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The quality of silence: observations on reporting child sexual abuse

Published: 3 Jul 2017

Observations of societal factors obstructing child victims and adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse from reporting their abuser.

42 page PDF


42 page PDF


The quality of silence: observations on reporting child sexual abuse
The Road to Change

42 page PDF


The Road to Change

The Road to Change project was a 10,000 mile walk, designed to create social and political change that would help end of child sexual abuse in Europe. On May 31st 2013, I left London on foot and set out to visit every EU capital city. I completed the walk in Edinburgh on February 7th 2015, being joined for my last mile by over a thousand supporters from across Europe and beyond.

By walking such an extraordinary distance, I attracted substantial international media, creating a crucial platform to raise awareness of this urgent issue and inspire many survivors to speak out. My goal once reaching the cities was to engage the powers that be. Encouraging numerous governments and parliaments to begin the discussions of legislative reform, requesting abolition of the Statute of Limitations on survivors reporting childhood sexual abuse. The project would also begin to create a Europe wide network between organisations that are currently all fighting the same battle in isolation.

Why I walked 10,000 miles - origin of the project.

My uncle and Godfather, Terence McMonagle, sexually abused three of my brothers and I throughout our childhoods. As the youngest, when I insisted he stop touching me at aged thirteen, on March 24th 1996, all abuse stopped but the silence began.

By 2008, all four of us were struggling with depression, with each of my brothers at times requiring medication, but we had still never spoken about it. Yet our predatory uncle was still working as a respectable schoolteacher and running football teams of young teenage boys.

I knew our silence was dangerous. By saying nothing we were all allowing him to continue. As the most emotionally stable, I felt it was up to me to initiate meaningful action. I needed to create profound change but I could not force my brothers to seek therapy. Instead, I wrote a play.

'To Kill a Kelpie' was inspired by our personal experiences. While in reality there were four of us, the story is about twins who were sexually abused by their uncle. Following his death, they reunite after years apart and for the very first time, over two bottles of whisky, discuss the abuse they had suffered. One brother has spent years in therapy while the other has never discussed it. The play explores many related issues and illustrates the very different places the brothers find themselves in their minds as a result of their chosen coping mechanisms. I hoped that witnessing the tragedy of our current situation depicted on stage might provoke crucial discussion.

I raised the funds to stage the play by walking the West Highland Way (96 miles) for sponsorship via public donation, and secured a production with professional actors through support from Glasgow's 'Glasgay' festival. I invited my brothers to attend a performance. Expecting the play may be emotionally triggering for them, I safeguarded the entire premiere by inviting staff from Scotland's Moira Anderson Foundation ( MAF) to also be in attendance. They provide specialised therapeutic and psychiatric support, as well as legal advice, for child victims and adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Leaflets with information on services were placed strategically around the venue and their founder, Sandra Brown OBE, conducted a post-show discussion. This ensured it was sensitively handled.

The play was the perfect catalyst. Within just a few months, guided by MAF's solid expertise, all four of us made police statements and our uncle was arrested, charged, prosecuted and sentenced for the crimes he had committed decades before. It was not about revenge or compensation; it was about child protection.

My brothers continued to attend MAF for support throughout the trial and beyond court- and today they are further along the road to recovery- but the exceptionally quick timescale we witnessed took both us and MAF by surprise.

At the time, we didn't appreciate that ours had been a remarkably smooth road to obtain justice in many ways. However, following our uncle's incarceration in 2010, I fully appreciated that my play was a powerful tool, and since it had so effectively instigated action within my family, I wondered if it could help others.

I had reached out to the US based organisation, Stop the Silence: Stop Child sexual abuse, Inc., hoping they could contribute funding to the Glasgay performance, but they preferred to take my play to the States. I had received some criminal damages compensation after my uncle's sentencing, so was able to pay for professional rates for a director, actors and stage-manager and some funds were also sourced US-side.

Again with support from Sandra Brown, I approached Creative Scotland, who gave me a grant to take 'To Kill a Kelpie' to New York. MAF also partnered Stop the Silence in Washington DC, to assist with the Off-Broadway production and we then toured the play round cities across the United States, including a special run of performances at the IVAT (Institute of Violence, Abuse and Trauma) Conference in San Diego. As in Scotland, we invited various American organisations that specialise in child sexual abuse prevention, mitigation and therapeutic services for survivors, to performances. Flyers from these organisations, local to each theatre, were made available within the auditorium and specialists joined me on stage after each show to host an audience talk back.

