June 25, 2020
From a very young age, Sabah Kaiser knew the words for shame, modesty and respect as they were drummed into her – but she didn’t know the names for her body parts.
Child Sexual Abuse Survivors From Ethnic Minorities Reveal How Their Ordeals Were Ignored
Sabah was sexually abused between the ages of seven and 13 by four members of her family and was raped for the first time when she was nine.
“When I was a child, what they were doing to me was beyond comprehension. I could not explain or even understand what they were doing to me,” she told HuffPost UK.
“Within my Asian upbringing, it was normal to hit a child. So my only understanding was that this was the way these men hit and I thought I must be a terrible person.”By the age of 13, Sabah knew what was happening to her was wrong and tried to tell a teacher at school who informed police and social services.
During her interview with the police, a 13-year-old Sabah was asked by one of the female police officers: “Has anyone had intercourse with you?”
Sabah says her knowledge about sex was very limited and told the police officer she didn’t know what intercourse meant.
The reply from the police officer was: “If you don’t know what that word means, then it can’t have happened to you.”
“While I knew what had happened to me was wrong, I did not know the words for parts of my body, nor did I know what sex was.” said Sabah.
“For me in that moment, not having the right words was detrimental; it meant I wasn’t believed.”My only understanding was that this was the way these men hit and I thought I must be a terrible person.”Sabah KaiserIt is obstacles such as these which have been explored into by new research published today by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse looking at barriers faced by ethnic minority communities in reporting child sexual abuse.
The inquiry was set up due to serious concerns that some organisations had failed and were continuing to fail to protect children from sexual abuse.
It wants to address issues that have persisted despite previous inquiries and attempts at reform and is looking at the extent to which state and non-state institutions in England and Wales have failed in their duty of care to protect children from Sexual Abuse and exploitations.
The aim of the inquiry is to make meaningful recommendations for change to ensure children now and in the future are better protected from sexual abuse.
Child sexual abuse and exploitation affects all communities. However, less is known about how it affects those from ethnic minority communities.
The aim of the research was to explore how ethnic minority communities perceive and experience barriers to disclosing and reporting child sexual abuse and their experiences of interactions with institutions.
The inquiry research discovered that racism and cultural stereotypes can lead to failures on the part of institutions in identifying and responding to child sexual abuse.
Working in collaboration with the Race Equality Foundation, the report analysed the views and experiences of more than 80 individuals across a range of ethnic minority communities – including victims and survivors.
It looked at three key areas: barriers to disclosure; experiences of institutions; and support for victims and survivors.
Participants revealed how stereotypes can act as a barrier to reporting abuse and described a sense of feeling “othered” by institutions creating a feeling of mistrust.
They also described how a lack of diversity within institutions exacerbates a sense of difference for people from an ethnic minority background.
Sabah Kaiser, ambassador to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, told HuffPost UK there are a multitude of challenges that victims and survivors from ethnic minority communities face in disclosing child sexual abuse including denial, fears over damage to reputation and being ostracised from the community for speaking out – or simply having no one to report to.Sabah, now 45 with two grown up sons, told HuffPost UK her own personal ordeal shows the importance of having appropriate cultural understanding in being able to identify and respond to abuse effectively.
She also highlighted how the research report shows how lack of diversity in institutions and among professionals can result in fears of “stepping on cultural sensitivities” which can lead to little or no action being taken.
“We live in such a multi-diverse society so it is important that we give everyone a voice and hear the experiences and views of everyone in our communities.” she said.
“We know child sexual abuse is underreported in ethnic minorities and we need to know why so we can protect all of our children.”
Sabah revealed how although she was British born and went to an English school, she was brought up in a strict South Asian household and the concepts of shame and modesty were instilled in her from a young age.
“For some reason, culturally it was perceived I should know the word “Sharam” (Shame), but I did not know the word for my own body parts or know what sex was,” she said.
One of the female participants who took part in the research told: “There’s a lot of pressure on the survivor not to speak by their families, of bringing shame to the family and that shame to the community.
“So it can be your immediate family; your extended family, but even your community. And there’s also a sense of ‘white people see us as bad and now you’re showing them how bad you are’.”
These words resonate strongly with Sabah as she remembers one of the huge barriers she faced as a child was shame and silence.The only way I could deal with it was to create an alternate reality and an imaginary world that I lived in. It was either that or risk being broken beyond repair.”Sabah Kaiser“The shame is a feeling of how you will be perceived and you are silenced to protect your family, the community and culture so they can still enjoy a good standing.” she said.
“The shame for me was internalised. I thought: ‘How will I be seen?’ and “What will people think about me?’
“As a child, I could not understand the reality I was living. It is extremely scary when an adult does that to you. 
“The only way I could deal with it was to create an alternate reality and an imaginary world that I lived in.
“It was either that or risk being broken beyond repair.”Sabah told HuffPost UK how she tried to tell her mother what was happening but realised she wasn’t going to back her up because of the fear of shame and stigma. 
