal researcher at the inquiry.

“Participants’ feelings of being ‘othered’ by professionals and institutions was a significant obstacle to reporting abuse, as were feelings of shame, stigma and a fear of not being believed. The importance of education, greater awareness and listening to the voices of survivors from ethnic minority backgrounds is clear.”

Ian Dean, Director of the Centre of expertise on child sexual abuse: “This report demonstrates the need for professionals and institutions to challenge stereotypes and racism in practice, and for services to ensure they are effectively protecting and supporting children from under-identified groups by being responsive to intersectional needs and ensuring all children feel safe, valued and listened to.”

British Association of Social Workers chair Gerry Nosowska said: “The voices in this report are courageous and powerful, and the report’s messages need to be heard. Social work as a profession needs to understand better how racism can prevent children and young people from getting the protection and help they need, and social workers must be supported to challenge and overcome barriers.”

5 Responses to Stereotyping by practitioners preventing disclosure of child sexual abuse in ethnic minority groups

  1. Shaesta Saleem July 4, 2020 at 2:30 pm #

    This is a sad reality of what some Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority service users and their families experience. As an Asian social worker, I can relate to this unconscious bias being played out in offices, meetings and even decision making, dare I say it in courts too.

    You see Black, Asian and Ethinic minority social workers become very good at picking up verbal and non verbal insensitive racially tainted cues because they have often been the recipient of having been racially abused in their personal or professional world. Some of the ques are picked up as office banter but more seriously it is conveyed in assumptions, case notes and decision making by the largely White oriented multi professionals/agencies involved in the particular case.

    There is ofcourse a lack or representation of Black, Asian and Ethnic minority professionals in organisations in mental health, CSE, CCE, and in safeguarding overall and this reality doesnt help the situation. However, that’s a separate issue that shouldn’t get mixed up with what the article and research has found.

    Although majority of our White colleagues are indeed trying to practice ‘culture competency’ the subtle racially prejudiced messages is often picked up by service users, families and others from that ethnic background.

    Lets face it, the men convicted of CSE and grooming gangs in cases such as those in Rochdale, South Yorkshire and Oxford come from largely South Asian Pakistan backgrounds. The heavy media representation has been all too quick to point out the racial identities of these offenders. There is a myth that Black Asian or Ethnic males are the majority convicted of sexual assault against vulnerable young white women. Yet, there is a converted effort in media to avoid racial identity when talking about the ‘White’ Jimmy Saville, the ‘White’ Jeffrey Epstein, the ‘White’ Harvey Weinstein and many more convicted criminals of CSE. Similarly in regards to cases of Radicalisation the terrorist is identified firstly by religion then by colour. Likewise, cases of Forced Marriages and FGM identified by culture then religion. The offender should be known and identified by his / her name and offence not by the race, religion or culture.

    The point is racial prejudice and stereotypes is deeply rooted in UK partly because of policy, media and historic culture. It is difficult for our White colleagues to recognise and identify cultural incompetency, insensitivity or stereotyping behaviours especially in cases of CSE because it is unconsciously embedded. By no means is this an excuse for unprofessional conduct. Rather knowing and understanding how stereotypes are formed is important for endorsing effective and fair practices when supporting all victims of abuse in particular those from the Black, Asian and Ethnic minority communities who have experienced cultural stereotypes and prejudice by White professionals.

    The very core principles of social work practice shuns oppression, discriminatory and judgemental views so extending training and awareness in these specific areas is necessary. Having the courageous conversations about culture, religion or ethnicity should be encouraged right from the start of training in social work in universities, in team meetings and policy guidance. However, the fear of views being misconstrued often hinders the conversation taking place.

    The continuation of crucial research highlighting the gravity of the impact cultural stereotypes has on service users, families and communities is highly welcomed. The account of the female service user in this article who was informed the sexual abuse was ‘part of her culture’ by her social worker will probably forever hold this injustice and pain in her heart and for that I am truly sorry.

  2. Claire L. July 4, 2020 at 9:04 pm #

    We need to move away from pretending to be anthropologists, and uphold the law we work within to protect the vulnerable. Stop the virtue signalling and do your jobs.

    • James Appledore July 8, 2020 at 11:11 am #

      Thanks Claire L. for navigating us through the noise.

  3. Vanisha Jassal July 6, 2020 at 2:15 pm #

    I am a PhD researcher studying child sexual abuse amongst South Asian communities and everything in this article resonates with me. Shame, honour, stigma are all very powerful cultural barriers to CSA disclosures from the community. I am pleased that the Inquiry has brought this to the fore and I hope that practice and policy moves us forward to a more proactive place when supporting children and young people from BAME communities. Anyone interested in my research can:
    visit my website: mysandtray.com
    Email me: sacsauk@gmail.com
    Follow me on Twitter:@vanishajassal

    Vanisha Jassal

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  1. Stereotyping by practitioners preventing disclosure of child sexual abuse in ethnic minority groups – Vulnerability360 - July 4, 2020

    […] Child sexual abuse inquiry finds people from ethnic minorities told abuse was part of their culture, practitioners not acting for fear of being seen as racist and ‘whiteness’ of institutions dissuading victims from disclosing. Cultural stereotyping among social workers and other professionals is creating barriers to people from ethnic minority communities disclosing child sexual abuse, the inquiry into CSA has found. Victims and survivors reported being told that abuse was part of their culture and also said that professionals failed to act for fear of being perceived as racist, said a report last week from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in partnership with the Race Equality Foundation. Read more. […]