From an outside perspective, I belonged to a middle-class family and lived a happy and fulfilled life. I excelled at school and partook in many extra-curricular activities, such as swimming, piano lessons and ballet. I was the textbook definition of a ‘good child’.
My first recollection of abuse was when I was perhaps five or six years old. My parents were arguing and when I tried to intervene, my mother lashed out and struck me across the face.
The stone of her engagement ring cut my face drawing blood. I vaguely remember being upset, however, what sticks with me is the next day. I was at school and met with questions as to what happened to my face. Instinctively I constructed a lie and told everyone that I had walked into the sharp edge of a door.
What amazes me, is that I was able to lie so quickly and convincingly at such a young age. I do not even remember my mother telling me to lie, I just know that felt as if I should.
As I grew older and my mother’s ability to control me diminished, her abuse developed.
There was one time where I truly feared for my life. I do not remember the cause for her distress, however, she became so enraged that she reached for a wooden statue of a seahorse that was in our hallway, and lifted her arm high up to strike me with it. At that moment, I saw her pupils shrink and her face was screwed up in extreme torment. I thought that if she hit me with that statue, I would probably die.
I froze in panic and said nothing. I think my passive reaction caused her to snap out of what I assume was a dissociative state. She changed her mind and she dropped the statue.
Another time, she had kicked my legs so I was sat on the floor and she was slamming my head into the wall. I kicked my legs out towards her and struck her in the chest, hoping to get her away from me. She cried out in pain and began crying, berating me for being abusive and hurting her. The problem with her was that she never thought logically and that situation then became one where I hurt her, regardless of the fact that she had just been assaulting me previously.
Many people have often questioned why myself or my father never spoke out and told anyone about the abuse that we faced. The answer is a complex one, yet it can be simplified to the fact that when you are subjected to abuse for the majority of your life, it can become normalised.
I understood what my mother did was wrong, however, I never believed that it was bad enough to speak out. The other reason is due to embarrassment. The trouble with abuse is the victim often feels ashamed, even though the shame should be entirely on the abuser.
I could not let my friends or teachers know what was happening, yet at the same time, I dreamed that they would somehow know and save me from the horrors that I faced.
When I recall the years of abuse that I faced, I think the emotional abuse affected me much greater than the physical. I did not like to be hit, however, I would’ve chosen that over the alternative, which was the punishment of humiliation.
She achieved this in various ways, such as locking me outside of the front of the house, forcing me to sit outside knowing the neighbours could see me. Another method would be to text my friends shameful and embarrassing messages from my phone, knowing that I would have to pretend it was me, as I could not explain that my mother would do such a thing.
Towards the end, as I neared adolescence, I became really upset with my situation. My mother and father had separated, due to her forcing him to leave, and her distress caused by the dissolution of marriage was taken out on me.
As her mental health spiralled, the emotional abuse and screaming became more frequent. I was nearing the age of taking exams as a sixteen-year-old girl, and I was tired of juggling my school work, with having to look after my mother who was out of control.
I would often have sleepless nights due to her making me sleep on the floor in a cold room as a punishment, or keeping me up by shouting at me for some trivial mistake that I had made. I then became desperate for my situation to change.
At this point, it was still never a viable option in my mind to tell an outsider and get help. Not because I was scared, or because I didn’t think that anyone would believe me. I just simply did not consider doing it. I then started hoping that someone else would save me from my situation. I often opened windows when my mother was in a fit of rage, hoping a neighbour or passerby would hear her and report it.
I shamefully remember hoping that she would do something really drastic- inflict so much damage to me that I would end up in the hospital or that someone would call the police to take her away. Like many others, I ask my younger self: ‘why did you not just simply tell someone?’
Then came the day that completely changed my life. I had recently been in contact with my father and had told him that I could not take the situation anymore and that he must do something. He had a wide range of evidence of her abuse, from text messages to videos. I was at school one day when I was asked to leave my classroom to speak to someone.
The police sat in a room and explained that my father had reported my mother for abuse and that she was in custody.
I was taken to a police safe house in the forest to complete a vulnerable witness video statement, as I was under the age of eighteen and the victim of traumatic crime.
I was asked to outline as much as I could of the abuse that I faced throughout the years. I listed multiple instances in a rather matter of fact way, to which the policeman was shocked. He told me how he was stunned that I could talk of such experiences so calmly and without getting upset.
He also told me how horrified he was, as a father of a young girl, that someone could face what I had. It was at this point, that I truly understood the reality of my experience, causing my resolute appearance to shatter. I broke down in tears, realising that for the first time in my life, somebody else knew what I had faced.
