AFRUCA Paper On Child Sexual Abuse in the Family Environment
Updated June 2015
Child Sexual Abuse in the African Family Context
The report into the Rotherham Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Scandal highlighted the need to have direct engagement with communities in order to prevent or combat child abuse or to enable child abusers use the cover of their community, including their faith community to perpetrate abuse. Child Sexual Abuse happens in every religion and ethnic group with major challenges around prevention, reporting, support for victims and prosecution. However, within the Black/African Community the twin facets of religion and culture can further compound this problem. This is not because religion or culture are necessarily bad but rather because perpetrators use religion and culture which they know are central to an African’s life to manipulate their victims. Having said that, certain African cultural and traditional practices are harmful and abusive to children such as Female Genital Mutilation and the use of juju and oath taking to subjugate victims of trafficking to ensure compliance and guarantee the repayment of large sums of money claimed to be owed for transporting them to Europe.
There have been several known cases of child sexual abuse linked to religious places of worship and the family setting. In January 2013, A UK Channel 4 Documentary “Hidden Children” showed a Jewish Faith Leader discouraging a victim of sexual abuse from reporting his ordeal to the Police. In March 2011, a popular faith leader who heads a Pentecostal Church in East London pleaded guilty to sexual assault on a 16-year old boy at the church.
premises in Kent. In February 2013, an African man reported that he was sexually abused by Irish priests in his boarding school in Kenya and brought the case to court. The above depict that allegations of sexual abuse cut across all religions. Faith leaders have a lot of influence in places of worship but also within the family settings due to the very high regard for religion, the importance attached to faith leaders as “Men of God” and their special role in society. In effect, for many African families, the power of faith leaders also extends into family homes – leaving vulnerable children and parents at potential risk of harm. The subject of child sexual abuse is generally considered a taboo and there is little discussion of it at any level, especially within family settings, leaving it to fester and be swept under the carpet.
Furthermore, child sexual abuse is surrounded by a culture of shame, secrecy, stigma, and silence especially when the perpetrator is a prominent member of the community or a powerful faith leader. There are often challenges around reporting and credibility on the part of the child and their family. In the 2013 Chanel 4 Documentary “Britain’s Witch Children” for example, a young woman of African origin reported how her pastor, a famous faith leader, elicited sexual favours from her under the guise that God was sleeping with her in order to cure her of the witchcraft that killed her mother and which was the cause of her father’s kidney failure. Subsequently, she reported the abuse to her father who confronted the faith leader and instead of the faith leader being brought to book she and her father were ostracised from the church and community. A notorious Congolese Pastor was accused of targeting single women and women whose husbands were absent to exploit and sexually abuse them. He was arrested by Police but charges were dropped because witnesses were afraid to come forward.
On the part of the child, there is usually a strong feeling of guilt, denial and fear especially if the perpetrator is a family member. A child might be blackmailed into keeping the family honour, even when it is known she had been through horrific sexual abuse. There are other consequences for girls in particular, especially within the African context. If a girl is sexually abused and it becomes public knowledge, she loses her marriage worth and value. This is because virginity before marriage is cherished. This is still the case even if the girl has been raped. Additionally, children are already vulnerable by nature of their dependence on adults; this vulnerability is further heightened for children with disabilities. This is because of the belief by some that children with disabilities are witches or possessed by evil spirits. This leaves them open to all forms of abuse including sexual abuse within their own family setting.
Furthermore, research shows that stress, social isolation, poverty, immigration and housing problems, domestic violence which are challenges that are quite rife amongst many Africans in the UK can act as triggers for child sexual abuse. Economic and social instability of parents can leave children vulnerable to sexual abuse. For example if a parent has to always leave their child/children in the hands of other adults in order to work, these children are more likely to be at risk of different form of abuse including sexual abuse. Housing problems and overcrowding might make children vulnerable to abuse if accommodation is shared with other “uncles” and “aunties.”