After every performance, no matter what city, we witnessed attendees disclosing histories of sexual abuse, many of them disclosing for the very first time. One seventy-year-old gentleman in San Francisco revealed in front of a packed theatre that his stepfather had abused him and his brother, and yet they had never discussed it together. Following the performance, he went home and called his brother, ending a sixty-year silence.

I hadn't intended to make the leap from playwright to activist but the positive impact of the work was so immediate that I felt compelled to share the story with as many audiences as possible. Touring a theatre production costs are high but travelling with a DVD costs relatively nothing and could have the same effect. I returned to Scotland and collaborated with my eldest brother, an award-winning filmmaker, to adapt my play for screen. All four of us worked on the film-shoot, which was another cathartic experience for us as a family, and 'To Kill a Kelpie' the movie was created. Stop the Silence decided to screen it at universities across the States and I contributed, the film igniting as much discussion as the play. We earned a special invitation to host a screening for the Centre for Disease Control ( CDC) in Atlanta.

In 2011, while working as an actor and playwright in London, I struck upon the idea of showing the film in every European city, to encourage millions of survivors across our continent to end their silence. I had no idea where I would find funding to pay for a film screening tour of this nature.

Sometimes, after my uncle had molested me again, he took me to the cinema. One night the film was 'Forrest Gump'. As Forrest ran across America he was rushed by journalists demanding to know why he was doing this. Forrest said he just felt like running. I recall feeling that this was a shame, an opportunity wasted. If he had something to say, it would have reached millions.

My uncle once told me not to tell anyone. Now an adult, I decided I wanted to tell 500 million people. In a light-bulb moment I decided I would show the film in every European capital and I would make the journey on foot. It would then take two years of logistical planning and fundraising but I'd leave London and walk 10,000 miles to end the silence around child sexual abuse. What I couldn't have predicted was that in those two planning years, the vision of how to tackle the problem would expand.

The 'Road to Change' was not about raising money- though funds to cover what we were doing were necessary and welcome- it required to raise awareness on a spectacular scale, but it was not just an awareness campaign either; it had developed into a political crusade with various objectives focused on creating specific social and legislative changes.

It made me confront some of the most gruelling challenges of my life. It saw me having to transform from a cheery children's TV star to a Doctor solemnly addressing the United Nations; it lead me to meet Pope Francis and receive a personal blessing in the Vatican, it encouraged legal change in various nations and I also advised the Council of Europe on reform across all forty-seven European nations- reform which will enhance human rights over a territory of eight hundred and twenty million people.

Since completing my walk in February 2015, to be invited back to the United Nations to contribute to discussions of upcoming international development strategies is a breath-taking outcome. The Road to Change has become a global movement, and momentum will go on.

How did we do it?

The project took fully two years to prepare. Mostly, this was psychological preparation but operational logistics also came together in the six months leading up to my first mile in London, to ensure my vision would emerge.

Four organisations collaborated internationally to help me progress the project. The only home-based agency was Scotland's Moira Anderson Foundation ( MAF) a national charity, with whom I had already close links, and direct experience of the services they provide to survivors.

Out with the UK, I enlisted the assistance of Ariel Foundation International (based in Geneva), Innocence in Danger (with eight offices internationally) and Stop the Silence: Stop Child Sexual Abuse, Inc. (based in Washington DC). By the finish line, I had formed my own NGO called the Raphael International Foundation that became a new partner in the project.

MAF coordinated much of the fundraising done by friends and well-wishers, and its treasurer and book keeper ensured that cash flow from donations provided a 'drip feed' to help with costs, monitoring tax relief income from a Just Giving website. MAF representatives attended the London send-off and planned and organised all festivities for the last mile, from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood.

