Survivor experiences of sharing their testimonies following childhood sexual abuse


The Unbiased Inquiry into Youngster Sexual Abuse was established in 2015 to analyze “whether or not public our bodies and different non-state establishments have taken critically their accountability to guard kids from sexual abuse in England and Wales, and to make significant suggestions for change, to make sure that kids now and sooner or later are higher shielded from sexual abuse” (Fisher C. et al., 2017).

The Reality Venture was a core a part of the Inquiry, aiming to “think about the experiences of survivors of kid sexual abuse, offering alternatives to them to bear witness” (IICSA 2023). Between 2016 and 2021, over 6,000 grownup victims and survivors shared their experiences with the Reality Venture (Barker C. et al. 2023). Their testimonies have been used to develop suggestions to stop abuse sooner or later and enhance institutional responses.

A trauma-informed method was developed to help folks participating within the venture. This included, for instance, aiming to empower victims and survivors of their interactions with the Inquiry, and prioritising the protection and well-being of victims and survivors to stop re-traumatisation. As a part of this, individuals might opt-in to a variety of help classes with counsellors and help employees, each earlier than and after giving their testimony.

The Reality Venture crew wished to know the way profitable that they had been in assembly the wants of survivors and minimising hurt. In addition they wished particularly to know whether or not and the way their trauma-informed method had been useful.

two people sat across a white table by a window, with white coffee cups in hand

The Reality Venture aimed to listen to the testimonies of abuse survivors while providing trauma-informed help. The authors wished to know whether or not they had efficiently met the wants of the survivors and minimised hurt.


The Reality Venture individuals have been requested to finish a survey and price the extent to which the Venture had:

  1. enabled them to really feel empowered
  2. handled them as a person
  3. acted in a reliable means
  4. averted retraumatisation, and
  5. created a protected setting for them.

They gave examples of every of the above, and a few individuals have been additionally requested to participate in follow-up interviews to grasp their experiences in additional depth.


Sixty-six individuals accomplished the survey. Twelve of those have been requested to participate in a follow-up interview, of whom seven did so.

Two of each 5 individuals mentioned that participating within the Reality Venture had triggered them to re-experience trauma, while one in three individuals mentioned it had not triggered them to re-experience trauma. The remaining individuals didn’t reply this query. Nonetheless, in additional explaining their solutions in additional element, a variety of individuals clarified that, while recounting their traumatic experiences had been distressing, and had in some instances led them to expertise flashbacks and worsened psychological well being, this was normally short-term and seen as value enduring for the possibility to have their voices heard.

Members largely mentioned that their experiences of the Reality Venture had aligned with the ideas of trauma-informed care. As an example, 85% felt the Venture acknowledged their particular person expertise of abuse, 85% of individuals reported discovering the Venture reliable, 79% of individuals reported feeling empowered to make choices, 68% reported feeling protected “the entire time” when partaking with the Venture and 29% reported feeling protected “more often than not.” Examples of the varieties of experiences that had helped them really feel this manner included not needing to repeat their story to numerous folks if they didn’t wish to, clear communication and predictability, sustaining confidentiality, feeling heard and believed, feeling that that they had selection and management over issues like assembly dates and employees gender, and receiving empathy, help and a scarcity of judgement from employees.

The authors said that almost all of detrimental experiences associated to the next referrals to the police reasonably than the Venture itself, which individuals discovered anxiety-provoking, distressing and disempowering. The authors additionally described the experiences of 11 individuals who mentioned they wanted longer-term help following participating, and 4 who mentioned that they had skilled long-term detrimental results from participation by way of worsened psychological well being.

an orange round life buoy hangs on a white wall

Members reported that participating within the Reality Venture could possibly be distressing, however this was normally short-term, and individuals largely felt acknowledged, empowered, protected, and capable of belief the employees.


The authors concluded that:

most individuals within the research pattern discovered the trauma-informed method addressed their wants and whereas there was some proof of longer-term detrimental impacts, this was in a small minority of instances.

They attribute the success of the Venture to its co-design by survivors, who have been capable of give detailed suggestions on meet individuals’ wants and minimise hurt. The authors argue that the success of the Venture challenges the idea that asking survivors to share their tales is simply too damaging and distressing, exhibiting as a substitute that this may be accomplished efficiently if a protected and supportive setting is created the place perception, validation and dignity are prioritised.

Two books lie open on a table, one has printed text on it, the other is a notebook with hand written notes.

The Reality Venture challenges the idea that asking survivors to share their tales is simply too damaging and distressing. This research demonstrates as a substitute that this may be accomplished efficiently if a protected and supportive setting is created.