At the age of 14, Sabah was taken into care and says social services labelled her as “beyond parental control”.
Sabah explained to HuffPost UK that social services told a teacher at her school to counsel her, but that after building up her trust by telling her he cared and was her friend and understood her, he began sexually abusing her from the ages of 14 to 17.
“Child sexual abuse does not discriminate.” said Sabah. “The teacher was white – the family members who abused me were brown. 
“This is not a race or colour issue. It is about as a society tackling all predators of child sex abuse.
“All my abusers had one thing in common – they had the entire community thinking they were good people. 
“We need to understand the barriers that exist for everyone when it comes to disclosing and reporting child sexual abuse so no child has to suffer in silence.” This is not a race or colour issue. It is about as a society tackling all predators of child sex abuse."Sabah KaiserThe report is based on research from the views of 82 people in 11 focus group sessions carried out across six regions in England and Wales.
Researchers engaged with a range of ethnic minority communities particularly from Caribbean, African and South Asian ethnicities.
Three groups were victims and survivors of child sexual abuse and the other eight groups were members of the public who had no known experiences of abuse who were recruited through organisations that work with people from ethnic minority communities.The social worker was white 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 to the researchThe qualitative research provides a contemporary insight from people in these communities and amplifies their voices and experiences.
One key finding of the research was that some professionals only see a person’s ethnic group rather than the whole person.
In one shocking anecdote showing institutionalised failure, a female focus group participant told: “The social worker was white and she said to me: ‘This is not sexual abuse. This is your culture.’ Even today, I’m so traumatised by this.”
On the issue of shame and stigma, one female participant disclosed: “In our community, if it’s a girl, then we have to keep these things secret because if the other people know, then when the girl is of the age they’re getting married, it is going to be really hard for her.”One male focus group participant revealed: “In sort of the Jamaican/Caribbean culture, a lot of it has happened that we openly know, but it’s kept hush and it’s kept secret.”
One obstacle highlighted by participants from a South Asian community was how if they were to talk about their own child experiencing sexual abuse, other members of the community would not believe the child and instead believe that the child had done something wrong.
“They don’t think that another person has done something to our children. They think that our children have done something wrong,” revealed one female participant.
One woman disclosed: “For child sexual abuse to take place would basically mean to have sex outside of marriage, so it’s like this whole stigma attached to you as well as being damaged goods.”
Another woman said: “I think Indian people, because the child abuse is exposed, they’ll think they worry that all white people and all Afro Caribbean people, everyone else, will think that all Indian people are like this.”
Some survivors spoke of the need to be able to share their experience with someone who wouldn’t judge and was similar to them.
“She understood not only as a black woman being abused, sexually abused. She ticked all my boxes. Everything I said, she got me. And I realised how important, how much I needed that. Someone that I could look at, I recognised, but understood me,” said one female focus group participant.
Another woman said: “It meant so much to me that my paediatrician was Hindu and later on, that my psychiatrist was Muslim because they understood what it is like being a woman in the Asian community. I didn’t need to explain.”Sabah Kaiser says that as a victim and survivor of abuse who grew up as part of a South Asian family, she feels passionately about ensuring the voices of survivors from ethnic communities are heard.
“This report highlights the multitude of specific cultural barriers so many survivors face in disclosing child sexual abuse,” she said. “If we are to truly overcome these barriers, it’s crucial that we listen to and recognise the uniqueness of these experiences. Only then can we learn from them.”
Part of the inquiry is the Truth Project where victims and survivors of child sexual abuse can share their experiences and put forward recommendations for change.
Jabeer Butt, chief executive of the Race Equality Foundation, said: “Those who took part in this research, including men from ethnic minority communities, conveyed powerful messages about their views and experiences of child sexual abuse within their own communities, describing the racial and cultural factors that acted as barriers to disclosure and their ability to access the right support from the relevant institutions.It’s important that we continue to challenge the stereotypes and take steps to ensure that children from all communities are better protected from child sexual abuse.Jabeer Butt, chief executive of the Race Equality FoundationHe added: “While evidence suggests that this issue is being more openly discussed, it’s important that we continue to challenge the stereotypes and take steps to ensure that children from all communities are better protected from child sexual abuse.”
Holly Rodger, principal researcher at the inquiry said the report highlighted how victims and survivors are impacted by cultural stereotypes and racism on how child sexual abuse is understood, identified, disclosed and responded to across ethnic minorities.
“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.” she said.
“The importance of education, greater awareness and listening to the voices of survivors from ethnic minority backgrounds is clear.”Related... ‘It Doesn’t Just Go Away’: Grooming Gang Victims On Life A Decade After Abuse I Survived Intrafamilial Sexual Abuse. Here’s Why Shows Like The Family Secret Matter I Won't Be Defined By Growing Up With An Abusive Psychopath Parent
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