Ariel Foundation contributed in quite a number of ways, including inviting me to speak at the United Nations when I walked across the Alps. Dr King, it's Founder, even stepped in as the back up driver of the follow van for three weeks, as I walked from Amsterdam to Berlin. Innocence in Danger collated contacts and information to help us access various policymakers and NGOs and Stop the Silence assisted with some of the information that I would disseminate along with my own experience of being sexually abused.

The structure of my idea was simple, at least on paper. I would walk up to thirty miles a day until I reached the next capital city, where I would stop for five days and meet survivors, the press, NGOs and policy makers as well as dignitaries. We also planned to show the film 'To Kill a Kelpie' in every city with a post-show talk. We managed to keep to this schedule well.

In Luxembourg, my second country reached, I was invited to meet the British Ambassador, Alice Walpole, who walked with me when I set off for Brussels. This attracted the project's first major media attention with good television coverage; the Ambassador then contacted every other embassy in the EU, to tell them to expect us. This support proved crucial, as embassies were able to provide contacts within each nation's government, media and third sector. Our impending arrival was effectively heralded each step of the way, and 'word of mouth' was astonishing as social networks spread the news too. The Press in Scotland also began to follow what was happening and regular bulletins appeared in the Scottish Sunday Mail, etc.

The Road to Change team.

Thousands of people became involved in the project but the core Road to Change Team were actually just four full time volunteers, including a single walker, me. Linus Akerlind, the Road Co-coordinator, drove the follow van to a pre-arranged location where he and I slept every thirty miles or so. He handled all the daily practicalities such as food, shelter and communication technology. Amanda Stuart Thompson, the Project Manager, was the liaison person between the British Embassy and also the various individuals I would engage with once I reached each city. Amanda travelled from city to city by plane, bus or car ahead of me to help me set up meetings in preparation for my arrival on foot. Once there, her role was as official project photographer, recording many of the introductions or interviews on film for our own use.

My brother, Maurice Smith, was 'ground control' and lynchpin of the operation. He stayed at home in Scotland, but was on the end of the phone to help any of us with whatever problems we would come across. He also created much of the publicity materials we needed: the flyers and website for the project. He had supplies sent out to wherever we were.

My job was to walk and talk. As well as walking 30 miles each day, I would continually post updates on social media and prepare talks and presentations for the city ahead. I had to make sure I didn't get injured (as if I did, the entire project would stop) I also had to observe and learn as much as was feasible in limited time, about the various legislation and social climate for survivors in each country. A central aim of my role was to meet politicians and government ministers to encourage abolition of their Statute of Limitations. I would forge positive relationships with organisations in each city and also tell my story repeatedly to the press and media in each nation.

Other support and sponsorship.

We approached over 200 companies for corporate backing but disappointingly, received none. Small-scale fundraisers were held, at first by good friends and relatives, and the Glasgow company, Fleet Alliance, donated £2000 to get us started. Then the public began to donate to the Moira Anderson Foundation specifically for the Road to Change project, and interest grew as the walk progressed. It was public support that eventually carried us to the finish line.

Fundraisers were held in countries across Europe and the world as people heard of the walk and wanted to make sure the project reached its goals. Messages that appeared on social networks from leading Scots such as Judy Murray and her sons, Lorraine Kelly, and from many entertainers, actors and TV celebrities really highlighted warm support for what we were attempting. When I set out from London, we had raised enough to reach Amsterdam. Reaching Amsterdam, we had enough to reach Helsinki, and so the project continued. Everything was on a shoestring, and occasionally there was not enough in the kitty to cover our basic food costs, so we had to make the best of it. We never had guaranteed funding but I always believed we would make it home.

What we know: CSA carries a life sentence for the victim.

A major frustration when discussing childhood sexual abuse on national platforms is the sheer number of experts, particularly policy makers and authorities, who have not examined the latest research which has been ascertained at great effort and expense to further our understanding of the issues and enhance our ability to tackle them, while those who have digested the studies are themselves frustrated by the glacial pace that new learning is integrated across all systems and services.

Most pivotal to my campaigning for the urgent need for survivors to end their silence are the discoveries by Dr Vincent Filetti and his colleagues during his pivotal 1998 Adverse Childhood Experience ( ACE) Study.

