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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 Quality of Silence

42 page PDF


The Quality of Silence

In my keynote speech during the October 2014 United Nations Human Rights Council Conference in Geneva, I presented these findings as evidence of why all nations must immediately abolish any Statute of Limitations on reporting child sexual abuse.

I am often asked: 'How do we encourage all survivors to disclose the sexual abuse they have suffered?' But in order to begin answering this question we must first understand why the vast majority currently chooses to remain silent.

I discovered while walking round both the wealthiest and most impoverished areas of thirty-two nations that the reasons each survivor does not report their offender, or even speak about their experiences, are in fact very different and unique to each territory. Quite literally, though the outcome appears the same, female survivors in Stockholm are reluctant to disclose abuse for entirely different reasons than female survivors in Warsaw, who are again silent for reasons completely different to those obstructing the women in Belfast. Therefore, none of these victims stand to benefit much from a general awareness campaign devised and orchestrated across Europe out of Strasbourg. To end the silence around child sexual abuse internationally, we cannot simply promote understanding of the prevalence of abuse and its life-altering damage, we must tailor our approach to tackling the taciturnity in respect to the individual causes of it, which are particular to each geographic location. This could mean nationally, regionally or merely by community.

I refer to this phenomenon as the 'Quality of Silence' and if fully understood, the information pertained within this discovery could potentially progress great improvements in every nation's strategy for preventing child sexual abuse, as if sensitively applied could enhance authorities and organisations ability to address these issues more comprehensively, effectively increasing identification of sex offenders and prosecution of dangerous individuals who are currently still living among the community posing a definite threat to children.

The Quality of Silence has two key facets: the Internal Factors and the External Factors, or, to imagine them another way, the psychological factors and the environmental factors. The unique combination of these elements, specific to each victim, collectively conspires to ensure their silence.

As the ACE study reveals, and research continues to advance our understanding of the severe neurological impact of sexual abuse in childhood, all victims regardless of nationally are subject to the same internal factors, which impeded their willingness or ability to disclose the abuse. A Scottish child's brain develops at the same rate and via the same process as a Spanish child's, and so both are equally vulnerable to developing depression, anxiety or other psychological dysfunctions. Some survivors develop PTSD as a result of the sexual violations and so verbally disclosing their experiences is practically an impossibly. Some can be so traumatised that they legitimately cannot remember the incidents until some random occurrence later in life unlocks the memories.

Though sexual violation in childhood can interrupt mental development to the same degree, irrespective of race, each individual victim's resilience and ability to overcome these Internal Factors is then dependent on their External Factors; the circumstances of their own environment, and no child anywhere can control the particular qualities of their social or cultural habitat.

I will use my own experience of being abused and subsequent years of silence to illustrate this, the quality of my silence.

It seems like an odd statement but I admitted during my presentation at the Scottish Parliament, in the concluding week of my walk, that while there is nothing fortunate about being sexually abused, having visited the rest of Europe, I feel lucky to have been sexually abused in Scotland. This is because I now fully understand that being born where I was gave me a far greater chance of disclosing the abuse and recovering from the psychological trauma. This good fortune was not within my control, I could just as easily have been born in rural Romania where my chances of either would be bleak. Scotland has no Statute of Limitations to stop me pressing charges, it has a supportive police force who are actively engaged in improving their own practices of guiding victims through the judicial process and Scotland has government supported services and various charitable organisations who are freely available to assist survivors with their various emotional and legal needs. The vast majority of victims in Europe do not currently have any of these.

Having said this, Scotland- while streets ahead in many respects with agencies of the calibre of the Moira Anderson Foundation- is not the flagship for child protection in Europe, not yet.

I was twenty-five years old before I reported my uncle to the authorities. If all Scottish victims take as long as I did to identify their offender countless more victims could continue to emerge in future, needlessly. Journalists asked me on the walk, if the abuse was so bad why did it take me twelve years to tell the police? It took me twelve years to tell the police because the abuse was so bad.

