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Sexual abuse in minority ethnic communities

NSPCC factsheet

More briefings and factsheets

Child protection news

January 2010


This factsheet looks at what is known about the prevalence of sexual abuse in minority ethnic communities, the possible links to trafficking, and issues related to the prevention of abuse.

What is the prevalence of sexual abuse in minority ethnic communities in the UK?
What is the link between trafficking and sexual abuse?
How can sexual abuse in minority ethnic communities be prevented?
Where can I find more resources and literature on this topic?



What is the prevalence of sexual abuse in minority ethnic communities in the UK?


There are no studies that focus specifically on sexual abuse within minority ethnic communities.

It is generally acknowledged that sexual abuse occurs across all groups in society, although there is little consensus on the extent to which it occurs. Researchers’ estimates vary considerably, ranging between 3 and 36 per cent of females being abused, and between 3 to 29 per cent of males.1 This discrepancy can be explained by the use of different definitions of abuse.

Defining and recognising sexual abuse can be a particular challenge for some ethnic communities. In Gilligan et al (2006), respondents to a questionnaire about awareness of sexual abuse in Asian communities felt that people were aware of child sexual abuse, but that it was often ‘taboo’ or ‘hidden’, that people were unwilling to discuss it, and that there was a lack of appropriate vocabulary in Asian languages to describe it. There is often a need to overcome the view that child sexual abuse is a ‘western’ phenomenon, found largely, if not exclusively, in white communities.2

References

1. Cawson, P. et al. (2000) Child maltreatment in the United Kingdom: a study of the prevalence of child abuse and neglect. London: NSPCC.

2. Gilligan, P. and Akhtar, S. (2006) Cultural barriers to the disclosure of child sexual abuse in Asian communities: listening to what women say.  British Journal of Social Work, 36(8): 1361-77.

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What is the link between trafficking and sexual abuse?


The UN Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children (2000) defines trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, or receipt of persons…for the purpose of exploitation.” Exploitation includes forcing children into “prostitution… or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude, or the removal of organs.”3

One study of child trafficking by Beddoe (2007)4 found that the majority of 80 children included in the research had come to the UK from Africa and East Asia: thirty were from China; fifteen from Nigeria; nine from Somalia; four from Vietnam; three each from Eritrea and Bangladesh; two each from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, and Benin; and one child each from Uganda, Togo, Cameroon, Liberia, Kosovo/Albania, Moldova, and Russia. Three children were of unknown origin.

However, there are no reliable statistics to tell us exactly how many of these trafficked children end up being subjected to sexual abuse, and it can be difficult for professionals and others to identify children who have been trafficked for purposes of sexual exploitation.

According to Ward and Patel (2006), there may be too much focus on sexual abuse of trafficked children and unaccompanied asylum seekers.  They argue that the discourse on sexual exploitation and ethnicity should be broadened “…to consider the situation of young people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds who have been born and raised in the UK”.5

Some of the issues in identifying sexually abused children and young people or those at risk of sexual exploitation and abuse may be similar for all children, whether born in the UK or abroad.

References

3. United Nations (2000) Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against transnational organized crime (PDF). Geneva: United Nations.

4. Beddoe, C. (2007) Missing out: a study of child trafficking in the North-West, North-East and West Midlands (PDF). London: ECPAT UK.

5. Ward, Jenni and Patel, Nasima (2006) Broadening the discussion on 'sexual exploitation': ethnicity, sexual exploitation and young people (PDF). Child Abuse Review, 15(5): 341-50.

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How can sexual abuse in minority ethnic communities be prevented?


Preventing sexual abuse, or helping children and young people who have been abused, can be difficult for a variety of reasons. Our experience of working with these communities shows that:

  • Much sexual abuse often remains hidden and unreported, as children and young people are too ashamed or afraid to speak out – irrespective of the community they are part of.

  • In those communities where sexual abuse remains a taboo subject, there is more likely to be a fear of reprisals from a relatively strong community network that may condemn rather than help the victim: anecdotal evidence from the NSPCC’s Services to minority ethnic children and families support the view that South Asian, African, Caribbean and Chinese communities all share a common fear of ‘everyone finding out’.

  • Services do not always provide appropriate support: there is evidence that minority ethnic girls and young women are less likely to report sexual abuse, because service provision is inadequate in providing culturally sensitive support. Hence, reporting it is less likely to result in a favourable outcome than for their white counterparts.6

  • Minority ethnic children and young people often find that there are limited opportunities to disclose to someone whom they perceive as impartial or ethnically neutral.

  • Sexual abuse is not discussed at community level, so that the barriers to reporting and appropriate service provision cannot be broken down.

  • As highlighted in a study by Beddoe (2007)7 trafficked children often disappear without a trace upon arrival in the UK.


References

6. Southall Black Sisters (1994) Domestic violence and Asian women: a collection of reports and briefings. Southall: Southall Black Sisters

7. Beddoe, C. (2007) Missing out: a study of child trafficking in the North-West, North-East and West Midlands (PDF). London: ECPAT UK.

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Where can I find more resources and literature on this topic?


NSPCC pages on children from minority ethnic backgrounds one of the NSPCC's priorities.

NSPCC pages on child trafficking

NSPCC pages on child sexual exploitation

Contact the NSPCC Information Service who can provide you with information tailored to your specific requirements.

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Please note that this content is of a general nature, and may not represent a comprehensive review of the literature. Search the NSPCC Library Online for more publications.

Contact the NSPCC Information Service for further information on sexual abuse, working with families from minority ethnic backgrounds or any child protection topic