This comprehensive research illuminates the aftermath in the life of the victim, as they become an adult following sexual trauma in childhood, though these outcomes can result from any and all forms of child maltreatment. Originally an examination of what causes obesity, the researchers began to realise that the vast majority of adults living with an eating disorder were in various ways attempting to cope with an adverse childhood experience. Their focus then shifted from finding the root cause of obesity to revealing how a traumatic experience derails the child's entire future, in various complex yet extremely common ways.

Simply put, a person sexually abused in childhood will most probably die younger than someone who wasn't. This may seem like a radical statement but we have known this for nearly two decades.

Each victim's life after the abuse is unique but collectively it is as simple as this:

Sexually abusing a child interrupts their natural mental development. This imprint deeply within their neurology is invisible from the outside, so the child has no visible scars, yet their compromised neurodevelopment manifests first within their psychology, how they see themselves and the world around them, causing any number of a myriad emotional and social dysfunctions, from low self-esteem or depression to inability to trust or sexual compulsion. Still invisible to those around them, the victim's serious internal damage from the trauma eventually becomes evident in their behaviour. With impaired cognitive function the ageing victim is now far more vulnerable to adopting health-risk behaviours such as addiction, promiscuity or developing an eating disorder etc. These life choices of course lead to increased risk of disease, disability and social problems resulting in the premature death of the survivor.

An economic impact study of child sexual abuse was conducted and published in Ireland (Aug 2014) which again confirmed the findings of the ACE Study with statistics suggesting male survivors in Ireland are three times more likely to be unemployed due to sickness or disability.

One simple example is smoking. A sexually abused child is twice as likely to smoke in adulthood. Smoking puts them at a far higher risk or developing various smoking related illness and premature death.

Consider how many people in our society struggle with depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, homelessness, domestic violence or even cancer. All of these outcomes in adult life have now been proven as resulting from sexual abuse in childhood. How much does every government spend each year attempting to solve all these health and social problems, when they would in fact see a drastic reduction in all of them if they prioritised a comprehensive campaign to reduce child sexual abuse?

It is astonishingly clear. Many sexually violated boys grow up in environments where they cannot easily discuss their trauma. This even subconscious frustration can often lead to anger, which commonly becomes channelled through violence; hence perpetrating domestic violence has been proven as a possible consequence of sexual abuse in childhood.

Even chronic disease such as cancer has now been linked to sexual trauma in childhood, as the person grows up with a continuous and often unprocessed psychological stress, which eventually starts to disrupt their physiology.

Of course, like the original abuse itself, these negative outcomes can be prevented. With the right physiological support, the faulty wiring within the child's brain can be corrected but presently the vast majority of victims in Europe do not have access to such services required to achieve this.

Consider now the scale of the injustice for the child who has had their innocence irreparably stolen and now their future impaired by some selfish individual(s).

With this concept now in mind, the reason behind my continuous message of urging survivors to end their silence is twofold. Of course the priority is child protection. Until they identify their offender the authorities cannot act and other children remain at risk but equally as urgent is the survivors own psychological recovery, which begins when they decide to address what happened to them, and the sooner this happens the more chance of regaining the original positive trajectory of their life, from before they were violated.

My hope is that this information and how abuse so clearly impacts the survivor's entire life, and the scale to which this is causing a massive drain on government resources annually to clean up, is disseminated more actively and implemented more compassionately by experts when making decision in the lives of survivors.

Every Judge, lawyer and indeed anyone involved in child maltreatment prosecution and mitigation in Scotland should be trauma-informed and understand and apply the ACE study to their work, as I have personally witnessed miscarriages of justice within our system through basic lack of understanding of these truths.

Personal Experience: Ignorance of injustice.

On the day of our uncle's hearing, our advocate suggested that we all file for Criminal Damages Compensation. The Moira Anderson Foundation assisted with this too, submitting the forms on our behalf once we had completed them. A very sterile chart made exact distinction between the precise sexual acts and their remuneration value and while I was reasonably comfortable detailing the abuse that I had suffered, evidently one of my brothers was not. This brother has been diagnosed with three social and emotional disorders, which his psychologist report linked directly to the sexual abuse he suffered as a child. These mental conditions, caused by my uncle's maltreatment of him, have had an immeasurable impact on the quality of his life, as he struggles to complete any paperwork or official form that he perceives as being important. Of course, this has also been divesting with regards his education. Various attempts to complete any college courses have all ended before gaining a single qualification. His social anxiety and difficulty with paperwork means that a college environment is particularly problematic for him, so his career prospects have been severely impacted. These problems have not manifested in my life or my other two brothers' though we all suffered the same sexual abuse, and further evidence to the concept of the Quality of Silence being unique to each survivor, even if they are brothers with the same offender.