Over a decade elapsed between the date my uncle last molested me and the point when I finally overcame both the Internal and External Factors to end my silence. Here is why:

My Internal Factors:

When I was in my mid to late teens I was already in therapy experiencing the early stages of developing clinical depression. I planned my suicide. I was experimenting with illegal drugs and I was deeply confused about my sexuality.

A teenage boy from the west of Scotland, I chose to move four hundred miles away and even give a fake name to my therapist before I felt safe enough to discuss any of these issues, and yet it would still take me a further eight years of counselling to reach the point when I was emotionally strong enough to make the crucial leap into officially disclosing and pressing charges. How many victims have access to this many years of free psychological support?

A particularly sensitive factor is the illusion of having consented to the abuse by my own body's apparent willingness to cooperate with the sexual experiences. It is often assumed that when a boy's penis becomes erect it signifies a mental arousal, when in fact it can be achieved very easily by unwanted oral or dextral manipulation by an offender. Male survivors have reported feeling their own body betrayed them by having reached orgasm and ejaculated while being interfered with by someone they did not consent to. Regardless of any mental objection, the physical sensation can be pleasurable due to our anatomical mechanics; in this sense sexual abuse is particularly confusing for boys. I recall assessing my own situation in the later years of primary school (aged 9 or 10). I had been regularly molested since very early primary age and I had no reason to believe the abuse would ever stop, so I made the decision to try and enjoy it. This was a logical strategy in my desperate circumstances that would later cause me many years of feeling deep shame, and countless hours of therapy, believing I had given consent to my uncle, who was in his forties while I was in primary school.

Add these internal obstacles to the External Factors that I was oppressed by, which were unique to my circumstances, and I developed a powerfully galvanized silence.

My External Factors:

I was raised in a Catholic household and went to Catholic school; these are not environments conducive to open discussion of sexual matters. What little sex education I did receive contained no reference to sex even being possible with someone of the same gender, and any explanation of how to protect oneself from dangerous individuals was based on the concept of all offenders being a stranger, while research reveals they commit less than ten percent of abuse. Nothing in my education gave me any context to stop or even understand what was happening.

In general, Scottish men have relatively weak emotional literacy, are not accustomed in discussing such intimate problems and are practically assumed to avoid displaying vulnerability. As a teenage boy, I could comfortably talk about football and computer games but all other matters seemed dubious.

Some progress has been made since, but in Glasgow during the 1980s and 90s there was a potent fear towards and within the LGBT community. Scotland has since voted for marriage equality but as a teenage boy I was terrified that anyone might ever find out that I had had sexual contact with a man. That consuming fear was a direct contributing factor that kept me silence.

Even more sensitive to articulate is the fear still harboured towards some survivors due to stigma, the lingering ignorant suggestion that someone who has been abused will automatically become an abuser. The horrific murder of young girls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman by Ian Huntley in 2002 was particularly supportive of this assumption, as many newspapers cited the reason he sexually assaulted and murdered those innocent children was because he had been sexually abused as a child. The general public may take from this that anyone who has been abused must be considered a threat to children, but further injustice was that it sent a poisonously inaccurate message to survivors, who were coming to terms with their own experiences, that reinforced the notion that it is better for everyone if they just stay quiet. As my siblings began to have children of their own, I certainly became paranoid that if I disclosed the abuse I had suffered they might worry about their children's safety around me. I did not want to allow my uncle's insidious behaviour to further damage my relationships with my family and so this was yet another unique cause of the pressure to not mention the sexual abuse.

Conjoining these unshakeable External Factors with the psychologically stunting Internal Factors and I imagine myself as having been locked inside an invisible cage, that even I could not see or was even consciously aware of.

Every victim finds himself or herself trapped inside such a cage, usually unknowingly. In order to help them release themselves and empower them to report their offender, we must identify and fully comprehend what combination of factors, all out with their control, are constructing the bars of their unique cell, the Quality of their Silence.

On my journey, I did not find any nationality to be automatically comfortable talking about sex with children but it has been fascinating to observe and collect knowledge of the variety in the 'Quality of Silence' across one continent. I imagine there are many factors yet to be understood but those I gathered were cultural, economic, political, historical, religious, geographical and even linguistic, and indeed none within the victim's control. Listed below are the spectrum of External Factors which survivors from various countries described to me, that sustain their particular silence.


