Children have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic already, and the lockdown conditions have exacerbated conditions for cases of child sexual abuse. The true size of additional child sexual abuse cases in children are unknown and unmeasured. Furthermore, key predictors for the maltreatment of children are exacerbated – the economy is shrinking, increase in domestic abuse, and poverty is rife.
Lockdown has provided conditions for confinement with potential abusers, in which externals have a reduced monitoring role of children. Schools have been kept at a distance; social workers have reduced access; friends, extended family and neighbours have all been kept at a distance. This builds silos of children at risk of abuse.
Child sexual abuse is not only a moral evil in itself, but leads to long term effects for the child. A high proportion of survivors end up with long term mental health conditions, 38% with PTSD and over 50% have suicidal thoughts. Disruption during childhood leads to impacts on schooling, which sets back the life chances for the child. It impacts how children are able to trust, to deal with stress, view themselves, and use substances. Combined, this has broader impacts on the economy, with an estimated annual cost of £3bn.
Concerningly, child sexual abuse referrals are reported to have shrunk during the pandemic.
There is an added challenge with increased risk of cases in ethnic minority groups. This pandemic has already demonstrated a disconnect with ethnic minority groups, with handling alienating minority communities. The negative effects of the pandemic have affected minority groups disproportionately too, like poverty and covid effects: the proven stressors in parents for child sexual abuse cases. There are additional barriers in ethnic minority groups around disclosure. Additional cultural stigma around child sexual abuse generates extra barriers to disclosing and getting the necessary support.