Victims and survivors at the heart of inquiry's legacy
Wednesday, August 3, 2022
Sheryl* says “I wish I had the courage to speak up sooner. The more people tell their stories the more awareness there will be.”
Sheryl is just one of more than 6,000 courageous victims and survivors of child sexual abuse who shared their experience with the Inquiry’s Truth Project. Her powerful words resonate with me; if we are to tackle child sexual abuse, we need to listen to, and learn from, victims and survivors’ experiences.
This month, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is launching its Legacy Project, commemorating that bravery and paying tribute to the thousands of victims and survivors who have helped pave the way for change to protect future generations of children. Throughout England and Wales, benches and plaques will be placed at up to 200 locations, inscribed with hopeful messages gathered directly from victims and survivors who have taken part in the Inquiry’s Truth Project. Each message has been chosen to spark conversation or prompt reflection, assuring victims and survivors they have been, and will continue to be, heard.
While it’s clear that a lot of progress has been made about awareness of child sexual abuse, there’s still a long way to go. That’s why we wanted to create a legacy that will be around long after the Inquiry has concluded, to support lasting change for decades to come after the publication of our Final Report later this year. Benches and plaques will form part of a long-standing, easily accessible legacy located in gardens, parks, towns and other public spaces.
Across society, child sexual abuse (CSA) is still commonly considered a taboo subject - something people instinctively shy away from, close their ears to, or turn the page when faced with it in the media. While awareness and understanding has definitely grown over recent years, mainly thanks to public movements like #MeToo and Everyone’s Invited, the subject remains shrouded in silence. The failure to talk about CSA not only affects public perception of its devastating extent and often lifelong impact, but even more so, it affects those who want to come forward. These effects can be illustrated by participants in the Truth Project; for one in 10 victims and survivors who spoke to us, this was the first time they had told anyone about the abuse they suffered.
For six years, the Truth Project provided victims and survivors with an opportunity to share their experiences and make suggestions for change. In person, in writing, via video call and over the phone, victims and survivors courageously told us about their experiences and offered us suggestions that might help protect future generations.
Keyleigh* says “Ignorance and silence enable abuse. Not talking about it doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Education and conversation about abuse can help change that.”
Though the Inquiry’s work has already contributed to a shift in attitudes around child sexual abuse, we know that having open and honest discussions is key to supporting culture change and building understanding around the subject. Through the Legacy Project we hope to create an environment where victims and survivors feel better supported to talk about their experiences.
For help and support, you can access information on a range of organisations signposted on our support page.
Kit Shellam is a member of the Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse
*All names and identifying details of victims and survivors that took part in the Truth Project have been changed.