A female survivor in Sweden explained that women there are expected to refrain from showing anger; one must apparently always maintain a calm and collected demeanour. We should not minimise the resulting individual misery and national determent of this engrained social convention. Anger is one of the most common residual outcomes of a sexual violation but in an environment where one cannot process this trauma as others can the result is silence, and this has been generational. This stifling cultural norm is evidently prevalent across much of Scandinavia, but does not appear to be an issue constricting the emotional expression of women in Italy. I was alarmed on various occasions by the public displays of very heightened emotions, with some females and males in rural Italy screaming at each other in the middle of the street.

Conversely, in many European cultures, from west to east, men cannot show vulnerability, and in fact this stoicism in never allowing themselves to be perceived as a victim is even evident in what services exist in each nation. I visited many 'Woman and child centres', 'Rape crisis centres' and even 'Resource centres for women'. These services appear to be marketed as for females only. What chances have most men in the majority of European countries in accessing the support they need to disclose when the services provided for them are repellent?

In Latvia, a staff member of ' MARTA', a rape crisis centre, told me that a man had once phoned asking for help. One man. Latvia is a country of over two million people and, according to the World Health Organisation, every sixth Latvian male will be or has been sexually violated, yet in the nine year history of this public support service only one male survivor had ever approached them.

I understand that fighting against sexual violence began to grow around the time of the feminist movement and so is yet often wrongly perceived as being a solely feminine issue - but when I attended the male survivor conference in New York in November 2012, I met men from all over the world who travelled that distance because in their own country they have literally no one to talk to. A tiny minority of male survivors internationally is in the financial position to fly to New York and attend a conference just to access a safe and confidential environment where they can comfortably discuss their trauma.

In Cyprus, I observed a very unique cultural obstacle for victims but I imagine it could be found in other surrounding non- EU counties. Within families there prevails an unwritten rule that children do not ever speak ill of their elders. Invariably, the eldest member of the family is in effect sovereign and so their word is infallible. How could a child in this situation disclose abuse, seek emotional support or any kind of meaningful action to detain their offender?

The role of the media is a massively influential factor in the number of disclosures within any nation. In the UK, the media's overly sensationalised reporting of recent celebrity offenders has helped to desensitise discussion of child sexual abuse yet I wonder how many survivors now fear speaking out as the climate would suggest any disclosure receives a media frenzy. I regularly remind survivors that they need only tell a trusted friend, not a newspaper. The UK has stringent laws protecting the identity of victims but the same cannot be said about many other nations in Europe.

One Balkan newspaper was printing the names and pictures of children who had only just alleged abused against an adult, the case was yet to proceed. If this were the potential treatment of a child who disclosed sexual abuse, parents themselves would likely prevent their child for furthering any allegations and encourage them to remain silent.

I was interviewed by a Cypriot newspaper that later agreed to print an apology for how they had reported on my project. Their article described my brothers and I as 'alleged survivors'. My uncle pleaded guilty to sexually abusing us on the advice of his lawyer who had examined the weight of evidence we had against him, he was then sentenced to prison for his crimes and yet this newspaper chose to cast doubt on the validity of our testimonies and the credibility of the Scottish judicial system by continuing to refer to us as "alleged" survivors. If our uncle had murdered us would we be alleged dead children? As I explained in an open letter to their editor, the negative ramifications of this kind of negligent reporting are unquantifiable. It transmits a very clear message to the survivors of the nation that even if a court believes them the media will still fecklessly destroy their integrity and dignity. Fear of media misconduct is a frightening and very real External Factor currently silencing countless survivors, leaving their offenders free to violate countless children.

