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Non-recent abuse allegations have often made front-page news within the last decade where victims of historic abuse have made allegations against people in the public eye. However, non-recent abuse reporting is not limited to allegations made against celebrities.
Today, there are many victims of unreported abuse also coming forward, often prompted by witnessing others’ strength in reporting their non-recent abuse.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) gives the best indicator to ascertain the prevalence of non-recent abuse.
The CSEW estimated that around one in five adults experienced abuse before they reached age 16. In 2019, this equated to roughly 8.5 million adults. This equates to 20.7% of the UK population aged 18 to 74 years.
What is non-recent abuse?
Non-recent abuse is also referred to as historic abuse. It is an allegation of abuse that relates to an incident or incidents that happened before an alleged victim was 18 years old. Often it is the case that adults report their non-recent abuse later in adulthood.
Allegations of non-recent abuse are also made by children who report abuse that has occurred at least one year before the allegation is made. Non-recent abuse can also be reported by other individuals on behalf of a child or another adult if the incident occurred in childhood and/or at least one year before the allegation was made.
What are the different types of non-recent abuse?
Non-recent abuse allegations may fall into one or multiple categories.
- Emotional abuse.
- Sexual abuse.
- Physical abuse.
According to the CSEW, witnessing domestic violence and emotional abuse were the most commonly experienced forms of abuse in 2019. However, it also reported that just under half of adults who reported abuse experienced more than one form of abuse.
Non-recent sexual abuse
Sexual abuse is statistically the most common form of abuse reported. Childline revealed through research that around 1 in 20 children aged 11-17 have experienced sexual abuse.
In 2018, the UK Government defined child sexual abuse as:
“Forcing of enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening.”
“The activities may involve physical contact, including assault by penetration (for example, rape or oral sex) or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside of clothing. They may also include non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of sexual images, watching sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways, or grooming a child in preparation for abuse (including via the internet).”
Child sexual exploitation is one form of sexual abuse where a group or an individual takes advantage of their power to manipulate or coerce a child to engage in sexual activity. This can often be through organised crime such as a ‘paedophile ring’.
Data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveals that approximately one in every 13 adults is a victim of sexual abuse before the age of 16 – a staggering 3.1 million people. It also showed that most victims did not report their sexual abuse at the time and found that “embarrassment” was the most common reason for not reporting it.
In 2014, the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) established Operation Hydrant. This is a British policing team coordinating investigations across the UK into non-recent child sexual abuse allegations involving a person in public prominence or from an institution.
In February 2020, Operation Hydrant revealed that there had been a staggering 11,346 allegations of non-recent sexual abuse made since it was established. Of these, 4,024 allegations received a conviction. The conviction rate for these allegations is therefore 35%.
Non-recent emotional abuse
Most children who are abused in any way experience an element of emotional abuse. Emotional abuse in children is the continuing emotional maltreatment of a child. This abuse can have a persistent, severe negative effect on the child’s emotional development and health.
Emotional abuse can take the form of:
- Emotional neglect
– Ignoring a child.
– Withholding affection.
– Failing to respond to the child’s emotional needs.
– Excluding a child from an activity.
– Leaving the child alone either at home or in another place.
– Telling the child that they are not good enough.
– Failing to allow a child to express their opinion.
– Failing to communicate with a child.
– Restricting the child’s social interactions.
– Limiting a child’s freedom unreasonably.
– Coercing a child to participate in an unsafe activity.
– Coercing a child to participate in an activity that is not appropriate for their age.
– Coercing a child to do something that they are uncomfortable with.
– Gaslighting – Making the child doubt their memory, perception or judgement.
- Instilling fear
– Frightening a child on purpose.
– Putting a child in a known dangerous situation.
– The threat of violence.
– Mocking a child.
NSPCC research using data from 2,275 children aged 11-17 in the UK suggests that around 1 in 15 children have been emotionally abused.
Non-recent physical abuse
Given that so many cases of abuse are unreported, it is difficult to know exactly how many people in the UK have experienced physical abuse. However, research has shown that around 1 in 14 children have been physically abused in their lifetime. This means that the figure is likely much higher if adults were included in the data.
Physical abuse includes:
- Hitting (with objects or hands).
- Scalding and burning.
- Scratching and biting.
- Breaking bones.
Essentially, physical abuse is the intentional cause of physical harm to someone. It can also include the exaggeration or inventing of an illness or symptoms or inducing an illness in a child.
Physical abuse happens in stages. It is important to realise that, whilst all children have bumps, bruises and other injuries from time to time, physical abuse often has a pattern, and the explanation does not always match the injuries.
Physical abuse can cause a range of long-lasting effects in terms of a child’s physical health but also their mental health too.
Neglect is defined by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) as:
“Where a parent or person legally liable to maintain a child fails to provide adequate food, clothing, medical aid or lodging for the child or has failed to take steps to procure it to be provided.”
Simply put, neglect is the continuing failure in meeting the basic needs of a child. Indeed, the University of East Anglia reported that it is the most common form of child abuse and was present in 60% of 139 serious case reviews between 2009 and 2011.