As an adult leading a happy and successful life, I can still see the remnants of my trauma. One of my biggest flaws is that I overthink how others perceive me. I spend hours worrying if I have said something wrong, or embarrassing, which I believe stems from punishments of humiliation, which were designed to render me as vulnerable.
Psychologists at California State University, Northridge, studied 234 professional performers, looking for a reason why mental health disorders are so common in the performing arts.
“The notion that artists and performing artists suffered more pathology, including bipolar disorder, troubled us,” dance coordinator and psychologist Paula Thomson, a co-author on the new study, told Psypost.
“No one seemed willing to also include the effects of early childhood adversity and adult trauma and its influence on creativity and psychopathology.”
The study examined 83 actors, directors, and designers; 129 dancers; and 20 musicians and opera singers. These study participants filled out self-report surveys pertaining to childhood adversity, sense of shame, creative experiences, proneness to fantasies, anxiety, and level of engagement in an activity.
The participants were able to be categorised into three groups: those who reported a high level of childhood adversity; those who had experienced a lower or medium level; and those who had experienced little to none.null
It’s the high-level group that demonstrated the greater extremes. These performing artists had much higher anxiety, much more internalised shame, and reported more cumulative past traumatic events. They were also more prone to fantasies.
But they also seemed more connected with the creative process, the researchers said. They were more aware of it, and reported feeling more absorbed in it. They reported heightened awareness of a state of inspiration and a sense of discovery during the process.
They were also able to move more easily between the state of absorption and a more distant state for critical awareness, and were more receptive to art.
“Lastly,” the researchers wrote, “[this] group identified greater appreciation for the transformational quality of creativity, in particular, how the creative process enabled a deeper engagement with the self and world. They recognised that it operated as a powerful force in their life.”
Obviously the study has caveats, as self-reported studies can be prone to personal bias. Also, since it was limited to performing artists, comparisons couldn’t easily be made with other subsets of the population.
Nevertheless, the finding, the researchers said, may indicate that adult performers who have experienced childhood adversity are better able to recognise and value the creative process; and the ability of that group to enjoy the creative process could indicate resilience.
“We are saddened by the number of participants in our study who have suffered multiple forms of childhood adversity as well as adult assaults (both sexual and non-sexual),” Thomson told Psypost.
“So many participants in our sample have experienced poly-traumatization and yet they also embrace their passion for performance and creativity. They are embracing ways to express all that is human.”
Long suspected throughout many CSA Victims’ childhoods, in 2018 Scientific Alert published the following article on the proven-identified link: “Scientists Have Found a Strong Link Between a Terrible Childhood And Being Intensely Creative”. Opening with ‘exposure to abuse, neglect or a dysfunctional family’ throughout a victim’s childhood, expands to join together how these impacts have a clear linkage. Complemented through Counselling and verifying some Victims’ long-held suspicions, this Article gives another (Scientific/Journalistic) POV – which may also satisfy those of us who often felt disbelieved, palmed-away or ignored. We knew what we were/had survived; we just didn’t know how to word, or should I say ‘Scientifically categorise’ what we ‘endured’! … WTF ?!!!… we were only young, innocent kids at their time: the perfect hunting ground, for these Criminal-Pedophilic-Dirty-(typically)-Senior/Old-(WO)-Men.
I apologise for going off on an emotional-outburst, yet this is a toned-down form of many of the conversations had with Victims, Parents and Relations; Thankfully, their mutual aim is to protect this triggering news from younger Siblings; As horrifying as this possibility is to consider, perhaps this is (another) layer of defence which the Criminal-Pedophilic-Dirty-(typically)-Senior/Old-(WO)-Men know of + exploit. Having (naturally?) always having entered the Arts, this Article gives many reasons and answers questions, yet more interests may be shown. Perhaps this is an underlying advantage of Creativity, yet CSA Survivours I’ve spent any time with each have their own ‘checklists’ to work through. At this point, I’ll aim to re-publish the complete Article ASAP, in addition to again providing the Private + Confidential Counsellors. Of great interest, is the amount of focus I am working through with my Counsellor on the “minor and inconsiderate” events, which are actually mounting up to explain the devastating impact which may result.
Hopes are that each of you, your loved ones and each of our ecosystems copes alright throughout this COVID19 Pandemic.
