WHILE recent media coverage has heightened public awareness of child sexual abuse a poll conducted last week by the NSPCC and YouGov shows that fewer than one in five (17 per cent) would report concerns as soon as they arose.
This is supported by the NSPCC’s own findings that almost half of people who contact its helpline have waited over a month to get in touch.
That’s why, in response to the unprecedented surge in willingness to take action, NSPCC Northern Ireland staff are urging the public to pick up the phone and report any concerns they may have about a child.
This supports the launch of the NSPCC’s six week TV campaign explaining how the public can report abuse and ‘Don’t wait until you’re certain’.
Every year, the NSPCC helpline receives thousands of calls from people worried about child sexual abuse, and in Northern Ireland last year, 50 calls were so serious, they had to be referred on to other agencies, like social services or the police, to keep the child safe.
Neil Anderson, national head of service for NSPCC Northern Ireland, said: “Child sexual abuse is not a problem that died with Jimmy Savile. It is a problem that continues today, with children across the UK suffering at the hands of a minority of adults.
“Whilst the uplift in reports of abuse and new figures indicating that people are more willing to speak out is very welcome, it’s also clear that people are still waiting for that elusive certainty before taking action. People clearly have the desire to act but are unsure how or when to do it.
“The truth is you will probably never be certain because of the hidden nature of abuse, especially sexual abuse. And the poll also shows that 59 per cent of people are not confident that they could spot the signs if a child they knew was being sexually abused.
“This is why we are taking our award winning ‘Don’t wait’ film, directed by Amanda Boyle, to a wider audience as a television advert. Originally produced as an online viral the video will now be shown across the country to give people the information they need to report abuse.”
The poll found that the main barriers to reporting child abuse would be fear of being wrong (59 per cent), fear of making it worse for the child (39 per cent), fear of splitting up the child’s family (17 per cent) and fear of repercussions for the accused (17 per cent).
Psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos said: “Jimmy Savile was allowed to abuse in part because people were not certain what they were seeing was abuse, and in part because the children themselves were not listened to or believed. It’s vital that people listen to what children are saying, and that they report concerns immediately even if they are not certain.
“People are understandably concerned about being wrong or making things worse for the child if they say something, but all the time they spend procrastinating that child could be in real danger. To a child who is being abused every day the abuse is allowed to continue can feel like a lifetime.
“And its important people understand that if they are wrong, a family will not be separated because of their mistake. Trained professionals will tactfully investigate before any action is taken. You can’t be expected to know for certain and that’s where the NSPCC can help.”
Monica (not her real name) called the NSPCC when her daughter’s friend confided that her violent father had sexually abused her 13 year old sister: “I knew I had to act. I felt the responsibility of what might happen to the family, but I had to do it.
“I don’t know exactly what happened after that, but I do know that shortly afterwards Emily and her sister no longer lived with their father. Sometime later, I spoke to a neighbour who told me that she had heard something that worried her about father’s behaviour toward the children, but that she had not acted for fear of ‘getting involved’.
“I wouldn’t hesitate to call the NSPCC again if I was worried about a child, even if I wasn’t sure. You have to trust your instincts if something feels wrong. We’ve got an obligation to listen to children.”
Anyone who has concerns about a child or wants advice can contact the NSPCC for free 24 hours a day, by calling 0808 800 5000, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, texting 88858 or using an online reporting form. They can choose to remain anonymous if they wish.