The purpose of this paper is to present the findings of a study of support received by 60 young adults who experienced sexual, physical or emotional abuse and neglect in childhood. It is focussed on the support provided by friends in particular, and draws out relevant learning for child sexual exploitation (CSE).
In all, 60 young people completed a questionnaire, complemented by a two hour follow-up interview to explore experiences of formal and informal support in disclosing abuse. In total, 13 young people were recruited on the basis of their prior participation in a larger, associated study of child abuse and neglect, with the remainder recruited via open invitation.
There is rich information in the interviews about the ways that friends provided support to participants. Friends provided practical, moral and emotional support. They intervened to keep their friends safe. They offered emotional “escape” and a conduit to adults who could help keep them safe. Importantly, friends recognised that participants were in distress even when they did not know the participants were being abused.
The results highlight that friends have a crucial role to play in helping children to keep safe and to feel safe, provided that they are equipped with information and knowledge of how to respond and where to seek help.
The paper is original in considering the role of friends within a community safety framework. In addition, the study sample is larger than other studies of its kind, and considers a wider variety of child maltreatment experiences than previous studies, making clear links to CSE.
The research was fully funded by and carried out on behalf of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (the NSPCC) as part of the author’s responsibilities when she was employed by the organisation.
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