Any one sign doesn’t mean that a child was sexually abused, but the presence of several suggests that you begin asking questions and consider seeking help. Keep in mind that some of these signs can emerge at other times of stress such as:
During a divorce
Death of a family member or pet
Problems at school or with friends
Other anxiety-inducing or traumatic events
Behavior you may see in a child or adolescent
Has nightmares or other sleep problems without an explanation
Seems distracted or distant at odd times
Has a sudden change in eating habits
Refuses to eat
Loses or drastically increases appetite
Has trouble swallowing.
Sudden mood swings: rage, fear, insecurity or withdrawal
Leaves “clues” that seem likely to provoke a discussion about sexual issues
Writes, draws, plays or dreams of sexual or frightening images
Develops new or unusual fear of certain people or places
Refuses to talk about a secret shared with an adult or older child
Talks about a new older friend
Suddenly has money, toys or other gifts without reason
Thinks of self or body as repulsive, dirty or bad
Exhibits adult-like sexual behaviors, language and knowledge
Signs more typical of younger children
An older child behaving like a younger child (such as bed-wetting or thumb sucking)
Has new words for private body parts
Resists removing clothes when appropriate times (bath, bed, toileting, diapering)
Asks other children to behave sexually or play sexual games
Mimics adult-like sexual behaviors with toys or stuffed animal
Wetting and soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training
Signs more typical in adolescents
Self-injury (cutting, burning)
Inadequate personal hygiene
Drug and alcohol abuse
Running away from home
Fear of intimacy or closeness
Compulsive eating or dieting
Physical warning signs
Physical signs of sexual abuse are rare. If you see these signs, bring your child to a doctor. Your doctor can help you understand what may be happening and test for sexually transmitted diseases.
Pain, discoloration, bleeding or discharges in genitals, anus or mouth
Persistent or recurring pain during urination and bowel movements
Wetting and soiling accidents unrelated to toilet training
What You Can Do If You See Warning Signs
Create a Safety Plan. Don’t wait for “proof” of child sexual abuse.
Look for patterns of behavior that make children less safe. Keep track of behaviors that concern you. This Sample Journal Page can be a helpful tool.
If you have questions or would like resources or guidance for responding to a specific situation, visit our Online Help Center.
Share Prevention Tip Sheets in Your Community
We encourage you to print and share these tip sheets in your family and community. Our tip sheets are licensed under the Creative Commons, which allows you to reproduce them as long as you follow these Guidelines. Please contact us about permissions and to tell us how you plan to put our resources to work.
Losing a loved one is one of the most distressing and, unfortunately, common experiences people face. Most people experiencing normal grief and bereavement have a period of sorrow, numbness, and even guilt and anger. Gradually these feelings ease, and it’s possible to accept loss and move forward.
For some people, feelings of loss are debilitating and don’t improve even after time passes. This is known as complicated grief, sometimes called persistent complex bereavement disorder. In complicated grief, painful emotions are so long lasting and severe that you have trouble recovering from the loss and resuming your own life.
Different people follow different paths through the grieving experience. The order and timing of these phases may vary from person to person:
Accepting the reality of your loss
Allowing yourself to experience the pain of your loss
Adjusting to a new reality in which the deceased is no longer present
Having other relationships
These differences are normal. But if you’re unable to move through these stages more than a year after the death of a loved one, you may have complicated grief. If so, seek treatment. It can help you come to terms with your loss and reclaim a sense of acceptance and peace.
During the first few months after a loss, many signs and symptoms of normal grief are the same as those of complicated grief. However, while normal grief symptoms gradually start to fade over time, those of complicated grief linger or get worse. Complicated grief is like being in an ongoing, heightened state of mourning that keeps you from healing.
Signs and symptoms of complicated grief may include:
Intense sorrow, pain and rumination over the loss of your loved one
Focus on little else but your loved one’s death
Extreme focus on reminders of the loved one or excessive avoidance of reminders
Intense and persistent longing or pining for the deceased
Problems accepting the death
Numbness or detachment
Bitterness about your loss
Feeling that life holds no meaning or purpose
Lack of trust in others
Inability to enjoy life or think back on positive experiences with your loved one
Complicated grief also may be indicated if you continue to:
Have trouble carrying out normal routines
Isolate from others and withdraw from social activities
Experience depression, deep sadness, guilt or self-blame
Believe that you did something wrong or could have prevented the death
Feel life isn’t worth living without your loved one
Wish you had died along with your loved one
When to see a doctor
Contact your doctor or a mental health professional if you have intense grief and problems functioning that don’t improve at least one year after the passing of your loved one.