Strengths and limitations

The researchers have been clear that they used a theory-driven method to the evaluation of the survey and interview responses, basing their evaluation across the ideas of the trauma-informed method used within the Venture. This was in line with their goal to evaluate the extent to which the Venture had met the goals of their trauma-informed mannequin. Moreover, the authors described taking a variety of steps to make sure their evaluation was rigorous and reliable, together with a reflexive audit path of resolution making, analysis supervision, illustrating their findings with quotes from individuals, and analysing the complete information set earlier than creating themes.

Sadly, the researchers have been solely capable of survey 66 of the over 6,000 people who took half within the Venture, i.e. simply over 1%. Members have been recruited particularly from the Inquiry’s Victims and Survivors Discussion board, a discussion board established by the Inquiry of individuals keen to be concerned in advising numerous initiatives. So already these have been a bunch of people that have been motivated to be extra actively concerned in shaping the Inquiry than the remainder of the Venture individuals. Due to this fact we can not make sure that their experiences have been consultant of the remainder of the individuals.

For the follow-up interviews, it’s a little hazy how researchers determined who to ask (folks they thought would give “additional wealthy information”), they usually weren’t capable of meet their goals of interviewing an ethnically various vary of individuals.

The authors additionally acknowledge that the researchers have been concerned in implementing the Reality Venture and due to this fact weren’t unbiased of it, which might have influenced their interpretation of survey and interview information. It will have been useful to complement this reflection with additional reflexive insights, for instance how the demographic traits, prior experiences and beliefs of the researchers might have influenced their interpretation of the information.

A multicoloured pie chart, a hand picks up a light blue piece of the pie chart and lifts it away.

Solely a tiny fraction of the Reality Venture individuals, simply over 1%, have been included on this analysis research, so we can’t be assured that their experiences mirror the broader image.

Implications for apply

The findings problem the concept sharing testimonies about youngster sexual abuse is dangerous for survivors. As a substitute, they counsel that participating in youngster sexual abuse enquiries can probably be a part of the therapeutic course of for individuals, via enabling them to really feel empowered, protected, heard and believed, and that trauma-informed approaches could be a great way of attaining this. Additional, survivor involvement in co-designing trauma-informed approaches was emphasised as essential for his or her success.

Nonetheless, while participating in youngster sexual abuse inquiries will be significant and helpful for victims, there may be additionally a danger of misery and potential long run detrimental penalties. Potential individuals ought to be warned about these dangers earlier than they agree to participate and people designing inquiries ought to guarantee acceptable comply with up care is out there.

Lastly, the enquiry highlighted the contrasting lack of trauma-informed method taken by organisations such because the police. As a substitute, survivors felt distressed and disempowered by their interactions with police. In studying this I used to be reminded of associates of mine who’re abuse survivors, who’ve advised me they’d by no means go to the police as they may not deal with the misery entailed and don’t belief that any optimistic outcomes would end result. I’m additionally reminded of the all too frequent accounts of survivors being disbelieved by police and the completely devastating and in some instances deadly penalties for his or her self-concept and psychological well being. The shameful statistics on the tiny proportion of rape allegations that lead to a conviction additionally bear witness to the tradition of disbelief and sufferer undermining that blights our felony justice system (Hohl, Ok, 2022). The Reality Venture was not good and nor did it achieve attaining zero hurt; nonetheless, organisations just like the police have so much to study from its trauma-informed method to survivor empowerment.

The blue light of a police car shines in front of blurred city lights.

Trauma-informed enquiries will be a part of the therapeutic course of for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The police and felony justice system have so much to study from this.

Assertion of pursuits

None to declare.


Main paper

Barker, C., Ford, S., Eglinton, R., Quail, S., & Taggart, D. (2023). The reality venture paper one—how did victims and survivors expertise participation? Addressing epistemic relational inequality within the area of kid sexual abuse. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 14, 1128451.

Take heed to one of many authors (Daniel Taggart) of this paper talking on The Psychological Elf podcast earlier than his keynote discuss on the #BIGSPD23 convention in Glasgow.

Look again at our dwell tweeting of Daniel Taggart’s keynote discuss at #BIGSPD23.

Different references

Fisher C, Goldsmith A, Hurcombe R, Soares C. The impacts of kid sexual abuse: a fast proof evaluation. IICSA Analysis Crew: Unbiased Inquiry into Youngster Intercourse Abuse. (2017) Obtainable at: with/10547/624859

Hohl, Ok. New scorecards present underneath 1% of reported rapes result in conviction – criminologist explains why England’s justice system continues to fail.

Unbiased Inquiry into Childhood Sexual Abuse. Phrases of reference. (2023). Obtainable at:

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