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Orkney case illustrates the long term impact of childhood sexual abuse, say SASW

A recent BBC interview in which "Esther W", a member of the "W" family at the centre of the 1991 Orkney abuse scandal said she blames herself for not revealing the identity of her abuser shows the lasting impact of childhood abuse, The Scottish Association of Social Work (SASW) has said.

SASW also stressed that social workers must be allowed to properly work with children to ensure they can hear when allegations of abuse are being made so that they can be protected.

The BBC Scotland programme, "Why Esther Kept Quiet", broadcast on 5 September, details the abuse that Esther and her 14 siblings suffered at the hands of her father, which included sexual abuse and sadistic punishments such as being beaten with chains and made to stand in bins full of nettles.

It was during an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse in the "W" family that allegations were made against four other families in the local area.

Commenting on the programme, SASW Manager Ruth Stark MBE, said: "Esther is to be congratulated for the success that she has made of her life, and for her attempts to confront painful experiences through therapy and to try to understand what happened to her and her siblings.

"But in order to understand Esther's recollection of events we also need to revisit the facts and timelines as recorded at the time by other participants as they happened.

"In this case, we also need to be aware that evidence was never heard in relation to the need to protect the children because of the court processes and actions at the time including the presiding Sheriff. These were heavily criticised when the case eventually reached the Court of Session in a very full judgement by Lord Hope, who said the damage the presiding Sheriff did by not allowing the evidence to be heard was "incalculable".

"This evidence may have included medical and forensic evidence which remains unheard. The manner in which information was given by the children, whether willingly or as alleged by hearsay, by interrogation remains untested. Without being in possession of all the facts any judgement made from outside must be treated with caution.

"Like many victims of abuse Esther W has taken on the guilt of others. This is sadly common amongst survivors of childhood abuse, who are left with a horrendous legacy of the abuse of power that such adults inflict on children. This legacy of guilt and shame lives on long after the abuse has ended or the abuser has died, and often results in survivors coming into contact with the criminal justice system and mental health services as they try and cope with their distress.

"Such long term damage is why social workers must be empowered to question children for their own protection, as often they are living in secretive circumstances as adult offenders seek to protect themselves.

"The unhelpful use of the term "Satanic Abuse" did not come from those professionals working directly with the case or from the children. It was a prime example about how emotive language can take the focus away from the need to protect children from abuse.

"Recognising the legacy that Esther and her siblings have been left by their birth family experiences is critical to those of us working to improve how we can protect children from harm. We must also learn that diversion from telling the real story and the long term effects of abuse behind closed doors is another way of perpetrators continuing their power and control over their victims."