Neglect can be separated into four different categories, but many a time they overlap:
- Physical neglect
Physical neglect includes a lack of provision for adequate shelter, clothing or food for a child and includes the child not being properly kept safe or supervised.
- Educational neglect
Where parents and caregivers do not ensure a child’s proper education, this is referred to as educational neglect.
- Emotional neglect
This occurs when parents do not provide the appropriate stimulation or nurture for their child. See the section above on emotional abuse.
- Medical neglect
Medical neglect is where parents or caregivers fail to give proper healthcare to a child in their care. This includes refusing to follow medical advice as well as dental care.
To test your knowledge and awareness of neglect, try our Quiz.
Many children do not always realise that what is happening to them is wrong. It may be that, for them, their living situation is all they have known.
For most young children, their neglect only comes to light when elements of their home situation are disclosed over some time or when a person in authority has suspicions about a child’s home circumstances due to their appearance, hygiene, health, home environment or by changes to their behaviour. This is one of the reasons why schools play such an important role in safeguarding children.
Who is more at risk of non-recent abuse?
Whether the abuse is recent (within the last 12 months) or whether it is non-recent abuse, it is not possible to differentiate the risk factors. Non-recent abuse simply means that the person who has been abused has not declared it close to the time when the abuse occurred. Therefore, those who are at risk of any form of abuse are at risk of non-recent abuse.
Anyone can be a victim of abuse. However, certain risk factors make someone more vulnerable and open to abuse.
Parental factors play a huge role in increasing a child’s vulnerability to abuse.
These can include:
- Having a young or teenage parent.
- Having a parent with learning difficulties.
- Having a parent who had an adverse childhood.
- Having a parent who has mental health issues, including alcohol and drug abuse.
- Having a parent with a disability or physical health condition.
- Living in a home with parental domestic abuse.
- Being (or having been) in care.
All the above factors can mean that a family needs extra support to meet the children’s needs and the parents may be extra vulnerable to the usual parenting stresses.
There are many social factors at play when it comes to ascertaining a person’s risk of abuse.
These social factors can include:
- Poor housing.
- Social isolation.
Social factors can affect the level of care a child receives and parents may find it difficult to provide both socially and materially for their children.
Age has a role to play in child abuse patterns. Those at most risk of abuse are often younger children. They are much more vulnerable to neglect and physical abuse.
Quite often this is due to others not often being involved in their care such as nurseries and schools that are trained to spot signs of abuse and neglect. In contrast, older children are at increased risk of sexual abuse, with a slightly increased risk for female children.
Disabled children are at a much greater risk of any kind of abuse due to their inability to advocate for themselves as well as a greater reliance on carers and increased stresses in the familial home. Statistics show that disabled children are more likely to experience abuse before the age of 16 than those without a disability (32% compared with 19%).
Adults are more likely to have experienced abuse in childhood if their sexual orientation as an adult is gay or lesbian (30%) or bisexual (48%) as opposed to heterosexual (20%). The CSEW does state, however, that those reporting non-recent abuse may have had a different sexuality at the time or their abuse. Barnardo’s also outlines that teenagers who fall into a sexuality minority are also more vulnerable to abuse.
What are the signs of non-recent abuse?
Many children keep quiet about their abuse and, whilst there is not a set checklist for signs of non-recent abuse, there are some signs that it is possible to look out for in children and adults who are experiencing abuse and/or have experienced abuse in their past.
It is important to be aware of the signs of recent abuse so that we can better understand potential signs of non-recent abuse.
Common signs of abuse:
- Becoming withdrawn, depressed or distant.
- Unexplained behaviour or personality changes.
- Becoming uncharacteristically aggressive.
- Having few(er) friends.
- Poor attachments with caregivers.
- Knowledge of adult topics or content that is inappropriate for their age.
- Going missing or running away.
- Choosing clothes to cover their body, even in hot weather.
- Lack of social skills.
- Change in toilet habits (including using the toilet more frequently, mentioning pain when using the bathroom, unexplained incontinence, blood in underwear).
- Nightmares or bedwetting (including being overly tired, restless or on their phone late at night).
- Becoming secretive.
- Appearing frightened of someone they know or people they don’t know.
- Changes to eating habits (overeating or refusing to eat).
- Regressing to younger behaviours such as thumb sucking.
- Low self-worth and self-esteem.
- Lack of motivation for things they once enjoyed.
- A new circle of friends.
- Receiving gifts or unsolicited items without caregiver knowledge.
- Poor hygiene including dirty clothing.
- Pregnancy and/or STIs.
Signs of non-recent abuse in children or adults can be subtly different from those listed above. Given that non-recent abuse is abuse that occurred at least a year ago, many of the physical signs of abuse will no longer be present unless the abuse resulted in scarring or permanent damage.
However, some of the longer-lasting effects of abuse can crop up months or even years later. These are best thought of as effects of non-recent abuse rather than signs of non-recent abuse.
What are the effects of non-recent abuse?
As mentioned in the previous section, many who have experienced non-recent abuse go on to have difficulties later in life due to their past experiences. The effects of abuse last much longer than the abuse itself.
Indeed, the longer the period of abuse, the longer the effects that the victim suffers. Indeed, for many who have experienced abuse, the effects are life-long.
