Sexual maltreatment of unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors from the Horn of Africa: a mixed method study focusing on vulnerability and prevention

Child Abuse Negl. 2009 Oct;33(10):728-38. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2009.05.003. Epub 2009 Oct 9.


Objectives: The study described in this paper sought to identify the social, cultural, and political factors that effect African unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors' (UASM) vulnerability to sexual maltreatment in England. It aimed to illuminate how child protection measures could be strengthened for this highly marginalized group.

Methods: A mixed method approach was used. Former UASM from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia who had been sexually maltreated in the UK were interviewed in-depth. Prior to the interviews they all completed a questionnaire which captured their biographical details as well as sensitive but factual information.

Results: Of the 53 (N=53) former UASM who participated in the study only 2 were males. Most arrived in the UK aged 15-17. A range of sexual maltreatment, from sexual harassment to rape was reported. Three quarters experienced more than 1 incident. Most initial incidents happened in the first 12 months of their arrival in the UK. Two perpetrators were female carers. Many participants reported being groomed and sexually maltreated by people from their own country. Many described being seriously sexually maltreated, particularly by groups of young males living in the same accommodation or nearby, some reportedly also asylum seekers. Participants that had been warned of the dangers of sexual maltreatment were more likely to both disclose and to seek professional help.

Conclusions: Professionals should assume that UASM will suffer sexual maltreatment in their host country if not protected adequately, which they are unlikely to disclose. They are likely to need more protection from outside sources and help to develop their personal resources than many have received in the past.

Practice implications: Preventative measures include provision of safer environments, ideally single sex housing; more monitoring and supervision; more opportunities to develop trustworthy relationships and have emotional needs met; greater opportunities to develop language skills/access to interpretation; early information regarding the social system, culture, and sexual maltreatment; and improved professional awareness and competence in dealing with minors from other cultures.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Africa / ethnology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Refugees*
  • Sex Offenses / prevention & control*
  • United Kingdom
  • Vulnerable Populations*
  • Young Adult