Victims and Survivors Forum
Sitting in a conference room in London, there is an air of nervousness, anxiety and excitement. People greet each other like old friends and there is a sense of warmth, compassion and determination. We are here to discuss changing the culture that surrounds child sexual abuse at the Victims and Survivors Forum, part of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.
I know some of you will already be wincing when reading those three words.
Those three words mean so much to survivors. It affects the core of who we are, our identity and belonging. In my case, it makes me suspicious. If you’re kind to me, what do I have to do to be kind back to you? What does that involve? It brings out the ugliness in me. What are the terms and conditions of your kindness and does it involve me having to do something I don’t want to do to please you?
Survivors’ conversations can be graphic, shocking and raw, but also matter of fact. There is a deep level of understanding, validation and acceptance from one another. It’s like we’re all part of a tribe, a community; we have membership to something we certainly didn’t sign up for but it’s a place where you can cry, and no one will patronise you, or stifle you, you can let the tears run and no one will judge you for that. We’ll just pass you a tissue and carry on with the conversation because we know that’s what you want.
You want to make a positive change and to break down the cultural barriers. You want to encourage a more open conversation, and there has never been a more important time to do so; with over 4,000 survivors having now shared their experiences with the Inquiry’s Truth Project, the need to talk about child sexual abuse is clear.
Survivors described being made to feel fragile, weak and damaged by others after disclosing the abuse they suffered as a child, or that their professionalism or ability to undertake tasks questioned and doubted by other professionals. The relief is one that everyone acknowledges, because many of us understand what that feels like. We too have experienced that behaviour.
Women shared fears about the vampire myth - that because we were abused as children, we will go on to abuse our own children. A “normal” show of maternal love, nurture and care, fills many with intrepid fear and anxiety. The topic was so taboo that it took one brave woman to share how she felt for the rest of us to admit we felt the same way too. But, we shouldn’t be made to feel like that, because we ourselves are victims.
Men described how child sexual abuse impacted on their masculinity and how they are viewed by families, friends and colleagues. They fear that they are not viewed as “real men” and talked of the importance of having more male role models who are willing to talk about their experiences of abuse.
It is evident that survivors want real change and are determined for that to happen. I am empowered by their willingness to have the tough and awkward conversations with others, to break down the stigmas and barriers surrounding discussing child sexual abuse and to protect children in the future. They don’t want your sympathy, they want you to actively listen and help them make the change.
One amazing woman in particular struck a chord with me. She takes every opportunity to discuss the impact that child sexual abuse can have on an individual, through her work and personal life - and when she sees people recoil or avoid further conversation about it, she tells them, “...and you are part of the problem”. I can’t help but agree and find her approach refreshing - admittedly I’m not sure I could be that brave, but promised I will try that approach next time someone tells me they don’t want to hear about child sexual abuse.
If we are to help ensure children are better protected in future, it is crucial that we do so.
Survivors of child sexual abuse who would like to share their experiences in writing, over the phone or in person can get in touch with the Inquiry's Truth Project. Visit www.truthproject.org.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org
For their latest research see: https://www.iicsa.org.uk/news/inquiry-poll-confirms-81-child-sexual-abuse-survivors-feel-stereotyped%C2%A0