When we received notification of the amount we were to expect, the discrepancy appeared. Three of us had been awarded the maximum grant in relation to the crimes, £22,000, and one of us was awarded less than half of this, £8000. We had all suffered the exact same sexual abuse by our uncle yet one brother was so uncomfortable completing the form, where he was required to write in detail the exact sexual acts that our uncle had performed on him, he could not do this. As he had not provided enough detail, he was awarded only the amount relating to the lesser offences that he was comfortable enough to write down. I was furious at the officers who had made this misjudgement. It was clear that we had all experienced the same abuse, our applications were linked and from the same trial. The full details of what all four of us had endured had already been recorded by the police, read out in a public court and recorded again by the press and media during the live hearing. As we had now been awarded money for our suffering, we found ourselves in a terrible situation where one brother felt that what had happened to him must not have been as bad. That was not true and now an administrative mishap could further detrimentally affect his recovery.

Of course he appealed against their decision on the basis that his original form had been incomplete, and so began another excruciating fourteen-month process where he again had to seek another solicitor. I resented the decision of the compensation body, as they dropped us in a horrible mess where one brother, who has already been through enough, would now have to fight for money. Not because any of us ever wanted any money, but as we needed them to acknowledge that he had been just as violated as we had.

My brother chased the system for over a year, complying with every demand and requirement, involving various visits to his solicitor and another psychologist report was attained. When a review of the situation finally took place, we were informed that he had now been rightfully awarded the same amount as the rest of us (£22,000) but that they were now deducting £11,000 because he had been found driving without insurance. Months before this decision, he had been stopped by the police while driving our father's car that he believed he was insured to drive but apparently anyone awarded criminal damages compensation automatically loose half their grant if they themselves have any criminal conviction. Driving a vehicle you are not insured to drive results in an immediate £300 fine and six points on your license, which he had already complied with, yet it was now about to cost him a further £11,000. Secondly, the incident where he was found to be driving without insurance happened in the time between their first offer of £8000 and this review, and so should not have been a factor in their decision at all but most crucially, the only reason my brother was driving without insurance was because he believed he was insured.

The Police had stopped him while driving our father's car due to one a break light connection having fallen out, when they discovered that he did not have a fully comprehensive policy. When he renewed his insurance months before, the company had sent him another form, which he in his compromised ability to complete such paperwork had typically failed to complete accurately and assumed that he had simply signed up for the same policy as last year, but they had change it. This tiny oversight, that only he in countless millions would be at a particular risk of making, meant he had been driving a car that he believed he was insured to drive. Hardy a criminal, my brother felt so exhausted by the constant stream of undeserved hurdles.

The most infuriating event in this entire debacle was the final hearing, where he and I sat before a panel and his hapless solicitor tried to explain the complexity of the situation. I was actively observing the proceedings that I can confidently quote what was said to my brother: "If you had been caught driving drunk or on drugs, I could see how that has anything to do with you having been abused but you were just trying to get away with driving without insurance and so we can have no leniency". This statement, by an official acting on behalf of the authorities of Scotland, was horrific. Firstly, as this made no acknowledgement of whether my brother might be suicidal at this time, when being wrongfully accused of criminal behaviour might fatally compromise his self esteem, but also as it clearly showed that these officials have no sensitivity or understanding of how to communicate with survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Furthermore, it shows that their knowledge of the multitude of complex and subtle ways a sexual trauma in childhood can affect one's adult life. My brother, as has been proven in court, has a little understood but very real disability in relation to completing forms. This outcome of his sexual abuse in childhood did in fact cause him to overlook a key detail in his insurance document that resulted in him driving without insurance and now he was being left to feel that he was a criminal who did not deserve the same recompense as his innocent brothers.


Email: Julie Crawford,

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road