A north-east child sexual abuse survivor and MSP has shared her personal experience to raise awareness about the “real appearance” of abusers.
Karen Adam told her story to highlight that sex offenders are “not bogey men under the bed”, but often “unassuming” people who are well-respected in society.
Ms Adam, who was elected to represent Banffshire and Buchan Coast at Holyrood last year, challenged the representation of abusers as “isolated beings” who necessarily stand out from the crowd.
She pointed out that terms such as “predator” and “monster” dismiss the fact the culprits are often members of families, friends or other people known to the victim.
As a victim of child sexual abuse herself, Ms Adam has now stressed the need for more education and awareness about the “dangers walking among us”.
Raising awareness to safeguard children
Speaking to the Press and Journal, she warned that sexual abusers can be hard to identify as they try to blend into society and said: “We have to ensure that children and their parents are aware that this ‘monster’ could be anybody in their lives and often well-respected individuals.
“I remember when I was growing up, I was always warned to be aware of the ‘stranger danger’, and I pictured in my mind some kind of a creepy man with a false moustache and glasses, and a mac. But that isn’t true.
“The people who sexually assaulted me were men, who were well-respected and who were perhaps unassuming to others. In fact, they were even quite charismatic to other people.
“Yes, they are metaphorically monsters for what they do, but they don’t appear as that.
“These predators are in our lives whether we like it or not. They live in families, they are within our friendship circle and we just might not know who they are.
“They are people who walk among us often unseen and it’s really important that we are aware of that if we are to safeguard our children.”
Stigma prevents child sexual abuse survivors from speaking out
However, Ms Adam’s attempt to highlight the “important issue” on social media over the weekend resulted in a heated row with a former party colleague, who accused her of “normalising paedophiles”.
The Alba party’s general secretary Chris McEleny claimed she was an “ideological zealot” who had made an “appalling error in judgment”.
Ms Adam tweeted: “Paedophiles and predators are people. Not bogey men under the bed.
“Not Mac wearing flashers in the street, faceless and nameless.
“They are our family, friends and colleagues. They are not scary monsters. They are people who abuse.
“It’s uncomfortable to humanise them because we then have to face the horrors in plain sight.
“Headlines read ‘daughter’ not ‘paedophile’ to provoke something in us. Not for good purpose.
“But use it. Yes a daughter did do that. Daughters can be capable of doing that. Horrifying isn’t it? Face it and warn our kids.”
This is something that I wished I didn’t have to do but in the course of a few days a tweet I put out has gained a lot of attention, much of which was well received and understood, however, many have deliberately misrepresented my words. So now I’d like to bring clarity… 1/4
— Karen Adam MSP (@KarenAdamMSP) January 2, 2022
In response to the claims, Ms Adam told us that her words were “misconstrued” and “completely taken out of context”, and that such statements are “harmful and stop women from coming forward”.
She added stigma still remains another obstacle for women to speak out, as people find it hard to believe victims if the abuser doesn’t comply with the image of the “predator” and “monster”.
“I think there is quite a lot of taboo around talking about it and there is still stigmatisation towards survivors of child sexual abuse,” she said.
“A lot of people think ‘they don’t look like a paedophile or a predator’ and find it hard to believe children when they come forward.
“Obviously, not everybody can and has to talk about their story and what happened to them. But I think that every time somebody does, it helps other people who have been through that know this isn’t something they should carry alone and that there is help and support out there for them. And that’s really important.”
There are a number of organisations in Scotland dedicated to offering support to children who have been victims of abuse.
More information on what support is available for children and young people can be found on Citizen Advice Scotland’s website.