A culture of disclosure: Why more young people are speaking out about childhood abuse

This article was written by Gabrielle Shaw, CEO, National Association for People Abused in Childhood. NAPAC is a national, UK charity offering support to adult survivors of all types of childhood abuse, including physical, sexual, emotional abuse or neglect. 


Gabrielle has led NAPAC since April 2015, she is a senior INGO executive with over 16 years’ leadership, policy and strategic decision-making achievements across charity, government and statutory sectors. 



Over the past 18 months, the National Association for People Abused in Childhood has encountered an unprecedented and sustained increase in the number of younger survivors contacting us for support. 


With each passing week more young adults aged 18 and over are calling and emailing to speak out about the abuse they suffered as children. One in three callers to our support line is under the age of 35, up from less than one in five as of September 2019, and those aged under 25 now account for almost one in five (18%) of our website users, an 8% increase from September 2019. 


Granted, it can be difficult to evidence the average time taken to disclose childhood abuse, however, several studies conducted over the past decade indicate that it is likely between 15 and 24 years. 


The Blue Knot foundation’s research into child sexual abuse found that on average it took survivors 24 years to disclose, whilst a 2016 study from Steine et al concluded this figure to be between 17 and 24 years. Even in a relatively small cohort of 18-24 year olds, the NSPCC estimated it took more than seven years for them to speak out about sexual abuse


Though the subject matter is difficult and the statistics overwhelming, I am heartened that our data indicates survivors are disclosing earlier in life. This will enable them to work through their trauma and begin recovery at a younger age. 


But the question remains, why are we seeing this shift now? 


Below I have outlined some of the possible reasons behind the increase in young people speaking out about childhood abuse.



Lockdown: Reflection and Isolation


Devoid of the usual distractions of everyday life, lockdown for many provided a forced period of reflection. 


In the case of survivors, the prolonged period of isolation may have led to them confronting their past abuse. It is no coincidence that Bessel van der Kolk’s revolutionary book on trauma, ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ has spent the last 54 weeks on the New York Times’s bestseller list, indicating that practitioners, survivors and the general public are seeking to better understand the treatment of trauma.


As a direct result of stringent UK lockdown restrictions, between April and June 2020, the National Domestic Abuse Helpline experienced a 65% increase in calls, compared to the previous three months. It is logical then, to suggest that younger survivors still living near their abusers at this time may have felt the need to report the abuse under the strain of a sustained period sharing a home with their abuser. 


The other side of this coin is that those living away from their abusers, for example, in a university setting, will have had breathing room to reflect on past trauma, possibly with better access to support than they would have had at home. 



The kids are alright: Millennials and Gen-Z pushing mental health reform


Although often wrongly criticised for their ‘snowflake’ attitudes, over the past decade young people have contributed significantly to the creation of a culture in which mental health is openly discussed. 


Movements such as the FA’s ‘Heads up’ campaign, Young Minds’ ‘Wise Up’ campaign and the birth of the Movember foundation have made huge strides in removing the taboo around talking about mental health. Now, this ceremonial elimination of the taboo is shifting to incorporate survivors of abuse, childhood or otherwise. 


At the time of writing there are almost 55,000 testimonies from survivors on the Everyone’s Invited page. There is no doubt in my mind that the incredible work from Soma Sara, who instigated Everyone’s Invited, is one of the driving forces behind the higher rates of young adults disclosing abuse, and a positively evolving attitude to the discussion and treatment of childhood abuse. 


The increasing numbers of younger survivors disclosing abuse is a sign of progress, and though the ramifications of the lockdown and improving societal attitudes to mental health have led to increased disclosures amongst young people, there is still much work to be done in ensuring that all survivors are given the support they need.




  • Letter calling for urgent review of Free School Meals sent to PM Boris Johnson  


  • The letter has been signed by Marcus Rashford, Jamie Oliver, Dame Emma Thompson, Tom Kerridge, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and over 40 major NGO’s, Charities and Educational Leaders 


  • This follows the call from the Food Foundation for Government to act urgently to protect the 4 million children living in poverty in the UK many of whom are not currently receiving Free School Meals 


  • 2.3 million children experienced food insecurity and during the 2020 summer holidays 850,000 children reported that they or their families visited a food bank (Food Foundation) 



Link to Letter 


In light of recent developments on current food provision for Free School Meal pupils during Covid-19 school closure, a letter signed by Marcus Rashford MBE, Jamie Oliver, Dame Emma Thompson, Tom Kerridge, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and over 40 NGOs, Charities and Education Leaders has today been sent to Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling on the Government to conduct an urgent comprehensive review into Free School Meal policy across the UK to feed into the next Spending Review.  


