Who could i turn to?

This Life: Support proved elusive when Anne Davis was told of the sexual abuse her daughter had suffered as a child

All disclosures of child sexual abuse can cause as many, and sometimes more, problems as they solve – certainly in the short and medium term. Despite this, professionals often target the safety issue only and fail to look at the consequences for all the people involved.

Every disclosure varies in circumstance yet there seems to be little recognition of this in the rush to follow procedures. In my experience there is little apparent concern for the mothers and siblings of the child in any context other than risk assessment.

The assessment must judge whether the mother knows of the abuse, whether she is colluding in it and whether other children are at risk. In particular, mothers are expected to react immediately with unquestioning belief and to act in ways that have consequences to herself and her children. Little practical support seems to be offered to them for themselves and there is even less understanding of their emotional needs. The child who has disclosed intra-familial sexual abuse will therefore often believe their fears, and perhaps implicit or explicit threats from their abuser, have come true. For some these consequences may appear worse than the actual abuse.

My adult daughter disclosed 20 years after the abuse by her stepfather because she recognised the potential risk to her own baby daughter and could see no other way of avoiding him while keeping contact with me.

For me the disclosure was a shock, made worse because I could not understand why I hadn’t known about it at the time. I was devastated for my daughter but also for all the people I loved, as well as for myself. I had no idea what I should do and felt I was having to choose between all those I loved. I believed my daughter but could not believe my husband could have behaved that way. I knew my daughter was telling the truth but it took months to fully understand how wrong I had been in all my previous opinions of the man I had married.

I found asking for help and advice frightening and difficult. The professionals were not unkind but made it clear that, as my children were now adults, they did not see our distress and bewilderment as their responsibility. When I asked for information on support groups I was told they did not know of any. My doctor was sympathetic but knew little about the aftermath of child sexual abuse. I rang several counselling and women’s help numbers, each time having to explain to the stranger on the other end of the phone what had happened. Usually they gave me another place to try.

Thankfully, I did find a mothers’ support group through the NSPCC and was able to talk, at last, to professionals who did understand my children and I. My children were all traumatised in different ways by the abuse or the disclosure. The other mothers and professionals I met there have enabled me to support my children and become a survivor myself.

Anne Davis (not her real name) uses social care services

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