If you have thoughts of suicide
At times, people with complicated grief may consider suicide. If you’re thinking about suicide, talk to someone you trust. If you think you may act on suicidal feelings, call 000 or 112 (if calling from a Mobile Phone). Or call a suicide hotline number: In Australia, call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) to reach a trained Counsellor. For NRS Applications call 1800 555 677. Interpreter: 13 14 50
It’s not known what causes complicated grief. As with many mental health disorders, it may involve your environment, your personality, inherited traits and your body’s natural chemical makeup.
Complicated grief occurs more often in females and with older age. Factors that may increase the risk of developing complicated grief include:
An unexpected or violent death, such as death from a car accident, or the murder or suicide of a loved one
Death of a child
Close or dependent relationship to the deceased person
Social isolation or loss of a support system or friendships
Past history of depression, separation anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Traumatic childhood experiences, such as abuse or neglect
Other major life stressors, such as major financial hardships
Complicated grief can affect you physically, mentally and socially. Without appropriate treatment, complications may include:
Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
Anxiety, including PTSD
Significant sleep disturbances
Increased risk of physical illness, such as heart disease, cancer or high blood pressure
Long-term difficulty with daily living, relationships or work activities
Alcohol, nicotine use or substance misuse
It’s not clear how to prevent complicated grief. Getting counseling soon after a loss may help, especially for people at increased risk of developing complicated grief. In addition, caregivers providing end-of-life care for a loved one may benefit from counseling and support to help prepare for death and its emotional aftermath.
Talking. Talking about your grief and allowing yourself to cry also can help prevent you from getting stuck in your sadness. As painful as it is, trust that in most cases, your pain will start to lift if you allow yourself to feel it.
Support. Family members, friends, social support groups and your faith community are all good options to help you work through your grief. You may be able to find a support group focused on a particular type of loss, such as the death of a spouse or a child. Ask your doctor to recommend local resources.
Bereavement counseling. Through early counseling after a loss, you can explore emotions surrounding your loss and learn healthy coping skills. This may help prevent negative thoughts and beliefs from gaining such a strong hold that they’re difficult to overcome.
Does the mention of any of the terms of ‘corruption, abuse, deception, obstruction’ cause a creepy feeling, the hairs on the back of your neck stand, or a chill run down your spine? You may have been effected by any of inappropriate issues, that are still becoming prevalent today. Most of us are familiar with the saying of “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts, absolutely”. (Lord Acton)
Translations of this are often made into areas of vulnerability: Teacher-Students (pedophilia), Church Leader-Youth (child sexual abuser), Sports Coach-Player (privatelessons), Disability Carer-disabled (manipulation), Government-Indigenous (stolen generations), Caretaker-Retiree (aged care abuse) and Banks-Customers (coercion). Thankfully, there’s been many Royal Commissions called, with more to come. Our ‘RoyalCommBBC’ is only a small example of what can be possible, when the Sharing of beneficial Information-News-Experiences-Solutions are made.
A great part of any Institution, is that like members typically stick together. It’s been found that when ‘reality hits home’, many of us acknowledge that they’re not alone AND there is a simple solution available. This is where RCbbc can help, in supporting past Students, Parents and Friends in contacting experts in their fields.
Improving health and wellbeing with adult survivors of child sexual abuse.
Yes, our RCbbc Blog has signed their Policy Statement & as such, we’ll be Sharing much of our parallel beliefs. Starting with the logo + goal.
Our goal is simple: we want to improve health and wellbeing outcomes for adult survivors of child sexual abuse.
At Visible, we are a catalyst for health and social care services system change across Leeds and beyond. We encourage, shape and instigate this change, using the experience of survivors to influence every aspect of the way we work.
After decades of denial and cover-up, adult survivors are coming forward, helped by radical new initiatives.
On 2 June, Noa Pothoven, 17, died at home in the Dutch city of Arnhem having refused all fluids and food. She had been sexually assaulted at the age of 11 and raped at 14, and suffered from anorexia and depression. She spoke of her “unbearable suffering” in the aftermath of the attacks – “I have not been alive for so long,” she wrote.
For survivors of childhood abuse, the potential long-term impact of their experiences is only beginning to be exposed; taboo, secrecy and shame still prevail. Yet, slowly, as inquiries are held and more cases come to court, greater numbers of adult survivors of childhood abuse are beginning to come forward. While some can cope well, for others lives and families are torn apart as the root causes remain hidden. Is society doing enough for adult survivors, who, too often, are overlooked, pathologised and criminalised?
Jimmy Savile, “eccentric and flamboyant”, garlanded with honours and awards, died in 2011 aged 84, never having paid for his crimes. A year after his death, he was revealed as a prolific and ruthless sexual predator throughout five decades. Concerns had been raised since the 1960s and suppressed. He had fame and power, so was free to abuse in plain sight.
