Do recent celebrity convictions make dealing with childhood sexual abuse easier?
The recent convictions of celebrities Stuart Hall and Rolf Harris have led the media and the CPS to applaud the breaking down of a long held taboo about childhood sexual abuse (CSA).
However my experience suggests that a handful of celebrity convictions are not enough to help CSA survivors to work through the complex trauma resulting from their experience. Some of the comments heard from survivors in recent weeks include:
- Why the focus on celebrities?
- What about the majority of abuse which is perpetrated by people known to the victim?
- The spotlight is on the abuser – what about the survivor’s story?
- When does the survivor get a voice?
- Recent cases of high profile abusers like Rolf Harris and Jimmy Savile demonise them and highlight their predatory nature. What about those of us who were abused by someone who I believe loved me?
When is the right time to speak out?
Many survivors, who have long carried the shame of their abuse, also carry shame for not speaking out sooner, or trying to address their abuse sooner. Because the abuse is often tangled with dependency and love, the survivor feels somewhat responsible for what happened to them.
Daring to acknowledge that the abuse is something which needs to be worked through is, in itself, a courageous act.
The recent tragedy of Frances Andrade who took a lethal overdose during the trial of her abusers (when she was at Chetham’s Music School), highlights how difficult it is for a survivor to be open about their abuse.
It is critical that the survivor can build a strong network of support around them as they start to address their trauma: friends, family, professional support (GPs, therapists) and employers are all important anchors as the survivor starts to explore the impact of their abuse.
Don’t confuse criminal prosecution with working through the trauma
Many survivors who are coming forward with historical sexual abuse claims believe that this may help them with resolving their trauma. Whilst pursuing a prosecution can be enormously empowering and give survivors the voice they didn’t have when they were abused, it can also be an extremely triggering process.
It is important to fully explore the motivations behind the wish to prosecute and not be under any false illusions that this will provide ‘closure’. The hardest part of working through the trauma of childhood sexual abuse, and the most liberating, is integrating this experience.
What does recovery look like?
One survivor said to me recently,
"I am the person I am today, not in spite of the abuse, but because of the abuse: I am a warmer, more compassionate, and sensitive human being because of the trauma I suffered."
Accepting that the abuse is a part of the rich tapestry of the survivor’s experience, is tremendously rewarding: I feel humbled by the journeys my clients embark on, and the contributions they make as survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
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