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Action needed to raise awareness of consequences of child sexual abuse

At the very time the Jimmy Savile revelations have rightly raised expectations for better protection of children in future, we are deeply concerned that sexual abuse is being allowed to disappear off the statutory radar ("Lessons to be learned", The Herald, January 15).

It seems to have become significantly less of a priority for local authority social work in Scotland.

It has been overshadowed by a higher priority for other types of child maltreatment, particularly neglect and emotional abuse, and by the trend away from allowing social workers time to listen and communicate with clients on issues which require a build-up of trust. That makes it harder for people to raise this difficult issue, and to feel confident they will be taken seriously.

Not only is sexual abuse in itself sexual, physical and emotional abuse, with damaging, distressing long-term consequences for many individuals and families, it has links with many other social problems, including mental ill health, risks of suicide, offending and addictions.

Different types of child maltreatment should not be in competition with each other for resources but approached on the basis of need. Further, we cannot hope investigations into child sexual exploitation in Scotland will be as informed as they can be while basic awareness of child sexual abuse and resources to combat it are diminishing, particularly since victims of both crimes often come from the same client groups. We would also stress the majority (and the most secretive) of sexual abuse is located within families and local communities, among people already known to the children.

We call on the Scottish Government and Scottish local authorities to take active steps to reverse this decline and increase awareness-raising, training and "time for listening" throughout the Scottish social work profession. We ask them to work closely with our child protection committees and voluntary sector agencies to ensure these improvements take place as soon as possible and to resource the voluntary sector adequately to support children and adults who have suffered sexual abuse.

Martin Henry, national manager, Stop it Now Scotland; Laurie Matthew, manager, 18 and Under; Rosina McCrae, director, Say Women; Harriet Dempster; Sarah Nelson, University of Edinburgh; Janine Rennie, chief executive, Open Secret; Ruth Stark, manager, Scottish Association of Social Workers; Anne Houston, chief executive, Children 1st, 83 Whitehouse Load, Edinburgh.

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