In the UK today, it is estimated that one in twenty children are subjected to sexual abuse. Despite the UK media reporting extensively on cases of child sexual abuse in recent times, not all cases are considered equally newsworthy. The most heavily reported often involve very young victims who have been abused by someone unknown to them, but known to the public.
However, essentially absent from the public narrative – remaining shrouded in silence, shame, and stigma – are accounts of child sexual abuse within the family environment, known as intrafamilial child sexual abuse or, more commonly, incest. Yet it is this type of abuse that is overwhelmingly the most common in the UK, with nine out of ten victims having been abused by a family member or someone known to the family such as a family friend or babysitter.
Many such victims are reluctant, unable, or unwilling to disclose such abuse, often for years, and sometimes forever, due to fear for their own safety, shame and self-blame, anticipated futility, the impact upon the family, and even feelings of loyalty to the offender. Tragically then, the vast majority of this abuse goes unreported and unrecognised, meaning that the victim’s experiences and feelings are never validated and they do not receive the support they need to begin their recovery journey.
Taking a phenomenological approach, our new book will present a series of first-person stories from adult survivors of intrafamilial child sexual abuse, concentrating on the impact that child sexual abuse has, both as children and adults. Being subjected to child sexual abuse can have severe consequences. Victims may feel confused, humiliated, guilty, traumatised, dirty, worthless, and angry. They can have low self-esteem, fear rejection and being used, and experience disturbed sexual functioning. Mental health problems – such as anxiety disorders, depression, suicidal tendencies, eating and personality disorders – are also common. More fundamentally perhaps, they may experience a shattered sense of meaning, their belief in a just world, where people get what they deserve and deserve what they get, being destroyed.
The accounts featured in this book will help to fill gaps about what academics, practitioners, and policy makers know about the nature and impact of child sexual abuse; show survivors they are not alone; educate the public; and demystify the subject, debunking stereotypes and reducing stigma. It has been commissioned by independent academic publishers Cambridge Scholars Publishing and is due for publication next year.
This book will be our second collaborative effort, following the publication of What’s Normal Anyway? Celebrities’ Own Stories of Mental Illness in 2014, and brings together many of our research and practice interests. Anna is a Research Fellow at Middlesex University who specialises in trauma-focused research in the field of forensic psychology, particularly sexual violence. She has published articles in peer reviewed academic journals on the subject of child sexual abuse and was part of a team of researchers who carried out a study for the Office of the Children’s Commissioner on intrafamilial child sexual abuse. Steve is a visiting Professor at the University of Central Lancashire, where he undertakes research around mental health and wellbeing, and is an integrative therapist. He has a particular interest in working with vulnerable populations and trauma, both in a research and counselling context.
If you are a survivor of child sexual abuse who lives in the South East of England and would be interested in taking part in this project, then please download our Information sheet for more details.