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00Nov19d New Report

 Revealed: the truth about child sex abuse in Britain's families

By Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor, 19 November 2000, The Independent News

An inquiry into the sexual abuse of children has revealed that the widespread belief that fathers are chiefly responsible for the most serious of domestic crimes is wrong. Most sexual abuse of children is carried out by their siblings.

The finding, from an investigation by the National Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, is the most comprehensive ever carried out and turns on its head the conventional picture of the sexual exploitation of children. After more than a decade in which adult men have been cast as the villains, the finger of suspicion has switched to their sons.

The survey of 2,869 young people aged 18 to 24 who were asked about their experiences as children, to be published tomorrow, found sibling abuse was twice as common as abuse by a father or stepfather. Among those who reported having sex against their will within the family, or with someone who was five or more years older, 43 per cent said the perpetrator was a brother or stepbrother compared with 19 per cent who named their stepfather and 14 per cent who named their father.

The discovery will trigger a fundamental rethink of the nature of sex abuse in the family and how to deal with it. Although awareness of sibling abuse has been growing for years, the definitive finding in the survey signals the need for a major change in approach.

The sexual abuse of children by children is harder to define than sexual abuse by adults. The NSPCC says abuse involves any sexual act carried out without the consent of one party or where the perpetrator was five or more years older and the victim was under 16.

The acts involved ranged from exposure, voyeurism and genital touching to full intercourse. Evidence from the NSPCC's Midlands team, where 70 young people are referred for treatment each year to the Inappropriate Sexual Behaviour Service, shows the abusers are mainly boys aged 10 to 14 and that their victims are mostly five years younger. Most of the abusers had themselves been victims of abuse.

Kevin Gibbs, project leader, said: "We have to face the fact that physical abuse is one of the most significant causes of sexual aggression in young people."

The NSPCC investigation found one in 100 young people suffered sexual abuse by a parent or carer, nearly always the father or stepfather. Boys were as likely to have been abused as girls and nearly all the abuse involved genital contact.

Three in 100 young people reported having been abused by another relative. Of these, three-quarters were girls who had mostly been abused by male relatives, most often brothers or stepbrothers.

The NSPCC report says that "sexual relations with and between children and young people are hard to define in relation to abuse" and that there are "much-publicised disagreements, such as over the age of consent to sexual intercourse".

However, Dr Eileen Vizard, director of the London Young Abusers Centre and a noted authority on child abuse, said there was a marked difference between normal childhood experimentation of the "I'll show you mine" type and the persistent, compulsive, sexualised behaviour that fails to respond to ordinary social sanctions and demands professional help.

"The majority of children who are sexually abused do not become abusers but some children are so adversely affected by their experiences that they themselves become predatory at an early age," she said.


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