Childhood sexual abuse survivors share testimonies to help inform practice

A new report by One In Four found survivors often felt let down when first seeking help

A new report by the charity One In Four features powerful accounts from survivors of inter-familial childhood sexual abuse.

Many of the 22 survivors who submitted accounts to the charity felt “let down and disappointed when first seeking help as many professionals failed to identify the abuse or were unable to link behaviour and symptoms to [child sexual abuse]”.

The charity said 90% of those who contributed had never informed the police, such was the level of shame and fear.

Karen Goodman, professional officer for the British Association of Social Workers, encouraged all professionals to read this report.

“There is under-recognition of both the emotional and economic impact of sexual abuse with a high proportion of those in our mental health and criminal justice systems being survivors,” she said.

Here are some testimonies from survivors which can help to inform practice:

“Some of the social workers who cared for me were skilled enough to reach me; they were congruent in their approach; they gained my trust by being transparent and totally accepting of who I was. I was the girl that always ran away but the girl who needed most of all to stop running”

The turning point for me was when I gained insight about how I was using drugs to numb the pain

“I now know that an abused child is always singled out and groomed with equal measures of kindness and then cruelty”

“Splitting off or disassociating from my reality became a coping mechanism in a situation too awful to comprehend”

“As an abused child, pushing the anger down, just like the memories, forms part of your survival pack where you tune out or try to eliminate feelings completely – stay in the fog”

Childhood sexual abuse manifested in all aspects of my life

“I was so sick of being interpreted as ‘bad’ that my anger took charge. I became aggressive outwardly and inwardly”

“I was a tortured soul so took drugs and went into school hoping someone would figure it out, but I was expelled”

“The dissociated years were marked by depression, anxiety, withdrawal, distrust, paranoia, jealousy, cynicism, under-achievement (school, college, career, earnings), a strong tendency to avoid all-male company leading to difficulty bonding with bosses and allies. I suffered poor health from hyper-immunity and anxiety disorders, asthma, eczema, allergies, and the effects of sleep loss, exacerbated by the physical conditions and the drugs given to treat them”

I did not fare will with a style of counselling where the client is left to fill the silence while being closely observed – I experienced too much dread of attending, and this affected me days before sessions…I benefitted from a warmer, more coaching style in an atmosphere of safety that deep exploration was possible, without re-traumatising or dread

“By the time the social worker came to follow up on the concern raised by the school, nothing in the world could have made me speak up again”

“It’s not just the abuse itself that damages, it’s the in-between bits, the powerlessness to deter it from occurring, not knowing when it will happen next and what it will entail”

“Over the years I was referred to well-meaning counsellors, but the expensive sessions were never long enough”

I was misunderstood and misinterpreted and my pleas for very specific help were often miscommunicated

“I can’t help feeling angry that the people who I originally approached for help got it wrong and prolonged the blockage”

“I do recall I did once say something to a doctor and afterwards someone came to visit, presumably a social worker, but when I saw I was causing trouble, I retracted it. I was told no one wanted to hear what I had to say or would ever believe me. That really shut me down and further silenced and isolated me”

“The truant officer came calling and my mother blamed me for not going to school. As a result I had to go to court, was put on probation, allocated a social worker and sent to a psychiatrist. Despite all these professionals being involved, no-one was able to work out why I was absent from school”

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