Female education professional speaks to a mother and son behind a desk in a classroom

18 Feb 2019

General Updates

Research from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

This blog is part of a series where our Deputy Director for Research and Evaluation, Dr Sophie Laws, highlights research done by other people (not the CSA Centre) that improves understanding of child sexual abuse.

This blog is part of a series where our Deputy Director for Research and Evaluation, Dr Sophie Laws, highlights research done by other people (not the CSA Centre) that improves understanding of child sexual abuse.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) is of course an important feature of the current landscape for those of us trying to improve the response to child sexual abuse. This blog aims to highlight some of the really valuable work it has produced that can help us deepen our understandings, especially of the often hidden experiences of victims and survivors. I will talk about material arising from the Truth Project, including a great Woman’s Hour edition, and then about some really interesting research they have published.

To understand more about the Inquiry more widely, read their Interim Report of April 2018, which includes their recommendations so far. The Inquiry is working through 13 diverse formal Investigations – some are quite specific to local areas or organisations, and then there is one, coming up, on ‘The Internet’!

The Truth Project

Today the Inquiry has updated its analysis of the information that has been received through its Truth Project, which offers victims and survivors the opportunity to share their experience in writing, on the telephone or in person. Over 2000 people have done this already, and they are still seeking more contributors.

Where contributors agreed to this, IICSA have been able to make a broad analysis of the kinds of experiences people have described. Of course this represents only those victims and survivors who have contributed to this project, but still it is important information on 1697 people’s experiences. 63% were female; 37% male, with abuse having been carried out by family members in 38% of cases, with a wide range of institutional and other contexts involved, most often educational institutions. As with the research discussed in my last blog, abuse commonly began at a young age.

The impacts of abuse are summarised, with 52% of respondents reporting experiencing additional forms of abuse too. The majority of people did not feel able to tell about their abuse until after it ended. IICSA plan a series of thematic reports drawing on Truth report data – the next one, which will focus on religious institutions, will be published in May 2019.

Other ways to learn from the Truth Project are to read the accounts on their website, or the fuller report that presents diverse detailed accounts of people’s abuse and help-seeking – it’s a particularly painful read. And Woman’s Hour made a whole programme based on this material, with survivors clearly having shaped the programme – it’s available here. I hope that those who contributed felt pleased with the programme, as it seemed to me that they had shaped it very well, highlighting many important aspects of the diversity of survivors’ experiences.


Until recently it was incredibly difficult to find IICSA’s research on its website, but they’ve recently made some great improvements. A very useful page gives information on all their research projects; another links to the publications.  In the past this sort of Inquiry has not undertaken research to this extent but IICSA  have followed the example of the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in commissioning a significant amount of research. Given how hidden child sexual abuse can be, this enables experiences to be highlighted outside of the inevitably legalistic framework on these inquiries.

Apparently the most-used paper IICSA have produced so far is one that brings together learning from research to describe the impacts of child sexual abuse. Other important literature reviews cover what can be learnt from other jurisdictions, issues around internet-facilitated child sexual abuse and abuse in residential schools.

A paper that my colleagues and I often recommend, which was produced by our academic partners at London Metropolitan University, focuses on social and political discourses on child sexual abuse – Deflection, denial and disbelief. This is based on study of a range of literature including a sample of serious case reviews and inquiry reports. It looks at key changes and continuities in how people have framed child sexual abuse since 1940. The analysis identifies dominant discourses of defections, denial and disbelief, and counter discourses that focus on power (systems that facilitate abuse) and belief.

Professional talk, and that of policy makers, tends to live in a world where it is assumed that understandings of all challenging matters are steadily improving. This paper shows a much more complicated picture where elements of child sexual abuse may emerge into public view at particular historical points but others may actually disappear – or be actively suppressed. The paper really helpfully sets out this perspective in a clear and evidence-based way.

Links with the CSA Centre’s work

At the CSA Centre we think it’s important to be able to focus on all of child sexual abuse, not just some ‘types’, ‘models’ or localities at specific points in time. It is so important – for individual children and young people, particularly – that stereotyping is avoided, so that abuse can be identified without necessarily appearing  to look like or fit in to certain ‘models’ and preconceptions. Wider responses should also be planned using the best information we can get on the whole picture, rather than a panicky focus on one form of abuse currently in the spotlight. That’s one of the reasons we’re calling for a national prevalence survey on child sexual abuse, repeated over time.

At our CSA Connect conferences Professor Liz Kelly presented a workshop based on the work on discourses where she asked delegates, especially the practitioners, to identify examples of each type of discourse from their own work – they readily could, and a lively discussion ensued.

Much of the Inquiry’s remit focuses on institutional forms of abuse – the subject of one of our Key Messages from Research papers, which seek to support professionals to take appropriate action with confidence. Others look at intra-familial abuse, child sexual exploitation and harmful sexual behaviour. We are currently working on one on the identification/disclosure of abuse.

We meet regularly with people from the Inquiry’s research team to discuss our respective research programmes and to think together about what is needed to the future. Here’s our recent survey report mapping current research in this field. When the Inquiry reports, it will be important for all of us to look at their recommendations and assist in supporting positive and long lasting change.