Perspectives of Young Sexual Abuse Survivors, Whose Abuse is Unknown to Child Protection Services, about Confidentiality
: A Participatory Study Involving Young Abuse Survivors as Co-researchers

  • Laurie Matthew

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    A systematic narrative literature review explored views of young child sexual abuse (CSA) survivors whose abuse was unknown to authorities, about confidentiality. Due to paucity of research, the review included literature about sexual health service users. Seventeen databases and eleven journals were searched and thirty-three papers were identified. Analysis involved exploratory interpretist approach focusing on emergent themes and methodologies. Findings indicated limited participation and that young people want; (i) confidentiality (ii) control of their lives and (iii) they fear child protection agencies.

    Empirical research then explored views about confidentiality with young CSA survivors whose abuse was unknown to child protection agencies. Eight survivors engaged as co-researchers in participatory action research utilising a mixed methods approach; using surveys, focus groups, online chats, graffiti walls and interviews. One hundred and forty survivors participated. Age range was 11- 30, with 25 males, 114 females and 1 gender neutral. Researchers designed tools, gathered and analysed qualitative and quantitative data using a social construction thematic approach.

    Results found (i) all participants wanted higher confidentiality, with males and under 16’s demanding highest confidentiality (ii) males were reluctant to disclose CSA compared to females (iii) abuse retractions were related to loss of confidentiality (iv) involvement as co-researchers was positive and empowering. With limited confidentiality the identified themes for young people were: fear of consequences, lost control, abuse retractions and protecting abusers. With high confidentiality themes were: talking openly, control, empowerment, exploring options, respect and being believed. Young researchers reported improvement in self-esteem and positive life changes.

    Conclusions: Young CSA survivors whose abuse was unknown to child protection services want higher confidentiality to build trust and be able to talk about abuse; and involvement of young people in participatory research is positive and empowering.

    Recommendations: There appears to be a need for increased confidentiality if young people whose abuse is unknown to child protection services are to disclose their abuse. Further participatory research is needed to explore whether other groups of young people unknown to services report similar and/or different needs.
    Date of Award2019
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorIan Barron (Supervisor) & Ann Hodson (Supervisor)


    • Child sexual abuse
    • Participatory Action Research
    • young people
    • confidentiality
    • child protection

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