Turning a blind eye to childhood sexual abuse
The recent report by Dame Janet Smith stated that the BBC repeatedly failed to stop ‘monstrous’ abuse by DJ Jimmy Savile and broadcaster Stuart Hall. The report states that the BBC missed at least five opportunities to stop the abuse.
In fact, for most adults who were sexually abused as a child, one of the things that is very hard to deal with is the fact that on top of the betrayal of trust of the abuser himself, the child was also let down by other adults, who should have been in a position of caring for that child, and who turned a blind eye to what was happening.
According to Maggie Schaedel, Consultant Lead Adult Psychotherapist with The Bromley Woman’s Service, the hardest thing for many survivors is recovering from the trauma of being betrayed.
Many people who were abused as children suffer with ongoing psychological and physical problems. Research has shown that the symptoms and behaviours can include low self-esteem, depression, suicide attempts, alienation, problems with sex, distrust and self-destructive behaviours. Physical symptoms often comprise IBS, chronic pelvic pain, sexual dysfunction, sleep disorders, respiratory ailments, chronic headaches and chronic back pain.
Many survivors of sexual abuse do, at some point, seek help from a psychotherapist. One of the most important things that they can get from this experience is being listened to in an empathic way – being believed and seen as credible. Particularly because being silenced and not being believed has been part of their experience as children.
Psychotherapy can build on feelings of self-worth and help survivors think about feelings of helplessness and anger. It can offer a safe place. But I agree with Maggie Schaedel when she says that the prime task of psychotherapy is for the survivor to learn to trust another human being where previously adults were not trustworthy.