#MyFridayThought: Gender assumptions impact on social care practice

Before I practiced as a a social worker, I was blissfully unaware of the prevalence of child sexual abuse.

It does not appear that I was alone in my naivety until 2012 when reports of Jimmy Saville’s abuse and just how many lives he ruined shocked the nation.

Since this pivotal moment in our history, it has become clear just how little we know about abuse, abusers and how so many people felt that they couldn’t share for fear of not being believed and/or a sense of shame. In 2015, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that:

“Around 3 in 4 victims had not told anyone about the abuse at the time it happened, and the most common reasons cited for not disclosing the abuse were embarrassment or humiliation, or thinking that they would not be believed (ONS, 2016)”

If only one positive can be taken from improved national awareness, is that it might help another person in the future to have the courage to talk about it. However, this might not be the case for all as those who are less likely to share abuse and under represented in the statistics are boys.

“Women were significantly more likely to report that they had suffered any form of abuse asked about during childhood than men (ONS, 2016)”

The under representation of boys is surprising as from my professional experience, I have noted a high number of boys who have been victims of sexual abuse. Contrary to previous popular belief, boys were considered to be ‘safe’ from abuse compared to their female counterparts.

The historical allegations in football currently being investigated via Operation Hydrant; 96% of 784 victims identified as male demonstrates just how predators sadly took advantage of this. Many men in their later life, have only just felt able to speak out after many years of dealing with the emotional impact of this on their personal lives.

My social work course training taught me how to look for signs of sexual abuse rather than helping a child manage the emotional and physical impact on their daily lives. It was not targeted specifically at how everyday gender assumptions might help/hinder our practice.

It can be a challenge for us as service when a great deal of boys are in care and exhibit ‘sexualised behaviour’. We often deal with the high possibility that he might have been sexually abused but we have no real evidence and do not commit to gather evidence from him about it.

The concern is that if no one is comfortable and capable of unpicking his complex history and helping him understand what has happened, there is a high chance that he will take those unexplained feelings into adulthood. It takes a confident colleague to be able to engage a boy who has suffered as it can be viewed as taboo to discuss such delicate subjects openly. We can achieve this in practice, but it needs to be carried out in the service by a colleague who can also gain and maintain their trust.