Talking about child abuse

Talking about child abuse

What methods can we use to get people to begin talking about child abuse?

The challenge

The problem

Statistics will tell you that 1/10 children are sexually abused before they turn 18. The reality is probably much higher, as a majority of people who have experienced child sexual abuse are unlikely to report it and tell anyone. 

There are a number of key issues which prevent offenders being caught early, as well as providing support to victims, and these mostly boil down to communication. Some of the biggest issues include: 

  • Talking about child abuse
  • Making children aware about child abuse
  • Finding someone you can trust to confide in  
  • Getting the right support from charities and authorities 
  • Being aware of the signs of child abuse and communicating the dangers 

I am particularly interested in the discourses surrounding people who experience child abuse in ethnice minority communities, and the specific problems that they can face, including: 

  • More likely to face stigma
  • Less likely to be supported by authorities and charities 
  • Counselling is less tailored to their needs.

Research and Development

  • Method 1: Comic Books

    I made a comic book focusing on my personal experiences with childhood sexual abuse, and the often very difficult and convoluted journey of ‘coming out’. This piece was a finalist for the ‘Laydeez do Comics’ award 2019. 


    Two years of child sex abuse. A decade of silence.

    Thirty-two months after speaking out and one court case later, my extended family finally agree to discuss what happened – and what happens next.

    In this autobiographical zine, a very private conversation is bought to a very public domain. 

    Who is it for? 

    Adults interested in the effects of child abuse. 

    Why does it work?

    • Not a lot of reading involved 
    • Can read privately through the medium of a book 
    • Highlights the visual signs, not just what people verbally communicate

    What could be improved?: 

    Weave more general points into the story, such as who to go to for help and why this is so common. In this way, it is more relatable to people. 


    “It really surprises me that you experienced child abuse because you’re successful. And now I don’t know how I feel about what I just said”

    A friend, 20s.


    The Insights

    People do not equate success and trauma. If someone is perceived to be successful, then they are less likely to be included in conversations about traumatic childhoods. 

  • Method 2: Posters

    A poster of ‘ways to talk to children about child abuse’. The points involve: 

    • Create a comfortable environment: This might not always be at home but must be private
    • Be approachable: This is a serious topic, but the child is not to blame. Make sure there is an open, non-judgemental relationship so the child can confide in you. 
    • Clarify boundaries: A child is sexually aware from as young as two. If they don’t feel comfortable, chances are it’s inappropriate. Help them to see that others have boundaries too. 
    • Make no assumptions: Talk, but also listen. How is the child reacting, and what isn’t being said? An abused child will be used to keeping secret and might not open up straight away. Establish trust. 
    • There might not be signs: Simply put: a child might not be ready to tell you their story. This can take years, and often a child will not show obvious behaviour changes. Talking is key. 
    • Abusers can be anyone – including other children: It’s always happening to someone else – until it isn’t. 90% of abusers know the child – either as a trusted friend or a family member. Children can also play games like ‘doctors’ which could lead to unknowingly inappropriate behaviour. 

    Who is it for? 

    People scrolling through instagram, those looking for some quick nudges about how they can help. 

    Why does it work?

    • Not a lot of reading involved 
    • Friendly design so feels less intimidating 

    What could be improved?: 

    Provide a text copy for those who are visually impaired or use a screen reader so that they are not left out of the conversation. 


    “Thank you for putting such serious information in a friendly style. I think it makes people want to engage with it more.”

    A friend, 20s.


    Method 3: ‘The Secrets worth sharing book’ 

    This book is to help non-abusing adults and teens to have supportive conversations with people who have experienced sexual abuse as a child. I have included stories from others victims and survivors*, as well as guidance from clinical psychologists, councillors and healthcare professionals. Please feel free to read, download and share!


    “I love the drawings of hijabis everywhere, because I never see images of people like me in picture books. This book is beautifully designed and makes me feel heard and seen in a way I wasn’t expecting.”

    Victim of Childhood sexual abuse

  • The Book