In a recent blog post Thief, I talk about abuse being a thief of many things and the sense of loss that a survivor may feel. Child sexual abuse has a ripple effect on many aspects of the survivor’s life. The impact can be felt by the survivor’s own loved ones but it’s not something we find easy to talk about – for many reasons. My partner and I didn’t discuss these issues for many years; he felt guilty not knowing what to say or do for the best, and I was reluctant to talk about it with him. We both buried our heads in the sand and pretended there wasn’t an issue, but inevitably this took a toll on our relationship.
This guest post is written from the point of view of a partner of someone who is a survivor of child sexual abuse.
Having something stolen is an intrusion. The act of taking something that isn’t yours, that you don’t have any rights to. That you haven’t earned.
It happens to all of us during the course of our lives. Whether a Pokemon card from our bag at school or a camera from or rucksack in a market in Egypt, the feeling is the same: indignation and violation. But these things are just possessions; the loss of the material aspects of our lives that can be replaced in time is not really the end of the world. It’s much harder to imagine having an entire swathe of your life taken. Whole childhoods stolen from them. Tainted and polluted adulthoods with serious and life-altering consequences.
And then there are those satellites within the survivor’s solar system. The partners, family and friends. Often these go unrecognised as part of the aftermath of abuse, but they have had something stolen as well. Not directly, however, the intangible and unknown can be felt just as keenly when the person you love with all your heart, spirals away from you into their own trauma. Triggered by seemingly insignificant moments to the uninformed; a hand in the wrong place, the use of a word, the wrong aftershave, a question that innocently implies disbelief. Things that should form new bonds and memories between you only serve to create further barriers to be broken down. Ordinary events creating extra-ordinary hurdles. What might have been.
None of it the survivor’s fault; they never wanted this.
It is well documented that trauma from sexual abuse leads to difficulties in later life forming and maintaining relationships, managing mental health and battling addictive behaviours. It is undeniable that these issues, quite apart from the devastating impact on the survivor, fan out like a tsunami on the people around them as well. Of course addiction, mental health concerns and trauma are going to influence how a relationship with a partner runs. How a survivor who becomes a mother or father, views their ability to parent and, in turn, how they do parent. And clearly there is the more obvious impact on family members relations if the abuser was part of that group.
There is then guilt on the part of these people, knowing that it’s not the survivors fault and yet almost grieving and resentful that this has an impact on them that they can’t easily influence. That guilt passes back to the survivor who would give anything for this not to have happened. To be normal, whatever that means, in some aspect of their life. The onus shouldn’t be on the abused to find this strength on their own; we all shoulder that responsibility.
It’s ironic that, despite being recognised as faultless victims in any sane person’s view, survivors of CSA are always the ones to truly suffer the punishment. A further, secret assault from the abuser who is, more often than not, free from a similar outcome.
There is a glimmer of hope that could help avoid some of this destruction. It seems unlikely that abusers are going to stop their pathology, despite the best efforts of charities, and front line workers increasing their vigilance and support of children in their charge. However, if the deafening silence that surrounds the stigma and shame of abuse is challenged in everyday life, perhaps the damage that follows could be mitigated. What if society as a whole took steps to give a voice to the survivors when so often they can’t find their own? What if we acknowledged these things happen to large numbers of our community and recognise that it is hard to talk about but do it anyway? We need to increase the volume of the conversation, using the language that most still find unpalatable and shocking. Improve the social environment: if the MeToo movement has shown us anything, it is that finding the courage to disclose for the first time or talk openly, is easier to do when there is already a social conversation in motion. It allows for the confidence that you are not the only one in this position. Not the only one who has had something stolen from you. The support network around the survivor should be able to readily access support for themselves too. Relationships could be reinforced rather than eroded by resentment and lack of understanding. It shouldn’t be shameful to have to admit you find it hard that someone significant to you was abused – that you are struggling whilst trying to be strong.
It’s also important to give yourself a bit of a break. As a partner, I sometimes unintentionally say the wrong things. My words can be clumsy and I’m far from perfect, and of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing. But there is only one person at the root cause of all this pain: the abuser, aided and abetted by society’s inability to find its voice. Breaking that silence allows us to feel free of the constraints of stigma. Whilst we might not catch the thief initially, we could go a long way to making sure that they don’t go on stealing possibilities and potential from people who deserve a voice, a future and some emotional respite.
Read linked post ‘Thief‘ here.
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