Written by Professor Aisha K. Gill, University of Bristol, UK
Despite a well-established body of research into the causes, impacts and experiences of child sexual abuse (CSA), we still have much to learn about its complexity and consequences. We need to understand how CSA can most effectively be researched, detected, prevented, communicated about and treated—particularly in the context of Black and racially minoritised communities. This blog post explores how we can improve our understanding of CSA in Black and minoritised communities, including better understanding the victims and the barriers that they face, and how we can improve legal, policy and practical responses.
As Black and racially minoritised children are located at the intersection of multiple, overlapping structural inequalities, their specific experiences of victimisation are still largely overlooked in the criminological literature (although solid progress has been made over the last decade in understanding CSA in British Asian communities).
More work in this area can enable culturally competent responses to CSA cases—responses that recognise the unique barriers and difficulties that racially minoritised victims face. These barriers include testimonial and hermeneutic forms of injustice that emerge in their interactions with structural (law, criminal, justice, immigration) and cultural (familial and/or religious norms and codes) systems (Gangoli and Hester, 2023). Inclusive intersectional interventions are thus central to supporting victims/survivors and ensuring that they receive the responses they deserve from the criminal justice system.
Shame, fear of being disbelieved, and self-blame are key barriers to disclosure across all communities. However, victims’/survivors’ disclosure decisions are also shaped by gender, culture, racialisation, political Blackness and the myriad intersectional forms of discrimination and oppression that conspire to marginalise them and their experiences. As many of the chapters point out, identifying factors that inhibit and facilitate disclosure would strengthen preventive strategies and improve treatment, support and understanding for all victims (Kellogg et al. 2020). But how these barriers operate in specific contexts remains opaque (Alaggia Collin-Vézina and Lateef 2019) and thus inhibits efforts to help and encourage children to disclose swiftly, which can prevent further abuse (Alaggia and Wang 2020).
While culture and racism do affect how victims/survivors make sense of CSA, their opportunities for being recognised as victims, and the support they receive, overlooking the commonalities between different forms of CSA can result in racialising forms of abuse that are more common in minority communities than in others and so reduce the effectiveness of interventions (Gill and Harrison 2019). Furthermore, a tendency to stereotype individuals based on their culture/ethnicity/gender also helps to explain why some professionals may be less likely to recognise victims from Black and minoritised communities as victims and to elucidate why, for example, Black boys who disclose or who attempt to disclose are rarely believed to be victims of sexual violence (Curry, 2023). In light of this, Black feminists have called for specificity and accountability in the safeguarding of Black and racially minoritised communities’ experiences of CSA (Barnard, 2023; Wilson, 2023). But safeguarding must be designed appropriately to be effective.
Safeguarding is a key priority, and it must be designed in a way that it does not reconfigure or compound the abusive contexts of CSA. This requires substantial resourcing that both deconstructs assumptions and challenge existing structures about socio-cultural social/political power/knowledge frameworks of abuse and future formations of CSA. Safeguarding also requires developing policies and practices that recognise the complexity and diversity of the lives of those who experience CSA, including the importance of acknowledging the harm that has been inflicted by systemic racism and discrimination against these communities and the importance of challenging oppressive practices.
Listening to and learning from lived experience experts can shape healing models that are culturally informed and culturally safe. This approach is critical to developing a culturally responsive service system because it means giving attention to how it is defined as gendered and sexualised violence (including CSA) and how it ought to be responded to. Finally, we must acknowledge that some forms of CSA may not be value-neutral—instead, they may be shaped by the ongoing effects of the colonial project (Black et al., 2023; Lasher, 2023).
Education is also a key prevention strategy. It’s vital that we further invest in measures to help young people, parent and practitioners understand forms of consensual and non-consensual sexual behaviour and how they influence popular understandings of ‘healthy’ and ‘explorative’ sexual activity compared with ‘exploitative’ and ‘abusive’ activity (Agnew and McAlinden, 2023). Achieving this successfully will involve devising more comprehensive education programmes to be delivered in schools that address the complexity of sexual behaviours in which young people are engaging. Assisting parents in overcoming barriers to sexual discussion and raising awareness about the prevalence of CSA is also paramount. In addition, cultural awareness training can enable police forces to develop a deeper understanding of the contexts in which Black and racially minoritised victims/survivors of CSA live.
As a society, we must also be prepared to confront our assumptions. Prevailing socio-cultural myths and stereotypes, particularly those involving gender roles and sexual norms, must be challenged. Professionals need to recognise culture when they plan prevention and education programmes about CSA that are accessible across diverse communities. They must also review existing multidisciplinary knowledge and present new research in a theoretically informed, practice-oriented and context-specific manner. We hope that our book, Child Sexual Abuse in Black and Minoritised Communities, is an important step in offering a more nuanced understanding of CSA, can help us address both the commonalities and particularities of these crimes across and within societies around the world.
Examining the multifaceted nature of CSA and its intersections with race, ethnicity, age, class and Indigenous issues, and other structural factors, such as poverty and entrenched historical forms of systemic discrimination – is important. Current policy does not adequately take these factors into account. We must interrogate and analyse wider systems of oppression and exclusion to challenge unicausal and essentialist perceptions of this form of abuse.
Aisha K. Gill, Ph.D., CBE is Professor of Criminology at University of Bristol, UK. Her main areas of interest and research are health and criminal justice responses to violence against Black, minority ethnic and refugee women in the UK, Afghanistan, Georgia, Jordan, Libya, Iraqi Kurdistan, India, Pakistan and Yemen. In 2019, she was appointed Co-Chair of End Violence Against Women Coalition. https://professoraishakgill.co.uk/
Alaggia, R., and Wang, S. (2020). "I never told anyone until the #metoo movement": What can we learn from sexual abuse and sexual assault disclosures made through social media? Child Abuse and Neglect, 103.
Alaggia, R., Collin-Vézina, D. and Lateef, R. (2019). Facilitators and Barriers to Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) Disclosures: A Research Update (2000–2016). Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 20(2), 260–283.
Gill, A.K. and Harrison, K. (2019). ‘I am talking about it because I want to stop it’: Child sexual abuse and sexual violence against women in British South Asian communities. The British Journal of Criminology, 59(3), 511–529.
Kellogg, N.D., Koek, W., and Nienow, S.M. (2020). Factors that prevent, prompt, and delay disclosures in female victims of child sexual abuse. Child Abuse and Neglect, 101.