Children’s Commissioner: Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in the Family Environment 2015

Intrafamilial child sexual abuse can be perpetrated by people from a range of relationships: parents; stepparents; siblings; step-siblings; cousins; grandparents; aunts and uncles; nephews and nieces. Parker and Parker (1986) estimate that one in twenty women have experienced father-daughter incest. In Newman, Lubell and Peterson’s (1998) study of 68 self-identified adult female survivors of incest it was found that the most commonly reported perpetrator of incest was the natural father being the abuser (47%); brother (31%), mother (18%) and stepfather (9%). 

Fig 1. Relationships within the definition of ‘child sexual abuse in the family environment’

*Please note, all images are clickable

Fig 2.  Survivor survey - perpetrator identity

It is not possible to provide a detailed list of the relationship between victim and perpetrator in child sexual abuse in the family environment cases using Police data, though responses to the survivor survey demonstrate that ‘male family friends’ were the most frequent abuser. 

This category is perhaps more distant to the victim/survivor than close family members, though the definition of child sexual abuse in the family environment adopted for  the purposes of this Inquiry includes individuals whose relationship to the victim is mediated by the family. This includes family friends.  ‘Father’ was the next most frequent response, followed by ‘uncle’, ‘brother’ and ‘stepfather’. In total, ‘mother’ formed a small group of identified perpetrators.

The REA found that the natural father and siblings are the most commonly cited perpetrator in research on intra-familial abuse, though ‘family friend’ is not included in the definitions of ‘intra-familial’ used in these studies.


Fig 3. - Survivor survey - age when survivor became aware of the abuse abuse 

Fig 4.  Barriers against Speaking out

All forms of qualitative evidence gathered by the Commissioner has highlighted a number of barriers to telling, including:

• Self-blame: victims may feel that they have in some way caused the sexual abuse. This may be a result of grooming.

• Guilt and fear of the consequences: in addition to selfblame, victims may perceive that telling someone will cause family breakdown or will upset someone, for which they will feel guilt. Loyalty to other family members is therefore a barrier to telling.

• Fear of the perpetrator: perpetrators may appear threatening, and may threaten victims to prevent them from accessing help.

• Being judged: a belief that others will hold the victim responsible, or that they will be stigmatised.

• A lack of opportunities to tell someone: children may want to or try to tell someone, but they do not have an opportunity at the right time, in the right place and with the right person.

• A distrust of professionals: children may be concerned by the outcome of telling, including the possibility of being taken into care or something else.


Victims may fear the breakdown of the family, and take responsibility for preventing the shame which they perceive would be felt by other family members if the abuse was discovered. Shame may also act as a barrier to accessing services for help. A fear of stigmatisation and being the subject of gossip or bullying at school or in the community was also cited as a barrier to initial telling. This was particularly evident in the focus groups, as well as the survivor survey.  Survivor survey respondents also reported a number of barriers to telling anyone about the abuse they had experienced. Most reported feelings of fear (408), shame/guilt (405), and an over-riding desire not to upset other family members (391).


Fig 5.   Survivor survey demographics

Fig 6. Data collection - Victim ethnic background

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