Since then, a number of prolific offenders have appeared in court including Peter Ball, a bishop who was protected by the establishment, Barry Bennell, a football coach, and the pop singer Gary Glitter. In addition, groups of mainly Asian men, in cities including Rotherham, Nottingham and Oxford, have been given lengthy jail sentences for violently sexually exploiting vulnerable young girls, the victims treated by police and social workers as “child prostitutes”, their plight ignored.
In 2014 the government established the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) to examine how institutions, including hospitals, care homes and boarding schools, have handled their duty of care to protect children. The inquiry has launched 14 investigations and has set up the Truth Project, “I Will Be Heard”. So far, more than 3,000 survivors of abuse have related their experiences at the hands of trusted adults, family members and in institutions.
Four years ago in Leeds, Savile’s birthplace, Tessa Denham, 58, a counsellor, coach and chief executive of the Women’s Counselling and Therapy Service, organised a workshop. Sixty colleagues from healthcare, the police, GPs, voluntary organisations and the city council attended. “The decades of denial and cover-up were beginning to crack,” Denham says. “That made me think, as a city, ‘What should we do? What do we need to do?’
“Abuse has shaped me. It still affects my daily life,” she says. “I was abused by my grandfather and my stepfather. Yet for years I’d tell everyone that I hadn’t been affected. It was only when I went for counselling in my 30s that I began to join up the dots of my own behaviour.
“I’m middle class, mouthy and I don’t lack confidence. Imagine what it must be like for someone who has none of those resources. Some survivors cope, others experience addiction, unemployment, prison, chaotic, shattered families, and still the secret is kept. That’s why we passionately believe it’s time to make a difference.”
The difference is a potentially groundbreaking holistic city-wide project called Visible, launched in Leeds on 10 June after two years of plannning. The aim is to proactively support adult survivors and open up a national conversation about the extent of need and why long-term government funding is essential.
The ambition is that projects like Visible are replicated across the country.
“It was as if we all gave a collective sigh of relief,” says Sinéad Cregan, Leeds adult services commissioner and chair of Visible. “Phew! At last we’re going to try and do something. More and more people at inquiries are talking for the first time. Yet, across the country, the response has not been good enough.”
What will Visible do in practice? Survivors say that many professionals don’t recognise trauma, and they don’t ask the right questions because they don’t know how to handle the response. Visible hopes to conduct research into what works best, increase public understanding, and train a range of professionals including police, magistrates, employers, commissioners, GPs, teachers and social workers to ask the right questions so that a range of appropriate help is offered. “We want to act as a catalyst.” Denham says. “When money is tight, there are no quick fixes but the door has begun to open.”
“Phil”, 52, is on Visible’s steering group. He waited 40 years before disclosing that as a boy he was abused by two men who threatened to harm his family if he told anyone. “It was when my son was the same age that I told my wife. I had a breakdown. I was worried the same thing would happen to him. I’d text him all the time.
“I waited 12 months before I got into the mental health system. I’ve self-harmed, I’ve tried to take my own life. I was interviewed by the police about Jimmy Savile because I worked with him as a hospital porter – and that’s when it got worse. I see the devil with the abusers’ face. I hear voices. In an ideal world, I’d like for people to speak out and be heard.”
In the survey, 90% said their intimate relationships were negatively affected, 89% said their mental health was negatively affected, 72% said that it had damaged their career, and 46% said it had a detrimental effect on their financial situation (because they often had to pay for therapeutic help they couldn’t access otherwise). Only 16% said the NHS mental health services met their need. “I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and the mental health system,” was one response.
“The spectre hanging over them infiltrates every aspect of life,” Sarah Champion, Labour MP and chair of the APPG said in the Commons. “A trigger can be anything – the same aftershave that their abuser was wearing or a feeling of being in an enclosed space. Unless we recognise that these people are victims of crime, they will not be able to lead their full lives and reach the potential that we all deserve to achieve.”
A 2015 survey of 400 adult survivors indicated that the abuse had begun, on average, at the age of seven and continued for long periods; 90% hadn’t seen their abuser brought to justice. The average wait before survivors tried to access services had been 20 years, and not even then had individuals disclosed abuse. For one in five who disclosed at the time, the abuse continued on average for a further six years.
Last year NHS England announced improved provision for victims of sexual abuse. The five-year strategy has an investment of £4m a year until 2020-21. “It’s welcome but it’s a drop in the ocean,” says Fay Maxted, chief executive of the Survivors Trust, which represents 130 organisations. “In real terms, funding has dropped significantly in the last 10 years.”