One particularly disgraceful behaviour, which continues to maintain silence, was explained to me by the survivor support agency ' ASPACI' in Madrid. They gave examples of cases that never reached court because the child victim's own lawyer strongly advised the child's parents not to proceed. This was apparently not due to any concern for the child's wellbeing or validity of their evidence but purely because the lawyers themselves were too uncomfortable to discuss the details of the case in front of a courtroom. One lawyer told a child victim's mother that he himself had been abused as a child and it really was not a big deal, convincing her that she was overreacting, as being abused had not stopped him moving forward in his life and becoming a lawyer. I sat with my father and brothers in a crowded courtroom as the list of sexual attacks that we endured were read out in graphic detail before the entire court. It was not a pleasant experience for anyone present yet I admired our advocate for her professionalism and commitment to giving every person in the room a full and accurate mental picture of the horrific crimes. In other cultures, even the very professionals who are responsible for seeking justice on behalf of the children do not uphold this same level of respect for the process.


Are any of these cultural particularities currently present within Scotland?

Are there other uniquely Scottish cultural scenarios that could be restricting a report from a survivor here today?

How can we more sensitively address these cultural issues, support survivors and elicit more confident reporting?


Meeting with UNICEF in Slovakia, I learned of a woman whose children are currently being abused by her husband. When the UNICEF staff asked her how she had put up with it for so long, she said she thought it was normal. Her father used to abuse her so she thought it was just something that happens in life. This tragic situation is a matter of education, which is lacking because of combination of economic, political and religious factors, again all out with the victims control.

Economics of course directly impact what services are available. In Hungary, I could only find one organisation, ESTER, specialised in addressing child sexual abuse and they also profess to be the only organisation of their kind. They have five staff members attempting to serve a country of ten million people.

One my walk, I was also invited to visit some of the Roma communities in very rural Transylvania, without a doubt some of the most severely impoverished areas inside the European Union. When discussing the suggestion of teaching the children some form of 'Underwear rule' or other protective behaviours, the staff member asked me: 'What is the point in teaching them that what is happening to them is wrong, if nothing is going to happen if they complain about it?". This question astonished me but in the economic realities of their situation I had to appreciate where she was deriving such a morbid perception. My contention remains, even if only for their own psyche, it is our duty to uphold the children's right to information that is important to their wellbeing.


Are any of these economic realities currently present within Scotland?

Are there other uniquely Scottish economic scenarios that could be restricting a report from a survivor here today?

How can we more sensitively address these economic issues, support survivors and elicit more confident reporting?


Some authorities appear to think it reflects badly on them if children are sexually abused in their country, while others display their action plans to tackle abuse as a matter of pride. I met five senior police personnel in Bulgaria who when I said the 'Council of Europe tells us that one in five children will be abused', simply said adamantly, 'Not in our country'. If the police will not believe you, why speak to them?

In a number of nations, such as Croatia, Slovenia and even parts of London, recent political unrest, war or riots has created a palpable distrust of the police. In areas where people do not trust them, victims will not approach them for help but this was most uniquely illustrated in Belfast. In a meeting with the organisation NEXUS, it was explained to me how the intense Catholic-Protestant divide in Northern Ireland has added a layer of complexity to the reasons victims on either side choose to remain silent. In such a charged atmosphere, no one wishes to say anything that might damage the façade of his or her own side's integrity. The vast majority of sexual abuse is conducted by someone within the child's circle of trust but when communities are at war with each other, victims cannot disclose negative facts about your own side. This same intense exterior factor therefore silences survivors from both religions.


Are any of these political particularities currently present within Scotland?

Are there other uniquely Scottish political scenarios that could be restricting a report from a survivor here today?

How can we more sensitively address these political issues, support survivors and elicit more confident reporting?