Additionally, the extended nature of many black families with possibly many visitors to the family home might make it easier for sexual abuse to occur.
The growing group gang culture especially in London and other dispersal areas such as Manchester, Glasgow, Sheffield and Birmingham encourages negative behaviours among young people. Many young girls join gangs as a result of low self-esteem and in order to gain a status. However, this can result in gang leaders and members sexually abusing them. The Office of the Children’s Commissioner found almost 2,500 confirmed victims of child sexual exploitation (CSE) over a 14-month period1. Another report from research done by the Centre for Social Justice found that girls are being pressured to have sex with gang members as young as 10 as part of their initiation2.
In light of all this, on the 9th of November 2009 and 11th of March 2010, AFRUCA held two Seminars titled “Empowering the African Community to end the Silence over Sexual abuse” and “Breaking the Silence: Addressing Child Sexual Abuse in the Black African Community” respectively. These seminars were to help proffer solutions to the growing problem of child sexual abuse within the black African community.
Some of the key issues raised at both seminars included;
- Ignorance surrounding Sexual Abuse
- Ignorance of modern ways of abusing children such as; internet grooming, sexting, pornography.
- Taboos around Sexual Abuse in the African Community
- Denial that Faith Leaders can abuse children
- Ignorance about the different forms of abuse and warning signs to prevent abuse.
- Lack of self-esteem among girls
- Lack of appropriate Support Services (counselling, general advice)
- An increase in Gang culture and Gang Rape
- Lack of Role Models and “Respect”
- Lack of interest in sexual abuse in the Black/African community by Policy makers
- Lack of referrals or people coming forward to report sexual abuse
1 Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups Final Report November 2013.
2 The Centre for Social Justice. Girls and Gangs.
- Lack of evidence to take cases forward, prolonging cases or unwillingness/fear of parties to co-operate
- Negative/ misleading media surrounding perpetrators
- Cultural and Religious “smokescreen” – where culture and religion are used as excuses for child abuse – (“That is how we bring up our children”)
- Lack of reporting or taking action on the part of professionals for fear of
- Lack of referrals or people coming forward in BME communities
- Lack of culturally appropriate services due to lack of understanding of cultural barriers to reporting abuse.
Some of the Key Recommendations at the seminars included;
- Programmes empowering children to report abuse
- Need to build the self-esteem of girls to dissuade them from joining gangs in order to feel a sense of security, love or acceptance.
- Need for greater policy attention and focus on child sexual abuse within the Black/African community.
- Need to educate parents on various forms abuse, including sexual abuse, warning signs and tips on prevention.
- Provide information for parents about technology and sexual abuse through the internet, social networking, mobile phones, and providing tips on how to supervise and monitor children online
- Outreach work in schools to talk about sexual abuse, warning signs about perpetrators and tips on protection from abuse (sexual abuse) and awareness on the impact of sexual abuse.
- Running sessions on building self-esteem as part of social activities organized for young people ( social evenings with music, drama, film show, refreshments)
- Providing advice and referral services on CSA cases.
- AFRUCA Children’s Champions
One of the ways we have been working to prevent Child Sexual Abuse especially in terms of raising awareness in the community is through our Department for Education funded Children’s Champions Project. This is a unique programme that aims to educate members of the black community across the South of England on child protection, the different forms of child abuse and their effects on children. Some of the issues discussed at these sessions include; internet safety, child pornography, grooming and the different ways sexual abuse can manifest. We have received very positive feedback about the training sessions from community members and participants.
As part of the work of our Centre for African Children and Families in Manchester, we deliver child protection training sessions for parents, communities and faith groups to educate them on child protection, working with them to develop their child protection policies and procedures. Through our range of Safeguarding African Children in the UK” series of publications, we are also addressing different child abuse issues. Specifically, our booklet “What is Child Sexual Abuse” 3 being widely disseminated to parents and community members. This booklet is a powerful tool in raising awareness on the forms and effects of sexual abuse and what to do if one suspects a child is being sexually abused.