Giving child sexual abuse no place to hide

Dr Oliver Sindall reflects on BBC2’s ‘The Truth about Child Sexual Abuse’.


Over the past 30 years, there has been an increasing shift in our ability to acknowledge the tragic and disturbing level of child sexual abuse that takes place in our society. What was once restricted to the pages of academic journals is now visible in all forms of media. This is progress and it has helped many victims come forward, especially in the light of Jimmy Savile and Operation Yewtree. However, during my 15 years of working with offenders and victims, I can’t help feeling society has created a new ‘defence mechanism’ against acknowledging the extent of the problem. There are many textbooks, novels with identical covers, dramas, and TV programmes that seem to connect with people’s fantasies about abuse. Although these do create a genuine drive to protect our children, in my experience, they can often mask the truly hidden aspects of child abuse.

‘The Truth about Child Sexual Abuse’ challenges this with a comprehensive, engaging, accessible, emotional and yet hard-hitting programme. Psychologist Professor Tanya Byron and reporter Tazeen Ahmad use the perfect balance of qualitative and quantitative evidence to highlight the challenging aspects of sexual abuse that professionals and the public can no longer ignore, e.g. two-thirds of abuse is committed by family or those known through family; abuse by mothers is a reality; and over a third of this abuse is committed by people under the age of 18. What this programme does is break through the inaccessible nature of academia and policy. The general public are not going to pick up research journals or the Children’s Commissioner’s latest report on ‘Protecting Children from Harm’ (2015), which is why communicating information through an engaging programme like this is vital. 

The most important message for me was that effective child protection requires working with abusers and those struggling with their fears of becoming one. The programme takes a comprehensive look at paedophile vs. child abuser, nature vs. nurture, cure vs. therapy, Good Lives Models, and other services that are starting to have an impact in reducing the likelihood of further abuse.

In England, between 2012-2014, an estimated 425,000 children were sexually abused. This informative programme is a timely reminder that however complex and challenging child protection is, we all have a responsibility to no longer hide from the truth.

- Reviewed by Dr Oliver Sindall, who is a Clinical Psychologist working in Youth Offending Services. Watch the programme now.


BPS Members can discuss this article

Already a member? Or Create an account

Not a member? Find out about becoming a member or subscriber