Another complex political factor is a country's chosen punishment for offenders. Even within the UK, posts calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty for child sex offenders can often be found circulating social media but inclusion in the EU requires abolition of such measures. However some EU nations do actively conduct chemical castration on sex criminals. This practice is known to affect the bone density of those who receive it and with the small but real margin of false accusations; I feel this to be an infringement of human rights. Personally, I believe this practice to be counterproductive, as it assumes sexual violation of children is motivated solely by some sexual desire of the offender, when in fact research into why anyone takes advantage of a child in this way has yet to yield any conclusive understanding. The danger in assuming that it derives from a sexual compulsion is that it lends weight to the argument that attraction to children is as natural a sexual orientation as homosexuality. Groups of individuals who claim to have been born with this desire have banded together and campaigned in some European nations to be recognised with the same rights as individuals of LGBTQ+. Thankfully now disbanded, I was horrified to learn as I walked through the Netherlands that Holland had recently been home to a political party called "Martyn," who campaigned for the right to have sex with children. Dutch law even dictated that these men be given financial support and were housed in an office previously occupied by their Ministry of Justice. This is reminiscent of the notorious PIE organisation which somehow managed to flourish - thankfully briefly- some decades ago in London. The Paedophile Information Exchange, hard as it is to believe now, enjoyed support from high profile figures at one point before having to disband due to public disquiet that an agency was promoting sexual relationships between adults and children.

While politicians still in power who gave it support e.g., Harriet Harman, are now distancing themselves from how PIE was nurtured, and say they were effectively duped by its leaders, one has to question how it ever elicited support in the first place. It may also go someway to explaining why we have a substantial police inquiry currently underway involving Westminster connections.

The second reason, more pertinent to the quality of silence, that I believe punishments such as castration and death are counterproductive is that many victims, such as I, care about their abuser. Children often feel unable to take action that will 'betray' someone within their circle and sense the horrific repercussions disclosure will cause in the ranks of their extended family. A hallmark of disclosure is often sudden clamming up, or denying they had spoken, such is the sense of responsibility that goes with whistleblowing. Maya Angelou in her classic book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, highlights this phenomenon, as she herself for several years was an elective mute after suffering sexual abuse.

I wanted my uncle removed from contact with other children; I wouldn't be able to live with his death on my conscience. If disclosing means a relative or family friend will be tortured or killed, it irrevocably secures the victim's silence.

The country's policies and procedure of processing allegations of sexual abuse very directly contributes to one's decision wither to disclose abuse, as if they are likely to face a gruelling drawn-out court case in which they are required to repeatedly recount the humiliating details of their abuse for various professionals, they are more likely to choose silence. I heard of cases in Greece lasting eight years. If my child disclosed to me, I would think twice about pursuing justice if I knew they faced nearly a decade of having to vocally relive their nightmare for different interrogators. Scotland is not much better.

In December 2009, I was required to attend East Kilbride Police Station to identify my uncle from a video of nine men, with his lawyer as a witness. I expect this procedure is so engrained in the protocol that no one can see how infinitely more traumatising it is than at all necessary. I can appreciate such measures may be required in an abduction case, when the offender's identity could be questionable but in a case of incest, why did the courts need me to look my uncle in the eye so they can be sure it was indeed him that I was accusing? Of course he is my only uncle called Terence McMonagle. We had provided his full name, date of birth, place of work, home address and unique details of his genitals. Why were the authorities still unsatisfied that they had detained the correct man? Of course, they know who the accused is among the line of generally similar types but I will never be convinced that the cruel practice of subjecting the victim to facing their abuser is in any way necessary. I had not seen my uncle in twelve years, though he still featured in my dreams a few times a month, and I believe some survivors may be withholding their statements to avoid having to undergo experiences like this.


Are there other uniquely Scottish legal structures that could be restricting a report from a survivor here today?

How can we more sensitively address these legislative issues, support survivors and elicit more confident reporting?


A considerable number of EU nations had recent Soviet occupations. One survivor in Estonia explained to me that the adult generation there seem to yet retain a sensibility of secrecy, and are automatically reluctant to involve any authorities in what they perceive as family business. This can be said of Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic and all newly capitalist European countries. It is a very real obstacle unique to these nations that is directly inhibiting survivor's willingness to disclose abuse and will take further generations to diminish. Journalists from these territories often told me that I was the first man they'd ever met who openly spoke about having been sexually abused, again approximately every sixth man in these countries is a survivor.


What recent events could be altering the Scottish public's attitude towards CSA and survivors?

How can we more strategically embrace these developments, support survivors and elicit more confident reporting?


To reiterate, these are not the environments where abuse is more prevalent, these are qualities of each victim's social environments that make it extremely difficult to disclose histories of sexual abuse.