Non-recent abuse can cause long-term trauma symptoms including or similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
These symptoms can include:
- Feelings of guilt and shame.
- Emotional outbursts.
- Disliking certain smells, situations, sounds or places without knowing why.
- Brain fog.
Relationship-related effects of non-recent abuse
Relationships also tend to be challenging for those who have experienced non-recent abuse.
Someone who has suffered non-recent abuse in childhood may have some of the following:
- A fear of intimacy
- Trust issues
- Relationship-related feelings of stress
- Difficulty in saying ‘no’
- Difficulty setting boundaries
- Anger issues
- Fear or dislike of sex
- Promiscuity (in some cases)
- Confusion regarding sexual identity
- The need to have fantasies to be able to enjoy sexual relationships
- Dissociation during sexual activity
- Fantasies that include rape or abuse
- The use of innuendo inappropriately during conversation
As suggested in the list above, for sufferers of non-recent abuse, many continue to experience relationship difficulties and dysfunctional relationships throughout their lives. They also may be drawn into adult relationships that are abusive.
The ONS states that around half of adults who experienced non-recent abuse also experienced domestic abuse later in life. This compares to 13% of adults who were not abused as children.
For many adults abused as children, the victim does not necessarily realise that they were being abused at the time. Their abuse may come as a revelation to them later in life. This can be through discussing their experiences with others or through being triggered by something they have seen, heard or read.
This realisation can be very difficult for a victim of abuse whether they were abused just once, many times, or whether it was a year ago or fifty years ago.
Some victims of non-recent abuse also do not remember the experience, particularly in the case of sexual abuse. If a person has no memory of chunks of their childhood, this can also be a sign of non-recent abuse.
Physical signs of non-recent abuse
Aside from the emotional and relationship effects of non-recent abuse, many who experience abuse go on to suffer from physical symptoms of historic abuse such as:
- Frequent minor illnesses such as colds.
- A high pain threshold and not knowing how injuries have occurred.
Psychological signs of non-recent abuse
In addition to the signs and symptoms of PTSD, many who have experienced abuse in childhood go on to experience some of the following:
- Eating disorders.
- Sleep disorders.
- Suicidal tendencies.
- Panic attacks.
- OCD including feeling like the person can never get clean.
- Identity crisis.
- Low self-esteem.
Those who have experienced abuse in the past often blame themselves. Perhaps they were made to feel at the time that it was their fault. However, it is never the victim’s fault, and they are not responsible for others’ actions.
Whilst the signs of abuse such as withdrawing from family and friends, depression, anxiety and low self-worth can appear during or immediately after the abuse, such effects can perpetuate and can also rear their ugly heads much later in the person’s life.
Reporting non-recent abuse
In recent years, the press has brought to light many reported cases of non-recent abuse where, years later, victims have come forward and disclosed their abuse. As mentioned above, this often occurs because many adults only recognise their experience as abuse once they are adults.
Some of the recent allegations reported in the press dated back decades and led to convictions. For anyone thinking of reporting non-recent abuse, this shows that it is never too late to report it.
According to the ONS, around 15% (one in seven) adults who called the National Association for People Abused in Childhood’s (NAPAC’s) helpline in 2019 had not reported their abuse to anyone before.
If you want to make a report of non-recent abuse, the first step is to contact the police and tell them what happened to you regardless of when it was. The police’s 101 non-emergency number will be able to connect you to the appropriate department where staff are trained to deal with non-recent abuse disclosures.
You can also ask someone else to report the abuse on your behalf or report it online on the police’s website. After informing them, the police will decide whether to investigate. If the police decide to investigate, they will contact you for a more detailed statement. This stage can take days or weeks and it is important that it is not rushed.
However, many people do not feel comfortable going directly to the police with their disclosure. Even though most non-recent abuse cases are reported by adults, the NSPCC also takes calls and emails from abused adults and offers guidance as to what to do next.
Many seek redress against their abusers in the form of legal action for the harm that they have suffered because of their abuse. This is often a long and arduous process, and it is important to be aware of the strain that this can have. For legal support, the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers (ACAL) can offer advice regarding the legal process involved and the likelihood of conviction with your case.
What support is available?
Reporting non-recent abuse is fraught with difficulty and distress. This is why so many victims of abuse delay reporting the abuse both initially and later in life. However, support is available.
Firstly, if you feel able, a GP is often a great source of knowledge when it comes to pointing you in the direction of organisations that can help. GPs are likely knowledgeable about local support groups as well as counselling organisations that can offer support.
Abuse survivors’ groups are often a lifeline where people can meet and talk with others who have experienced similar difficulties.
For online support, HAVOCA (Help for Adult Victims of Child Abuse) provides moderated forums where victims of abuse can share the experience and offer support for others who have experienced abuse in childhood.
The National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC) also has a free and anonymous helpline where you can seek support and advice. In the year ending March 2019, NAPAC received 4,064 calls and 63% of those were to report or disclose sexual abuse in childhood.
Sexual abuse support
The Survivors Trust is a large umbrella group that provides support for survivors of sexual abuse. They work with victims of all ages and backgrounds.