Trigger Warning – This post discusses childhood sexual abuse using language which some people may find deeply upsetting so please consider this before you continue reading. Helpline details are given at the bottom of this post should you read it then find you feel vulnerable.
The news of the Rotherham Report has deeply saddened me but I’m afraid not surprised me. Childhood sexual abuse is something which goes on in the undercurrent of our society, in your street and in mine every day, but this is something society chooses to erase from its consciousness. Society does not feel comfortable talking about something so abhorrent. It is something the vast majority of people are appalled by, appalled by the repeated news articles, written daily, outlining the prevalence of this in
our modern, so called, civilised nation.
Until I began to talk openly with friends and family about my experiences as a child I believed truly that what I had endured was unusual, rare even. I was shocked when people I was close to, friends I thought I knew inside out disclosed their own childhood happenings which sadly mirrored my own in many ways. Our perpetrators were different but the impact of their actions was the same, a child who is violated looks through different eyes as an adult.
My vision of the world was tainted, it was a long time until I felt able to trust anyone but a man did gain my trust and my love. His love healed me and I will be forever grateful for that. Without his healing love I fear I may have continued to carry the heavy weight of my childhood for many more years becoming exhausted with it as time past. I am not suggesting that people aren’t able to find peace with their experiences on their own as many strong people do, I am simply explaining how my healing was accelerated; how fortunate I was.
I am aware that my social circle is made up with a large percentage working in a caring profession and know that those drawn to these professions often have their own story to tell so the fact I have noticed how high the percentage of my friends who have experienced sexual violence is probably reflective of this but still I am moved deeply by the numbers affected.
My main response to reading exerts from the Rotherham Report was one of dismay; dismay fuelled by the idea that this investigation wasn’t about abuse like mine, which had taken place behind closed doors or where everyone was genuinely shocked when the perpetrators were brought publicly to justice. This was abuse which was widely accepted as something which ‘just happened’, staff who worked in care homes would regularly see abusers pull up outside children’s homes which housed children who were already some of the most vulnerable in our society. They would then drive off with their victims in the car and violate them in the most detestable way. Girls as young as 11 were ritually raped, usually each weekend but people who were responsible both for their care directly and via a hierarchy of professionals knew of this and woefully neglected them. A large percentage of the 1400 children considered during this inquiry were already known to statutory agencies so there is no excuse for how long these heinous characters went unchecked.
I know first hand how childhood sexual abuse can alter a persons life, I was seven when my abuser first laid his nicotine stained and dirty finger-nailed hands upon me and nine when he raped me telling me he was ‘breaking me in for my daddy and that all little girls need broken in so I should be thankful’. The repeated abuse I experienced over a three year period shaped my life in so many ways, it made me afraid of men and scornful of them in a very general way not accounting for the larger percentage of good men out there. I allowed myself to be further abused when I was older because I felt I was worth no more, I spent my late teens and early twenties assuming that men were going to take what they wanted anyway so I offered it first, it was an intense desire to retain control.
Even during those years which by self admission I was promiscuous, on a couple of occasions I got so drunk I woke up realising I had had sex but having no memory of having agreed to this, it was nearly a decade later before it even entered my consciousness how badly those men had behaved, I was too drunk to give consent. I tell you this with red cheeks as part of me is still deeply ashamed of this part of my life but tell you because I wonder if it was a similar pattern which led to these girls being easily groomed. So many of them were already in the care system, lots probably had already experienced or witnessed sexual violence so I understand how they could respond so gratefully when a man showed them care and kindness. People who have been violated often experience that repeatedly over their lives, not necessarily because they ‘know no better’ as many would think but because they want so desperately to be proved wrong, they want to be rescued and loved.
