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Mental ill-health followed childhood abuse in most cases disclosed to Truth Project

28 January 2021

ALMOST all of the more than 5000 victims and survivors of child sexual abuse who have made disclosures to the Truth Project have suffered mental ill-health, new research by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has found.

The Truth Project was launched by the Inquiry in 2016 to help with its investigations. Since then, 5400 people have given personal accounts, hundreds of whom have done so remotely since the pandemic restrictions, of which 5104 have been analysed for the research.

In the latest findings, published on Thursday, 87 per cent of victims and survivors reported that the abuse had affected their mental health; 37 per cent reported experiencing depression. More than half reported an impact on their relationships (54 per cent), including trust and intimacy difficulties (37 per cent). Sexual behaviour was also affected for one third of participants, of whom 14 per cent reported avoidance or phobic reactions to sexual intimacy.

Others reported that their experiences had resulted in academic (42 per cent) and physical difficulties (26 per cent). Pregnancy, physical injury, and sexually transmitted disease were reported in 13 per cent of cases, while nine per cent said that their abuse had led to criminal behaviour.

Most participants in the project were women (70 per cent); about one third of the participants were in their fifties, and, in many cases, the abuse had first taken place when they were aged between four and seven (35 per cent), or between eight and 11, years (32 per cent). About half of the reported abuse involved fondling or penetration.

In six per cent of reported cases, the perpetrator was a cleric or church officer; in most cases (48 per cent), however, the perpetrator was a family member.

Alongside its latest findings, the Truth Project also published a further 80 personal and anonymised accounts from participants. This included Kenny, who was sexually abused by the church choirmaster. He told the project: “Society should not tolerate organisations protecting their image rather than children.”

Ricky, who had been sent to live in a Roman Catholic children’s home, said that he had suffered emotional and physical abuse, and had been sexually abused by two members of staff: a priest and a nun. His abusers, he said, “took away my childhood and destroyed my life and the lives of others”.

As has previously been reported, one in ten participants in the Truth Project were speaking about their experiences for the first time (News, 14 August 2020). Most participants (81 per cent) said that they had not told anyone about the abuse when it was happening.

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