In staunchly religious communities sex is rarely discussed openly but LGBTQ+ equality is also commonly stymied. One newspaper interview I gave in Poland received a strongly homophobic reaction, in the online comments, because I was pictured wearing a 'skirt' (kilt) and quoted talking about sex with a man. Nothing in this article said I was gay, and my uncle abusing me did not turn me gay. In some parts of the world the practice of correctional rape can still be found, were groups of men actively rape women who identify as lesbian believing it will 'cure them'. The idea that you can alter someone's sexuality by sexually traumatising them is deeply unenlightened and dangerous yet many survivors across Europe refrain from disclosing for fear of the stigma, that they themselves will now be assumed as gay and inevitably outcast.

When I arrived in Malta, it had no services for adult survivors that were not run by a certain church. If you were one of the many victims of clerical abuse, how likely are you to access any kind of meaningful recovery or legal action when the support network is affiliated with the same institution as your offender?

The religious territories are behind on sexual education and are commonly more resistant to introducing any awareness program in schools that might arm a child with the communicational skills to disclose abuse early. The Austrian organisation 'Happy Kids' told my they have had some success entering schools in Vienna with developmentally appropriate educational materials but have met absolute resistance from the denominational schools. I encountered this obstacle personally while walking through my hometown of East Kilbride. BBC Reporting Scotland had arranged to film me visiting both my primary and high schools as I passed through during the final week of my walk but when I arrived at both I was told I could not speak to the pupils about child sexual abuse. I am aware of how to speak about this issue sensitively with children of all ages, from infancy up through teenage and into adulthood. Pope Francis himself had been quite willing to engage with me on the subject but both the Catholic Schools, that I was attending throughout the many years that my uncle was sexually abusing me, did not wish to discuss it. Unless matters suddenly change very dramatically, we can assume that around twenty percent of the children about to begin primary one in any school in Scotland this year will be sexually violated before they reach age eighteen. If anyone had entered my class at these very schools all those years ago and explained how to talk about being abused my entire life could have been very different.


Are any of these religious environments currently present within Scotland?

Are there other uniquely Scottish religious environments that could be restricting a report from a survivor here today?

How can we more sensitively address these religion-based obstacles, support survivors and elicit more confident reporting?


Most nations have a dense population in the cities and very sporadically spread inhabitants across the greater rural parts of the county. The significant proportion of the population therefore is farthest away from the services that do exist. I met one social worker in rural Transylvania who alone covers four villages, 3000 people that just she alone supports. In her career that spans three decades, she can recall only one reported case of sexual abuse. Apparently, money changed hands within the families and no further action was taken. The vast majority of Europe's population is logistically stranded miles from help.

Not only where one lives in the country but also the size of the country itself can be a contributing factor in victim's silence. There are three EU countries whose entire population is less than the city of Glasgow. A Luxembourgish Government official told me they cannot operate a child sex offenders register because if they made public the name of the offender it would be too easy for everyone to work out who the victim is.


Are any of these geographic practicalities currently present within Scotland?

Are there other uniquely Scottish geographic situations that could be restricting a report from a survivor here today?

How can we more effectively address these geographic practicalities, support survivors and elicit more confident reporting?


Still, even in the UK, if anyone asks why survivors refrain from disclosing abuse the answer is often offered that it is due to the shame but it is time that we all began to challenge what is it about our societies that automatically attributes blame to the victim of this crime instead of the criminal. On my travels, I uncovered a discrepancy in the very vocabulary used in many European nations to describe survivors of childhood sexual abuse. In fact, in many languages the word 'survivor' is never used when referring to people who were sexually abused in childhood and is reserved for individuals who have endured other horrific experiences such as a traffic accident or earthquake, evils that can easily be identified as out with the victim's control. We often observe survivors of the Holocaust speaking publicly about their traumatic past. Rightfully, they are all deeply respected for having undergone such atrocities that we all agree were not their fault, and speak with such dignity having endured such undignified maltreatment. But when survivors of childhood sexual abuse appear on television, their faces are often hidden and their voice disguised. Where is the dignity in this? Labelling survivors of sexual violence as 'victims' years after the crimes they suffered is a gross injustice. These courageous individuals have also endured unimaginable cruelty yet there is a meandering stigma falsely associating these survivors with their experience.


