Truth Project inviting members to get involved in survey around protected characteristics and child sexual abuse

The Truth Project is working to provide a safe and inclusive space for victims or survivors of child sexual abuse to engage with an independent inquiry.

The Inquiry’s Forum currently has over 1000 members from a diverse range of backgrounds. All members are victims or survivors of child sexual abuse. 

Dedicated to providing an area for people to discuss their experience, whilst contributing to policy and research work, the Forum provides an opportunity to engage with the Inquiry.

At present, the Forum is inviting members to share their views and opinions on protected characteristic that affect experiences. By participating, you will be providing invaluable support and information to this ongoing campaign.     

Kit Shellam is a member of the Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. This is his story, in his words.

TW: discussions of child sexual abuse

The nine protected characteristics listed are embedded in law across England and Wales:

1. Age 2. Disability 3. Gender reassignment 4. Marriage and civil partnership 5. Pregnancy and maternity 6. Race 7. Religion or belief 8. Sex 9. Sexual orientation.

Whether we possess one or several of the protected characteristics listed above, equality legislation is there to protect us from discrimination, either direct or indirect, harassment or victimisation. Put simply, it helps to ensure that we’re not treated less favourably – and we shouldn’t be.

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

I can lay claim to a few protected characteristics but I will concentrate on just one that has been with me since the day I was born. I am a person with disabilities. 

Having a disability or a serious health problem affects seven percent of children in England and Wales, and amongst working age adults, almost one in five have a disability. 

It therefore comes as no surprise that almost half of child sexual abuse victims and survivors who have attended the Truth Project have identified as having a disability or a long-standing health condition. 

This is often as a consequence of the enduring impacts of childhood sexual abuse and other adverse childhood experiences. 

NEGATIVE

I have cerebral palsy (hemiplegia – left side) and l didn’t walk until I was three years old. Whilst life was already an uphill struggle for me, I didn’t get much of a chance to find out; within a few years I was targeted, and my sexually abusive childhood began. 

I remember as a young boy having horrible words thrown at me because I have a disability, words which have come to mean an incompetent or uncoordinated person. 

Even though it would be considered a hate crime today, this name calling though was the least of my concerns. 

Why? because at just six and a half years old I began to suffer life changing sexual abuse for the first time. At that age I had no language to describe or speak of what was happening to me. This sexual abuse would continue, alongside physical cruelty, neglect and deprivation, for many years. 

INCREASE

The elephant in the room for me has always been whether my disability increased the likelihood of being sexually abused. I am of the firm belief that it did.

I was always in need of extra help with washing, bathing as well as other daily support. My personal care was taken up with eagerness by someone who entered the family circle. 

My disability left me vulnerable to the first sexual perpetrator to enter my already difficult little life. In those days, there was no such notion of a human characteristic being protected. 

Living out in the sticks meant my life chances were already set very low. I didn’t count, I didn’t matter and I was always unheard. 

PROTECTED

However, if my disability had been a protected characteristic at the time would it have made a difference? 

If the professionals who entered and departed my life had been competent in child protection and safeguarding, I may not have had to suffer for so long. All the signs were there and anyone could see I was defeated, withdrawn, angry and difficult to communicate with. 

No one ever questioned what the real dynamics were within my family. No one joined the dots to see what was happening to me in plain sight. 

My abusive childhood has affected my physical and mental health throughout my adult life, and I manage this each day. I have grown to become so much more than my protected characteristics and the negative impact of sexual abuse I had to deal with as a child. 

It’s important that protected characteristics are enshrined in statute; without them, the struggle to achieve parity with others would be nigh on impossible.

However, whilst the playing field may be levelling out, there is still progress to be made. It is important survivors’ voices are heard along the way.

Support and further information is available from the Truth Project. You can register and find out more about the forum by visiting this website.