The letter coordinated by the Food Foundation details the main areas the review should cover: 
It needs to: 

  1. Review the current eligibility thresholds for Free School Meals across all four nations to eliminate disparities and to explore whether disadvantaged children are being excluded in line with National Food Strategy recommendation. The ongoing eligibility for children with No Recourse to Public Funds should be considered explicitly.  
  2. Urgently consider how funding for Free School Meals can deliver the biggest nutritional and educational impact, supporting children’s learning and well-being throughout the school day and during the school holidays (including breakfast provision and the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme). This should include whether the current allowance for Free School Meals is adequate and whether funding for national breakfasts adequately covers all who would benefit from access to provision. 
  3. Explore how schools can be supported to deliver the best quality school meals which adhere to school food standards and which ensure the poorest children receive the best possible offer, including by introducing mandatory monitoring and evaluation on an ongoing basis of Free School Meal take-up, the quality/nutritional adequacy of meals, and how the financial transparency of the current system can be improved. 
  4. Consider what we have learned from Covid-19 and its impact on children in low-income families and the implications of this for school food policy for the next 5 years, as the country recovers. 
  5. Consider how existing school food programmes (such as Free School Meals, holiday and breakfast provision) can eliminate experiences of stigma for the poorest students. Review the impact that Universal Infant Free School Meals has had on stigma, health and education.  
  6. Consider the role of family income (wages and benefits) in enabling families to afford quality food in and outside of school time and during the holidays with choice and dignity.  

The process should involve input from all the devolved nations and done in consultation with children and young people, as well as teachers, charities, NGOs, frontline catering staff and school meals service providers. It should draw on evidence of food insecurity and health inequalities.   





Marcus Rashford MBE 
Jamie Oliver MBE 
Dame Emma Thompson 
Tom Kerridge 
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall 


Civil Society, Professional Bodies and Industry 

Anna Taylor OBE, Executive Director, Food Foundation 
Stephanie Slater, Founder/CEO, School Food Matters 
Naomi Duncan, Chief Executive, Chefs in Schools 
Mark Russell, Chief Executive, The Children Society 
Barbara Crowther, Coordinator, Children’s Food Campaign 
Paul Wright, Lead, Children’s First Alliance  
Andrew Forsey, CEO, Feeding Britain  
Rob Percival, Head of Policy, Soil Association 
Mark Game, CEO, The Bread and Butter Thing 
Clara Widdison, Head of Social Inclusion, Mayor’s Fund for London 
Stephen Forster, National Chair, LACA The School Food People 
Peter McGrath, Operational Director, Meals & More 
Bill Scott, Chair Poverty and Inequality Commission  
Lindsay Graham, Vice Chair Poverty and Inequality Commission 
Sabine Goodwin, Coordinator, Independent Food Aid Network UK 
Kieron Boyle, Chief Executive, Impact on Urban Health  
Sam Butters and Gina Cicerone, Co-CEOs, The Fair Education Alliance 
Melissa Green, General Secretary of the WI 
Jayne Jones, National Chair, ASSIST FM 
Alysa Remtulla, Head of Policy and Campaigns, Magic Breakfast 
Thomas Lawson, Chief Executive, Turn2Us  
Joseph Howes, Chief Executive, Buttle UK 
Graham Whitham, Director, Greater Manchester Poverty Action 
Judith Cavanagh, Coordinator, End Child Poverty Coalition 
Andy Elvin, CEO, TACT 
Irene Audain MBE, Chief Executive, Scottish Out of School Care Network 
Cara Cinnamon, CEO, Khulisa UK 
Dr. Nick Owen MBEC EO, The Mighty Creatives 
Joseph Howes, Chief Executive, Buttle UK 
Dr Wanda Wyporska, Executive Director, The Equality Trust 
Satwat Rehman, CEO, One Parent Families Scotland 
Claire Donovan, Campaigns Manager, End Furniture Poverty 
David Holmes CBE, CEO, Family Action 
Paddy Lillis, General Secretary, USDAW 
Alison Garnham, Chief Executive, Child Poverty Action Group  
James Toop, CEO, Biteback2030 
Jess McQuail, Director, Just Fair 
Sue Tanner, Oxford & District Action on Child Poverty, Chair of the Board of Trustees, Rose Hill & Donnington Advice Centre, Oxford 
Barbara Crowther, Coordinator, Children’s Food Campaign 
Jo Whitfield, CEO, Coop Retail 

Health Bodies  
Dr Max Davie, Officer for Health Improvement, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health 
Diane Ashby, Change Programme Director, The British Psychological Society 
Dr Ruth Allen, CEO, British Association of Social Workers 

Education Leaders 
Geoff Barton, General Secretary, Association of School and College Leaders.  
Emyr Fairburn, Headteacher, King’s Cross Academy 
Julian Drinkall, CEO, Academies Enterprise Trust 
Steve Taylor, CEO, Cabot Learning Federation  
Chris Tomlinson, CEO Co-op Academies Trust  
Catherine Barr, CEO, The Shared Learning Trust  
Susan Douglas, CEO, The Eden Academy Trust  
Elizabeth Wolverson OBE, Chief Executive, LDBS Academies Trusts (LAT and LAT2) 
Emma Knights OBE, Chief Executive, National Governance Association 
Louise Johns-Shepherd, Chief Executive, Centre for Literacy in Primary Education 
Russell Hobby, CEO, Teach First  


Anna Taylor, Executive Director Food Foundation said:  ‘How our country’s most needy children are fed should be a top government priority.  School food has lurched from one crisis to another in the last few months. It’s time for a root and branch review to put in place the provision needed and help our children recover from the tragedy which this pandemic has inflicted.’