The past couple of years have rocked the gravity of our society with news daily of Operation Yewtree and other high profile inquiries involving people we have all vicariously invited into our living rooms through the television, people we have trusted. I wonder if recent years will encourage people to believe survivors of sexual abuse when they feel strong enough to speak up. I was fortunate, I was never disbelieved, in fact several people said they had either always wondered if this was the case or that my telling them was like fitting in the final piece of the jigsaw but I know many people do not have this experience. I can only imagine how being dismissed or disbelieved intensifies the emotional pain caused by the original act.
It is uncomfortable to talk about childhood sexual abuse, I recognise that, really I do but we are adults. If we need to squirm or blush a little whilst we discuss something then that’s what we need to do if children need protected. We must learn from the news we hear on our tv’s and radios each day and speak out, we need to protect the innocence of generations of the future. We can do this by ALWAYS speaking out even if it makes our voice shake, in Rotherham the report states that so many were afraid of being labelled as racist due to the ethnicity of many of the perpetrators so kept silent for this reason. I wonder if hindsight has left a legacy with the people who could have spoken out? We know from their shameless refusal to resign that those in senior positions who were paid a salary based upon their level of accountability have not felt the benefit of hindsight but maybe those working directly with the victims and the officers who attended each time a missing report was filed will change their ways of working. We can only be hopeful.
After I made my peace with my childhood experiences I was able to move forward, I would occasionally think of them but could go long periods without it entering my head, I am content with my life and very happy with who I am these days. I do sometimes find it exhausting however to be bombarded with news of new cases and historical cases with celebrities, members of parliament, the church in addition to local cases which make it as far as court which we have always heard about. I think its wonderful that society is finally recognising and acknowledging the abuse which has gone on over so many years but on a personal level I find it makes me more aware of my own memories and often leaves me angry listening to the language used by journalists depersonalising the victims and using flowery modified verbiage rather than words like rape which make people feel uncomfortable.
Rape culture is probably an issue for another blog post in all honesty so I won’t dwell too long on those who say things such as “But have you seen the way 12 year olds dress these days” and “Well they went out and got into their cars voluntarily” but I can’t write this post and ignore them completely as I have heard and read such comments on the popular press social media outlets. They were children who were abused. Full stop. The only person responsible for rape is the rapist. The media filters what we hear to save our ears from the true horrors, they are guilty of using more gentle language such as ‘young person’ rather than ‘child’ and ‘sexual exploitation’ rather than the blunt choice of ‘rape’ to let us all sleep comfortably not believing it is happening in our own self blown bubbles.
I implore you if you are worried about abuse then please speak up, whether one child or whether your concerns are about a group of children the rock the boat, put your head above the parapet and shout until you are certain the voice of those children are being heard. I have written this blog post as I am not silenced any more so will use my voice to stand up for those who are yet to find their voice.
I took part in a research project recently at Durham University where I attended a focus group with a group of women who had all experienced sexual violence, the workshop was about justice but we all agreed the empowerment we had all needed during our healing was our voice to be heard and more importantly to be listened to. I know through my work in mental health services that I am fortunate to have been able to work through and make peace with my experiences and how many don’t find that opportunity so they live with the weight of experiences they have no emotional comprehension of, childhood sexual abuse ruins lives, of this I am in no doubt. I was successful enough in my career which I later lost to mental health stigma, that in my early twenties, I could afford to pay for as much therapy as I needed and as soon as I felt I needed it, access to psychological therapies is a whole other rant for a whole other blog post.
I’ll end this post making no apology for the angry tone, I am angry and so should you be on behalf of the 1400 children in Rotherham and the hundreds more in towns and cities around the country who experience the horrors of sexual abuse everyday. Shout until you are heard. If you have experienced sexual violence and have found this blog post triggering then please consider contacting one of the helplines I have listed below. Please take hope from me though, you can heal. A good friend once described it to me like going back to childhood, looking at shit and making it into compost to help you grow… go and make compost folk.
http://www.survivorsuk.org/speak-to-us.html (Male specific)
Or if you feel you need to talk to someone right now or feel unable to keep yourself safe then please call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90