Christina Slaven* called the number she was given and began to
talk. And talk. “It was the first time I told anyone about the
abuse I suffered as a child. Thankfully, it allowed me to share the
burden of those painful memories,” she later said. Christina is
The number she called was the UK’s only national free helpline for
adult survivors of child abuse. However, call it now and after a
couple of expectant rings an officious, recorded female voice says:
“I’m sorry the person you are trying to reach is unavailable at
This is because the “infoline” run by the National Association for
People Abused in Childhood (Napac) has been suspended through lack
of funds. Launched in 2002, it took more than 20,000 calls in two
years. Seventy per cent of those callers were female, and 55 per
cent of calls related to experiences of sexual abuse.
“It was an incredible success,” says Peter Saunders, development
director of Napac, who founded the charity in 1998 as a result of
his despair that, as a survivor of abuse, he had nowhere to go.
Once, thanks to his Catholic upbringing, he was advised to go to
confession. “Even now survivors are told to put the past behind
them and are accused of living in the past. But they are not; the
past is living in them.”
About one-third of callers were, like Christina, simply grateful to
have someone to talk to. Saunders says: “They weren’t asking for
anything and were just glad someone was out there for survivors. A
further third were seeking information. However, some were
desperate – perhaps suicidal or threatening to self-harm.
Fortunately, our six trained and qualified counsellors were able to
handle those calls.”
Notably, about half the people who used the infoline were
first-time disclosers of abuse. Despite providing a seemingly
necessary service, the blight of all small charities loomed: funds
were running low. So how do you manage a service that is about to
hit the buffers?
“I cut the line’s opening hours from eight to four hours a day, but
the overheads were too high,” says Saunders. The infoline, which
was costing about £100,000 a year, was half-funded by the
Department of Health but that support came to an end and, because
of its application regulations, no future bids can be considered.
The other running costs had been raised through trust funds,
foundations, corporate-givers, church institutions and
Napac’s management strategy now is to keep things ticking along
with volunteers – the e-mail and postal support remains in place –
while seeking to raise awareness and Napac’s profile and launching
application after application for funding.
Saunders says: “It’s amazing how in adversity lots of people come
out of the woodwork and want to help. New trustees have come on
board with energy, enthusiasm and, importantly, time. If we can’t
get funding then we will have to rely on volunteers who would
obviously need training and supervision. If you are an abuse
survivor you don’t want to deal with someone who doesn’t understand
the issues – that could be more damaging.”
Napac does a lot of work with prisons and the startling link
between offending and abuse in childhood is an accepted one.
Saunders says: “I recently visited Hull prison and the governor
said many of his prisoners were abused in some way in childhood.
Sure, some of them may well have offended even if they had not been
abused, but there is a very common pattern emerging: abuse sets
people on the path to a life of crime, recidivism, despair and
He adds: “People have said that within a week of first speaking to
us they have come off anti-depressants for the first time in living
memory because they are starting to heal and deal with their
issues. It’s important for survivors of abuse to be heard, to be
believed, not to be judged, and have people who genuinely care –
and I don’t think that’s a lot to ask.”
* Not her real name
NAME: Peter Saunders
JOB: Founder and development director of
QUALIFICATIONS: BA Business Studies; postgraduate
certificate in education
LAST JOB: School teacher
FIRST JOB: Trainee cycle frame builder, Geoffrey
Butler Cycles, Croydon
- Don’t count on anything until it’s in the bank.
- Try to plan ahead and keep control of finances – although with
charities this is difficult.
- Raise your profile – if people haven’t heard of you they can’t
- Sit back and wait for the cash to flow in.
- You’re a charity – you don’t have to do much, you can rely on
everybody who says they will help you to do just that.