She is also concerned that the specialist trauma-trained organisations in the voluntary sector, which survivors frequently say they prefer to statutory services, won’t benefit from the funding controlled by GPs’ clinical commissioning groups. “The CCGs often have a lack of understanding of what survivors need.”
“Adult survivors don’t always present as the perfect victim,” explains Gabrielle Shaw, chief executive of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (Napac). “We all need to understand better that the question isn’t, ‘what’s wrong with you?’ but ‘what happened to you?’”
Shaneen Mooney, 34, a housing officer, who runs her own essential oils company, Essential Flow, waited 16 years before disclosing. At the age of 14 she was groomed by a man in his 30s. “I thought it was romantic love. He ended the affair when I was 16. For years I didn’t value myself. I drank, I took drugs, I was unfaithful. I had a breakdown and dropped out of university and gradually began to realise that what had happened to me wasn’t right. It was rape.
“In 2014 I was given free counselling by a rape support charity. That’s no longer available. Then I waited a year for NHS counselling, which was hard. Gradually, I realised that the silence, keeping all the stuff inside me, was more damaging.”
Now happily married, Mooney says counselling has been invaluable. “I’m in a much better place. Victims don’t have to carry shame and believe there’s something wrong with them. Healing and wellbeing are possible. That’s why I share my truth in the hope that it will encourage others to break the taboo, speak out and get help. Life can change.”
In 2018, Napac, received 6,458 calls on its helpline but there were another 87,619 calls that couldn’t be taken because of lack of resources.
In Leeds, will Visible unleash a demand that similarly can’t be met? According to the IICSA, some 2 million people, are adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and 15% of girls and 5% of boys are predicted to experience sexual abuse before the age of 16. In Leeds those figures would translate to 50,000 adult survivors and more than 15,000 children and young people.
Visible was launched with a grant of £100,000 from Lloyds Bank Foundation. It has applied for further grants. Leeds city council faces a £100m funding gap by 2022. Will hopes be raised but not met?
“Health commissioners and government have to stump up the money,” Richard Barber of Leeds Survivor-Led Crisis Service says unequivocally. “Society has got its head stuck in the sand about the scale of child sexual abuse. As a result, survivors get demonised and traumatised over and over again.”
“Everybody knows somebody who is directly or indirectly affected,” points out Sharon Prince, consultant psychologist with Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, a part of Visible. “We have to change the response. That can range from family and friends listening and validating to more formal interventions. The first steps are for people to trust enough so they can disclose and be believed.”
Visible promotes “trauma-informed” support for survivors. It is based on building trust, collaboration and a survivor exercising choice. “It’s all about the quality of the relationship,” Prince says.
While funds for survivors are woefully inadequate, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has spent an extraordinary £96m since 2014. It has recommended that support for adult survivors requires “urgent” attention. Money is promised in the forthcoming spending review. In addition, the parliamentary group wants the Home Office to commission research into the hidden economic and social cost of child sexual abuse, collect data on what is spent on therapeutic care, and research what support works best.
Dr Carol-Ann Hooper, Visible’s evaluator, says: “In the US, the term ‘parallel justice’ has been coined to argue for reparation for victims to take its place alongside the prosecution of offenders to enable survivors to heal and rebuild their lives. There is also a significant income-based justice gap. Those who can afford to pay for therapeutic help have options, those who can’t, may have none.”
“Helena”, 60, a former teacher, pays for trauma therapy. “Otherwise I’d have to wait several months and I can’t.” As a child, she and her friend, Janet, played in the street. A teenage girl invited them into her home. “We’d dress up in her clothes and stilettos,” Helena says. Play turned to abuse and both children had a bottle inserted in their vaginas. “I felt I’d done wrong. I did tell my parents three years later. They said, ‘We can’t do owt. It’s water under the bridge. The abuse made me wary of young women, mistrust everybody. I still find it very difficult to hug people. I became anorexic. I wanted to be unseen. Occasionally I’d mention what happened and people would say, ‘women don’t do that’.”
A few years ago, Helena went to an exhibition. “I’ve been lucky. There was an image called Release. I thought yes, you need to unburden, take away those heavy things on your shoulders. For years, I didn’t like clothes or dressing up, I didn’t like high heels. I never had friendships. But suddenly, I thought, yes, I can have friends. And I do. Abuse results in so many ripples over a lifetime. People don’t think to ask, ‘what are those ripples really about?’”