Are any of these linguistic obstructions currently present within Scotland?

Are there other uniquely Scottish linguistic junctures that could be restricting a report from a survivor here today?

How can we more effectively address these linguistic obstructions, support survivors and elicit more confident reporting?

Compound qualities

When, as often and naturally happens, we find sub-communities living within larger communities, the causes of silence become intricately more convoluted, and consequently more uniquely challenging to resolve.

Scotland has a richly diverse mix of migrants and refugee communities but to illustrate how the problem of silence becomes compounded, consider the quality if silence within Scotland's vibrant South Asian communities.

With the practice of arranged marriage still found among some families in Scotland, a girl who has had sexual contact before marriage, however unwillingly, may be view as less desirable and so to protect her marriageability some survivors chose to remain silent and even when some make a discloser this is often apparently hushed up by her own family.

The services that exist to support all victims in Scotland are largely staffed and created by people not from ethic minority backgrounds, which can make approaching them for support even more unlikely. At our recently development meeting we noted that even MAF materials are only in English, when many Scottish citizens speak Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Polish, Mandarin etc.

MAF are currently seeking to generate materials immediately to widen their linguistic reach to all the people of Scotland yet at present, some smaller organisations set up to support the Asian communities are staffed by people from within the Asian community. This again makes the service unapproachable for fear that what is discussed in confidence will find its way back to the rest of the community. I am not disparaging the professionalism of the staff of these organisations, I am highlighting the fears of the largely silence group of survivors within these communities.

Some disclosures that have reached the authorities required translators to investigate the case. Translating such official matters often falls to the church elders, whose own conservative views and agenda of avoiding 'shame' or 'scandal' can in fact hinder the progress of the authorities investigation.

None of these issues were obstacles for me growing up in the west of Scotland yet I still took until age twenty five to make a full discloser. How many children and survivors within the Scottish South Asian community are currently muted by these further hurdles? I only examined one sub-community; of course there will be various other particularities with the Africans, Polish, Chinese Scots etc.

Quality of Silence on access to justice

Fortunately, no Scottish citizen is subject to a limitation on reporting, so regardless of when our survivors overcome their internal and external factors, they can always pursue prosecution. To give an example of the comparatively disastrous legal situation for the vast majority of survivors across Europe, I will share with you the current case of one male survivor that I encountered in Luxembourg.

Robi was born and grew up there, a very small country, so already it is extremely intimidating to make allegations when practically everyone knows everyone. He also lives in the Ex-pat community, making the insular dynamic even more constricting. It's also a very wealthy country; wealth appears to often bring a conservatism that contributes to a society that doesn't talk about certain things. Again, Luxembourg is a country where men must be men and cannot easily show vulnerability and as it is such a tiny country, it has one of the smallest LGBT communities of any nation. As I witnessed on the Road to Change, environments where LGBT equality requires progress incubate the silence of boys sexually abused by men, and on top of all that, this country still has no services for male survivors.

The statute of limitations in Luxembourg ends when the survivors reach age twenty-eight, as it does in Finland and Estonia and many others. Robi was thirty when he was finally ready to go to the police. He had missed his chance by two whole years. What was he doing in all that time? He was paying out thousands of his own earrings, putting himself through therapy trying to work through destructive addiction that he had developed as a result of having been sexually abused.

Robi once wrote to his offender during his journey toward recovery. Astonishingly, his offender wrote back apologising for sexually abusing him, in a hand-written letter that is signed and dated, but even with a written confession that the police have seen, Robi's offender is still working in contact with children. This man is a prominent member of the British Ex-pat community and apparently works with disadvantaged children who only speak German. Offenders commonly seek to gain a position of power with disadvantaged children, as their victim's testimony is less likely to be believed. There are also four languages currently in use in Luxembourg; Luxembourgish, French, English and German, so these children who Robi's offender chooses to work with are at a communicational disadvantage.

