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What role do institutions play in childhood sexual abuse? Are they always on the side of the survivor, and where are the gaps?

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About your hosts

A short description about the episode co-hosts

Institutions & Child Sexual Abuse Podcast (Video or Audio Options)

A more in-depth podcast episode, giving context and personal stories associated with the topic.

Things you should and shouldn't say to someone who experienced Child Sexual Abuse (Institutions)

A short video episode, focusing on two things you should and two things you shouldn’t say to someone who has experienced (or is experiencing) child sexual abuse.

Episode transcripts

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A Recap

A written summary of the key advice in these episodes

Additional Tips

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About your hosts

Sophia - Founder of Secrets Worth Sharing

Sophia (she/her) is a survivor of child sexual abuse and the founder of Secrets Worth Sharing, where she builds a community of having these difficult conversations with 'serious joy'.

Wren Knight - Human Rights Lawyer

Wren (she/her) is a human rights lawyer and founder of a charity supporting survivors of childhood sexual abuse. As an adult, she successfully issued proceedings against her secondary school for not reporting her abuser.


Institutions & Child Sexual Abuse Podcast

More In-depth Podcast, 20-28 minutes.

Don't like watching videos? Listen on Spotify instead!


Things you should and shouldn't say to someone who experienced Child Sexual Abuse (Institutions)

Video episode, 8-10 minutes

What role do institutions play in childhood sexual abuse? Are they always on the side of the person who experienced the abuse… or is it more often that they choose to cover up, which can often mean siding with the abuser? Join Sophia (she/her) and Human Rights Lawyer Wren (she/her) as they discuss what you should and shouldn’t say to someone disclosing childhood sexual abuse, from an institutional angle.


Download the Episode Transcripts

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Institutions_ SWS_podcast transcript
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To recap...

Things you should say/do when someone discloses


Offer to look for institutions and support services together

Sometimes in the event of sharing such a traumatic story of abuse, the survivor might not know what is best for them, or what sort of help they need. Take the time to offer to look for counselling services with them, or charities in the local area that could help. They might want support with taking up a new hobby, like sport or gardening, as a way to distract themselves from the abuse. If they are going through the legal and justice system, offer to take copies of emails between all the different services so that they have a paper trial to help in court. So much of the legal and justice system can be extremely overwhelming and so offerning to take some of the administrative tasks off of the survivor's plate can really help them to focus on the important parts of disclosing their story.

[If you are a HR manager] Work with the person and offer a range of choices for how you can help to support them having a break from work, and then a return to work.

Wren experienced remarkable support within the workplace, especially from a standout individual in the HR department of her legal firm. During a challenging period when Wren was on extended leave due to the distress caused by personal experiences, returning to work felt overwhelming. HR provided exceptional support throughout this time, regularly meeting Wren for hot chocolate and waiting by reception to assist with the transition back into the office environment. HR's proactive approach, offering helpful suggestions even when Wren was unsure of her needs, made a significant impact. Although not directly linked to Wren's disclosure, this situation highlighted an organization's positive support for someone grappling with the aftermath of abuse.

Think hard about how you will praise a survivor if you are representing an institution.

Institutions need to think hard about how their words and actions can affect the survivor's feelings of validation. Sophia reflected on the complexities of receiving praise for her accomplishments as a survivor. She expressed that while some might find it problematic, she drew many positives from a particular instance. She recalled crafting her victim personal statement, considering it the most profound and significant documents she had ever written. She was insistent on composing it herself, declining the police's offer to draft it, as she wanted her words to reflect her experience authentically. Her mother later relayed that the judge commended her statement, acknowledging its heartfelt nature and rarity of her going on to have academic success. Although this acknowledgment made her feel empowered, she recognized that it was actually very common for survivors to mask behind success. The statement also felt insincere as her abuser got a very low sentence.

Things you shouldn't say when someone discloses


Do not say "Aren't you worried about people making it up?"

We strongly urge against expressing suspicion towards survivors and emphasize the need for support rather than doubt. We feel frustrated with the common argument accusing survivors of fabricating their experiences, recognizing its historical use to oppress countless victims. While acknowledging the concern of false accusations, we stress its rarity supported by evidence, noting that the majority of survivors coming forward are telling the truth. There are so many more cases of survivors telling the truth than making it up, but tabloid news will tend to focus on the rare case of someone lying.

Do not say "But why does it take people so long to come forward?”

This statement often carries a tone of suspicion. It's a query that tends to ask why individuals are choosing to disclose their experiences at a particular moment and what they might gain from it. What's particularly troubling is that this inquiry is predominantly voiced by cis-men, based on Wren's observations and experiences. We strongly disapprove of this question as it diverts the discussion back to the perpetrators. There exist numerous complex reasons, some of which might span decades or a lifetime, behind delayed disclosures or individuals choosing not to disclose at all. The fact that they have disclosed in a world which is not ready to talk about childhood sexual abuse is in itself something to be encouraged and thanked.

[If representing an academic institution] Do not reference academic articles to the survivor the moment they have disclosed to you.

Many people who are in academic institutions like universities disclose for the first time at university. This is because for a lot of students, it is the first time that they have some independence away from home life. While it can be tempting to pass on academic papers and articles to the survivor to justify thier experience, doing so too soon can make them feel like a case study. Instead, take the time to understand if the survivors' experience is going to affect their studies, and if the academic institution can offer anything to support, like student councelling, expenstions for deadlines, or more 1-1 tutoring.

Do not start to talk about other traumas

The person disclosing to you needs space to talk and feel heard, especially if they are telling someone about the abuse for the first time. By trying to contrast and compare with other traumatic experiences, you potentially create an environment where the person has to comfort you, and then space is taken away from their own story and can lead to more silence.

Be very careful about how you respond to cases of childhood sexual abuse in the news

It's crucial to be mindful of our reactions to cases of child sexual abuse covered in the news. Often, when these reports surface, ppeople tend to distance themselves from the issue, believing that such occurrences could never impact their own family, friends, or institutions. Child sexual abuse can unexpectedly impact anyone. By responding dismissively or defensively to such news reports, we might inadvertently create barriers that deter survivors from speaking up. You never know if someone who is a survivor is listening to you speak. Many times, individuals who have considered disclosing their experiences come close to sharing but retract upon observing others' reactions to pedophilia cases in the news, even among trusted adults. This reinforces the importance of fostering a supportive and nonjudgmental environment to encourage people to speak up.


Additional resources and tips

During the episode, Wren uses some legal terminology which we will define here:

  • Issued proceedings - The issuing of proceedings involves filling details of the claim, such as the Claim Form and Particulars of Claim, at court. The court will then serve this on the defendant for them to answer to. (Scott Rees) This usually costs money.

  • Settled out of Court - In law, a settlement is a resolution between disputing parties about a legal case, reached either before or after court action begins.

  • Actual knowledge - Actual knowledge is direct and clear knowledge where the relevant party knows of a particular item of event that causes a breach. In Wren’s case, this was that her school had seen harmful messages sent to her from her abuser.

“In December 2021, the Home Office published a study into the costs relating to children whose contact sexual abuse began or continued in the year ending March 2019. The estimated cost to society exceeded £10 billion.”

The Truth Project, which concluded in October 2021, gave more than 6,000 victims and survivors of child sexual abuse an opportunity to share their experiences with the Inquiry and put forward suggestions for change.


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