Visible already has plans to expand its work to include sporting bodies, churches, mosques, major corporations, magistrates and prisons. Leeds city council will also look at its own large workforce to assess the needs of potentially several hundred survivors. “We are also keen to collaborate with anyone in the UK,” Denham says. “We cannot afford to slip back.”
I was isolated and petrified
“I was abused until I was 11 by someone outside the family. When it was happening, it was horrible but I didn’t want to make a fuss” says Debbie, 43.
“By the time it stopped, I was isolated and petrified of everything. I’d hide in the cupboard if the phone rang. People would think I was rude. I just wanted to be invisible.
“I worked hard at university because I thought I was thick and horrible. I had a breakdown. I tried to commit suicide. I was in psychiatric hospital for four months. I became anorexic. At no point did anybody ask me why I hated myself. Why I was anorexic.”
At one point, Debbie weighed four stone and suffered multiple organ failure. “It took 10 years before I began psychotherapy and somebody finally asked me the right questions; otherwise my earlier medical records all say things like, ‘Deborah’s had a lot of input with little progress’.
“I’ve been diagnosed with OCD, personality disorder, complex PTSD.”
Unusually, Debbie received 12 years of support on the NHS, but then it stopped. Now she pays privately for psychotherapy. “I know things cognitively but I have no feeling. I’m not in touch with things emotionally. I’ve no attachment to anyone or anything.
“Six years ago, my mum asked if anyone had done anything to me. I don’t want my mum to know. I don’t want her to work out who it is. I don’t want him to say it didn’t happen. I want to feel safe and not want to be dead. I want to feel.”Topics
Good mental wellbeing — some people call it happiness — is about more than avoiding mental health problems. It means feeling good and functioning well. It can be helpful to maintain an awareness of your overall wellbeing. It can help you to identify the things that have an impact on how well you’re doing and give you more power in improving your functioning. The below wellbeing assessment is a tool to help you with this.
This wellbeing assessment uses the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale (WEMWBS) to measure wellbeing. More about the WEMWBS is below.
To get a wellbeing score, read through the statements and click on the box that best describes your thoughts and feelings over the last two weeks, then click next to continue on through the 14 questions. You will receive information at the end that will provide an assessment of your current wellbeing.
The WEMWBS is an internationally validated assessment of well-being that utilises strength based language less likely to be triggering or distressing for those who have been traumatised.
By integrating and promoting use of the WEMWBS on the Living Well site, we are very much aware that childhood sexual abuse and sexual assault can profoundly impact on an individuals mental and physical well-being. We have included information on our website on some of the particular difficulties people who have been abused can face, as well as some ways of addressing these.
Our decision to foreground the well-being assessment is based on a knowledge that living a fulfilling, healthy, connected, active life is possible after sexual abuse and we do not wish to accept a lesser goal for all those whom we live and work with.
About the wellbeing scale
The WEMWBS questionnaire for measuring mental well-being was developed by researchers at Warwick and Edinburgh Universities (see Tennant R, Hiller L, Fishwick R, Platt P, Joseph S, Weich S, Parkinson J, Secker J, Stewart-Brown S (2007) The Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale (WEMWBS): development and UK validation, Health and Quality of Life Outcome; 5:63 doi:101186/1477-7252-5-63).
The Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale was funded by the Scottish Executive National Programme for improving mental health and well-being, commissioned by NHS Health Scotland, developed by the University of Warwick and the University of Edinburgh, and is jointly owned by NHS Health Scotland, the University of Warwick and the University of Edinburgh.
The WEMWBS is subject to copyright. We are grateful that we have received permission to use and make available the WEMWBS. Click here for more information about the WEMWBS.
Get the mobile version
The well-being assessment is one of the features available in the free Living Well Appfor iPhone and Android. Keep track of your well-being on the go.
According to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services statistics for 2006, approximately 905,000 U.S. children were found to have been maltreated that year, with 16% of them reported as physically abused (the remainder having suffered sexual abuse or neglect.)1 In other studies, it’s been noted that approximately 14-43% of children have experienced at least one traumatic abusive event prior to adulthood.2 And according to The American Humane Association (AHA), an estimated 1,460 children died in 2005 of abuse and neglect.3
The AHA defines physical child abuse as “non-accidental trauma or physical injury caused by punching, beating, kicking, biting, burning or otherwise harming a child.”3 However, it can be challenging to draw the line between physical discipline and child abuse. When does corporal punishment cease to be a style of parenting and become an abusive behavior that is potentially traumatizing for its child victims in the long-term?
