This moving blog post is by Lisa. Huge thanks to her for wanting to share her story of how she finally met the little girl who disappeared overnight after sexual abuse.
The little girl I was disappeared overnight. Gone was the happy, care free 8 year old and in her place was a sad, frightened and ashamed victim of sexual abuse.
To survive I put that 8 year old in a box, locked it and threw away the key. To think of her reminded me of the abuse and I DID NOT want to remember. To relate what happened to her to me I simply did not allow.
Denial is a powerful thing and I see now a protective thing, but there comes a time when it becomes harmful. The energy it takes to maintain that denial, to keep it hidden is exhausting and I, without question, made myself both physically and emotionally ill for many years because of it.
I did not make a conscious decision to ‘release’ that 8 year old from her box – she just got louder, desperate to be released. She had had enough of being silenced and ignored. For me she literally came bursting out at a counselling session that I had gone to because I was feeling so desperately sad and empty and thought it was time I found out why. With a single question, without any prior planning on my part I revealed my abuse. With that single reply I had unlocked the box and there was no going back.
The years since that moment have been a roller coaster and some of the toughest of my life. It has felt like I have had an open wound that every time it started to heal, just opened again. There have been times I wanted to push her back into the box, go back to denying her existence. I was not aware of the extent of the pain there would be but equally there have been times when I wanted to open the wound completely and clean away all of the badness.
I chose to keep fighting, I have persevered with the primary reason that being to free my 8 year old once and for all. To give her a voice, to tell her she is safe and to let her find the life she deserved.
Me and her are in the process of getting to know one another. I am trying hard to take care of her – showing her she is loved and has nothing to be ashamed of. She is slowly helping me break down the walls I built to surround me, shutting out the world. I realise now that she is not weak or bad but in fact brave and courageous and she sees in me that she survived. Most important of all I am no longer leaving her behind…instead we are walking hand in hand, to a better future and the one we BOTH deserved.
We were pleased on World Mental Health Day to see the momentum gathering for a different conversation around mental health. There’s been a growing number of people talking about trauma informed support, as opposed to medical model based support. The latter labels people, puts a diagnosis on them and asks ‘what’s wrong with you?’
In cases of sexual trauma a survivor can be invited to feel that they are the problem, and are powerless, disordered and broken, further exacerbating feelings of shame and blame they might feel. They can think that their only answer is medication and to understand ‘what’s wrong with them’ by using a medical label.
A trauma informed approach sees people’s struggles as understandable responses to the trauma and/or adversity they’ve faced, as ways to cope with the overwhelming, distressing nature of trauma.
In cases of sexual trauma the question considered would be ‘what’s happened?’ A survivor would be invited to make their own connections between then and now, to value their resilience in coping with abuse and to see their feelings and behaviors as natural and understandable responses to an unnatural situation. This empowering and compassionate approach would build on the resourcefulness of survivors and give them the power to understand and change, dismantling feelings of powerlessness, shame and blame.
At RSVP we are part of the movement to create a more trauma informed world. We deliver training which encourages professionals to respond to survivors of sexual abuse with belief, compassion, kindness and warmth. We provide frameworks so that professionals see survivors struggles and despair, not through the lens of stigma, shame or labels, but through the lens of humanity, as natural reactions to extreme distress. Our training uses the voices and experiences of survivors at the centre of what we do, as they are the experts of their experiences. If more people avoided giving labels and instead took the time to listen, hear and understand the stories of survivors we’d give hope and provide the compassionate support for them to thrive.
If you’d like to know more about our trauma informed training, please contact us on: firstname.lastname@example.org or 0121 643 0301
The power of language or: Why I’m never angry.
By Wendy, who supports survivors
I never get angry. True story. I am frequently cross or irritated (occasionally even annoyed) but never angry. The reason for this is that I don’t feel comfortable with the way the word angry sounds, feels or makes me look- so I substitute it with something softer.
This is the power of language and sometimes it can be fun. (I’m almost never drunk either by the way, but have frequently been known to be merry). Language is powerful; if it weren’t advertising executives wouldn’t be driving around in flash cars.
The problem, though, is when the power of language is used to belittle something or diminish an act of importance. It is essential that we get it right when we talk about survivors of rape and sexual assault and their experiences.
In the past few weeks we have seen news coverage of the trial of a man who “groped” Taylor Swift. She was not groped, she was sexually assaulted. Time and again we read in news and magazine articles that a man has “had sex” with an unconscious woman. This is not sex it is rape. The use of a softer word allows the perpetrator a measure of permissiveness.
Words such as “fondle” and even “caress” have been used to describe sexual assaults and this muddies the waters. These are words more associated with acts of love or tenderness- the antithesis of sexual assault.
Using words that are “nicer” versions of the true word diminishes the experience of the survivor and the severity of the crime. The pervasive use of the incorrect and offensive term “child pornography” is a case in point. Pornography has connotations with legality, consent and adulthood. What is referred to as child pornography is actually images of child sexual abuse or exposure.
Words used around the abuse of children are often wilfully softer, almost playful or childlike in themselves. Consider the term (and I apologise in advance) “kiddie fiddling”. Child abuse is a brutal term and the urge not to use it is understandable. But child abuse is brutal and nothing is gained from pretending otherwise.
Who is anyone to fear the words when survivors have lived the experience?
Using language to water down sexual violence makes it appear that the survivor is “making a mountain out of a molehill”; exaggerating or whingeing. It moves the focus away from the act and onto other matters. It helps to sweep the action under the carpet.
This is especially true when the substituted word has another meaning; to fumble is to stagger around in the dark trying not to fall over. It is not to assault someone.
Sadly, survivors are used to having their experiences questioned and belittled. Using inaccurate language is a primary way of doing this. To insist that words are used correctly is not pedantry. To use words correctly is giving the survivor the power and the perpetrator the responsibility.
To be honest, not doing so makes me really…angry.
Expressing traumatic experiences of sexual violence and sexual abuse through words can be difficult. It can be hard to find the words, to say them and to contain the feelings that talking can bring.
In this post Beth expresses herself through a picture she has created to explain what abuse can feel like. We know it’s a courageous step for Beth to allow us to share her painting as part of the 2017 Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week.
Many people who have experienced sexual abuse and sexual violence don’t feel ready to talk to anyone in their life. However they find drawing, painting, writing, photography and music some of the many varied ways to express and share things in a way that is meaningful to and manageable for them. We are certain that Beth’s creation will also be meaningful to others too and be one of the different ways that we can help to raise awareness and understanding, after all a picture can often say far more than words.
Thank you Beth.
On World Mental Health Day (an annual event that aims to raise awareness of mental health issues) we want to acknowledge the current crisis in mental health among children and young people. There have been a number of really shocking reports released in the UK that highlight the increasing levels of mental illness, particularly among girls.
According to a survey by the Young Women’s Trust 38% of girls and young women show high levels of mental distress, and 29% of boys and young men. According to a report by Girlguiding, 80% of girls and young women aged 8-21 feel that looks are the most important thing about them.
At RSVP, we take a trauma focused response to our services. Rather than asking ‘what is wrong with you?’, we try to understand what has happened to a person and how this impacts on their mental health and wellbeing. We provide young people with a safe and supportive space to talk about their feelings, we don’t judge and we understand that each survivor copes with trauma in their own way. If you want to get in touch about our specialist practical and emotional support for 5-18 year olds who are survivors of sexual abuse, contact our Advocacy (ISVA) team on 0121 643 0301 option 2 or email@example.com