The stress of this whole situation has lead to Robi having to leave the country, leaving behind his family, his home and the nation he was born in. He just can't stand by and watch innocent children be left under the supervision of a dangerous self-confessed child sex offender.

I was invited to lunch with a representative from the government of Robi's country, so I took along Robi's mother. We explained Robi's case and stressed that his offender must be immediately removed from contact with these children. The government personnel advised that she and Robi raise more money, hire a private detective and have them photograph any children that go into this man's home, because the signed confession that Robi received from this man is not valid evidence anymore. So, instead of changing their law allowing their police to act on the concrete evidence, they suggest using more children as bait to catch a man who would already be in prison in a number of other EU countries.

I also had a meeting with Luxembourg's Justice Minister who said then that new initiatives were being discussed. This was in July 2013 and still no announcement of reform. Barnador's research reveals an average offender commits up to 380 sexual crimes against children, how many might Robi's offender have committed in the past two years, while authorities aware of this individual continue to do nothing.

Robi's abuser lives near the border of a Germany, where the Limitation is age 51. So literally, if he had molested Robi just a few miles north, he would already be arrested. 2.5 million children are about to be abused in nations where the limitation is age 28. Millions more have far less time that Robi did.

Because of the myriad internal and external factors, the Statute of limitations is reporting threshold that the vast majority of victims will never reach.

The Quality of Scotland's Silence

If you saw a man being strangled to death and you wanted to stop it, would you encourage the man to try harder to breathe or focus your energy on the person strangling him? Our work in ending the silence is not entirely with the survivors who are struggling to speak, it needs to focus more strategically on everyone else, those who sustain these environments where survivors struggle to speak.

Considering the concepts illustrated above in relation to survivors in Scotland, it becomes immediately clear that, to varying degrees, many of these Internal and External factors can still be found oppressing individuals here today, which are locking many of our people in needless suffering and allowing an unimaginable amount of dangerous child sex offenders to continue living in contact with our children unidentified.

Compare the likelihood of a boy disclosing abuse that attends St Joseph's Roman Catholic Primary School in Edinburgh's Sighthill with that of a Muslim girl attending Hutchesons Grammar in Glasgow's Crossmyloof. These will both be quite different from the chances of discloser from any child attending Tiree Primary School. Examine the invisible cage obstructing the voice of a shelf-stacker in Stranraer's Tesco Metro then the one silencing a paramedic of Aberdeen's Royal Infirmary. We are a small but varied nation. Much work needs to be done to ascertain a fuller understanding of why much of Scotland's survivors are currently staying silent. It will require an extensive study conducted within each region and even within each religious community and ethic minority, but victims in Scotland's central belt already stand a far greater chance of both psychological recovery and legal action purely from their postcode. If such a comprehensive survey were conducted, more sensitively tailored educational materials and training could be targeted statically across the nation. With the positive political will of our government to address this issue, our lack of any legal restriction on reporting abuse, our progressive police force, the politicised nature of our people, the excellence of our academics and the outstanding quality of some of the services created by our charitable organisations, Scotland has the potential to pilot this approach and become a world leader in reducing and eventually eradicating sexual violence against children.

How to use this information

Prosecutors in cases of historical childhood sexual abuse could develop the practice of examining in precise detail the quality of the victim's silence, which has caused the delay in reporting, and contribute this information as supporting evidence to their case.

Local authorities could more effectively tailor protective behaviours training, strategies of how to investigate disclosers and even review procedures of ascertaining translators for cases, if the unique quality of silence within each community was respectfully surveyed.

If certain stigmas proved prominent in the collective conscience of a region or nation, specific public health campaigns targeting these particular negative assumptions could move public perception forward and help dissolve myths, liberating various survivors to disclose.

National assessments of the quality of silence could begin to reveal pockets of high-risk areas, where convolutions of identified External Factors could currently be creating solid walls of silence that we are presently oblivious to. Resources could then be strategically redistributed to support the survivors in these territories towards making disclosures, effectively making the community safer for current and future generations of children.


Email: Julie Crawford,

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road