Giving victims of child sexual abuse a voice to be heard

  • Date

    Thu 11 Feb 21

Man walking along street

Essex academic Dr Danny Taggart is carrying out a key role in a major inquiry offering victims of child sexual abuse the chance to share their experiences and be heard with respect.

As the Clinical Lead for the Truth Project, Dr Taggart’s role involves helping to ensure adult survivors in contact with the Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse are supported in a way which acknowledges the trauma they have suffered and minimises causing further harm.

“The people who come to the Truth Project come from all walks of life and are ordinary people who have also suffered an unusually damaging crime or series of crimes,” explained Dr Taggart. “Many of these survivors have been let down in the past when they tried to tell those in authority about their abuse and have been ignored. The Truth Project offers a different type of opportunity to be finally heard, believed, have their experiences taken seriously and also to make an important contribution to a public inquiry that will lead to social changes.”

So far over 5,000 people have shared their experiences via the safe and respectful forum of the Truth Project, making this the largest example of public participation in an inquiry in UK history. Participants have shared details about the abuse they suffered, the impact this has had on them and the recommendations for change they would like to see in the future.

Dr Taggart, who is a Clinical Psychologist based in the School of Health and Social Care, explained: “Many Truth Project participants say their contribution to the inquiry marks an important point in their journey and they found the whole experience to be validating and empowering. We recognise that these adult survivors are taking a risk contacting the Inquiry, as many have been let down by institutions in the past. Our job is to ensure they are treated differently.

“They are motivated by a range of factors, but the two that we hear often are a desire to be 'heard and believed' and a desire to make a contribution so that future generations of children will be safer.”

"I would like the inquiry's legacy to be changing how society looks at survivors of sexual abuse and us taking collective responsibility for their welfare."
Dr Danny Taggart clinical psychologist

Some of the survivors have complex health and social needs and Dr Taggart’s role involves leading a team of psychologists, counsellors and psychotherapists, offering consultation and training to other staff at the inquiry into how to work with people with trauma histories effectively.

He also works closely with the inquiry's Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel - a group of survivors and activists who are working together to ensure survivor perspectives are at the heart of the inquiry's decision making.

One of Dr Taggart’s hopes from the inquiry is for a better understanding of survivors of child sexual abuse and how the abuse is often behind why many struggle in daily life. Many survivors tried to tell people in authority about their abuse but were ignored, so now have an inherent lack of trust in authority. For example a recent study co-authored by Dr Taggart makes links between parents whose children are in the Child Protection system and the parent’s own trauma histories. He suggests that this childhood trauma is one of the reasons that some parents struggle to engage with professionals and institutions.

“Child sexual abuse is a dreadful, disturbing crime with horrible consequences for victims and it is an area that most of our society would understandably rather not think about,” said Dr Taggart. “Part of the reason this inquiry was so badly needed was that for so many decades our public bodies and institutions of state had turned a blind eye to people in powerful positions sexually abusing children. The inquiry is trying to do the opposite, to step in and look closely at the institutional failings that allow our children to be sexually abused.”

In many areas of society, survivors face stigma and discrimination and often have difficulties in getting appropriate treatment for their trauma.

“They often fall between the cracks in NHS mental health services and third sector organisations are precariously funded,” explained Dr Taggart. “It is my hope that the contribution of survivors to the Truth Project can lead to changes in these areas. We need to take more care of these victims and understand how living in society can have its challenges. I would like the inquiry’s legacy to be changing how society looks at survivors of sexual abuse and us taking collective responsibility for their welfare.”

The inquiry’s final report is expected in 2022.

More information about the Truth Project is available online.

The Truth Project is unable to offer face-to-face sessions due to COVID-19 regulations. However, it offers confidential sessions via video conference, telephone and in writing. Specialist support is available for anyone who requests it. More information on how to participate in the Truth Project is available online.