A recent episode of the popular television show Dr. Phil featured a woman whose extreme disciplinarian tactics later resulted in her arrest and prosecution for child abuse. A featured video showed her forcing her young adopted son to hold hot sauce in his mouth and take a cold shower as punishment for lying. Audience members were horrified—as was Dr. Phil—but the woman insisted that she couldn’t find a better way to control her child. Many child abusers are not aware when their behavior becomes harmful to a child or how to deal with their own overwhelm before they lose their tempers.
At its core, any type of abuse of children constitutes exploitation of the child’s dependence on and attachment to the parent.
Another therapeutic term that is used in conjunction with child abuse is “interpersonal victimization.” According to the book Childhood victimization: violence, crime, and abuse in the lives of young people by David Finkelhor, interpersonal victimization can be defined as “…harm that comes to individuals because other human[s] have behaved in ways that violate social norms.”5 This sets all forms of abuse apart from other types of trauma-causing-victimization like illness, accidents, and natural disasters.
Finkelhor goes on to explain: “Child victimizations do not fit neatly into conventional crime categories. While children suffer all the crimes that adults do, many of the violent and deviant behaviors engaged in by human[s] to harm children have ambiguous status as crimes. The physical abuse of children, although technically criminal, is not frequently prosecuted and is generally handled by social-control agencies other than the police and criminal courts. “5
What happens to abused children?
In some cases—depending on the number of reports made, the severity of the abuse, and the available community resources—children may be separated from their parents and grow up in group homes or foster care situations, where further abuse can happen either at the hands of other abused children who are simply perpetuating a familiar patterns or the foster parents themselves. In 2004, 517,000 children were living in foster homes, and in 2005, a fifth of reported child abuse victims were taken out of their homes after child maltreatment investigations.6 Sometimes, children do go back to their parents after being taken away, but these statistics are slim. It’s easy to imagine that foster care and group home situations, while they may ease the incidence of abuse in a child’s life, can lead to further types of alienation and trauma.
For children that have suffered from abuse, it can be complex getting to the root of childhood trauma in order to alleviate later symptoms as adults. The question is, how does child abuse turn into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder later in life? What are the circumstances that cause this to happen in some cases and not others?
Statistics show that females are much more likely than males to develop PTSD as a result of experiencing child abuse. Other factors that help determine whether a child victim will develop PTSD include:7
The degree of perceived personal threat.
The developmental state of the child: Some professionals surmise that younger children, because they are less likely to intellectually understand and interpret the effects of a traumatic situation, may be less at risk for long-term PTSD).
The relationship of the victim to the perpetrator.
The level of support the victim has in his day-to-day life as well as the response of the caregiver(s).
Guilt: A feeling of responsibility for the attack (“I deserve it”) is thought to exacerbate the changes of PTSD.
Resilience: the innate ability to cope of the individual.
The child’s short-term response to abuse: For instance, an elevated heart rate post-abuse has been documented as increasing the likelihood that the victim will be later suffer from PTSD.
Carolyn Knight wrote a book called Working With Adult Survivors of Childhood Trauma that states: “Trauma, by definition, is the result of exposure to an inescapably stressful event that overwhelms a person’s coping mechanisms.”6 She points out that an important aspect of an event (or pattern of events) is that it exceeds the victim’s ability to cope and is therefore overwhelming. A child should not have to cope with abuse, and when abuse occurs, a child is not equipped psychologically to process it. The adults in their lives are meant to be role models on how to regulate emotions and provide a safe environment.
According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, some of the particular symptoms of child PTSD include:8
Frequent memories and/or talk of the traumatic event(s)
Once a child has grown to be an adult, however, symptoms of PTSD can become more subtle as he or she learns how to cope with this in day-to-day life. The symptoms of PTSD can be quite general and can mimic other disorders: depression, anxiety, hypervigilance, problems with alcohol and drugs, sleep issues, and eating disorders are just a few. Many have problems in their relationships and trusting another person again. Many even end up in abusive relationships and find themselves re-enacting the past.
Community support is a vital tool in preventing child abuse and the PTSD that can result from it. If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from child abuse, please report it to your local Child Protection Services — or the police, if a child is in immediate danger. The longer that abuse continues, the higher the risk of causing severe symptoms.
If you or a loved one may be suffering from delayed effects of trauma due to childhood abuse, I encourage you to make a therapyappointment with someone who specializes in trauma and who can put you on a path of healing.
1 Child Maltreatment 2006. Washington DC: US Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children Youth and Families Children’s Bureau; 2008. 1-194