Tomorrow is the launch of the project. The idea sparked in 2019 following a conversation with the DSL (designated safeguarding lead) at a safeguarding meeting I attended. I decided to talk to her privately afterwards because there hadn’t been a trigger warning on the information sent prior to the meeting, which I felt there needed to be, for the sake of any survivors in the room who may be struggling with the weight of unprocessed trauma. During the meeting I had reflected on my own journey. I was surprised at how untriggered I was, hearing words like child sexual abuse, but I worried about others in the room. I knew in the past, a meeting like this and hearing these words would have felt unbearable. I would have felt like the spotlight was on me- that the others in the room would be able to tell just by looking at me that I was a victim of abuse.
The DSL was open to discussion. She took my suggestion on board and then she surprised me by asking me questions. She was genuinely interested to know what red flags (behaviours that could cause concern) I had shown. We had a productive conversation about CSA, and she acknowledged what a difficult topic it was. We talked about challenging misconceptions of the abused child. I told her about my background as a middle-class, privately-educated child and about how hard it is for the victim to speak out – and how silent wider society is on the topic of CSA in general.
It was a positive conversation and I left with the feeling that maybe my voice had a place… maybe my experiences could be used for good, to help educate the professionals in contact with children… and I started to think. I thought about all of the other survivors. What about their stories? What about their voices? We all deserve to be heard. Our experiences mustn’t just be swallowed up by the deafening silence, only to be forgotten by everyone except the survivor themselves.
Tomorrow I see the results of 18 months of hard work come together. I have had more meetings on Zoom than I can count, I have networked and put myself out there – my motto being, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. It has been a rocky journey at times: because of the pandemic we are piloting this a year later than I’d hoped, and there have been a few changes of plans and speakers along the way, but I couldn’t have done any of this without the kindness of others. The headteacher of the school willing to let me use their safeguarding training day to pilot the project. The company who have put together two films for free, who turned my amateur iMovie attempts into something professional and powerful. The charity who helped me to network with other survivor activists. The survivors willing to speak publicly for free, the singer/songwriter willing to let us use her music; and most importantly, the survivors who answered my survey, asking them to describe their experiences of school, in light of their own mostly hidden sexual abuse.
These are the people I’m so grateful to. Some are still silent about their abuse, and I felt very privileged that they shared their stories with me. I read reams of first-hand accounts of the most appalling abuse of children. I read about their experiences of attempted disclosure, of nothing being done, of being disbelieved or of being put into care and being abused further. Many had never tried to disclose, feeling that staying silent was the only choice they had. I raged as I read about social services telling one girl at the age of thirteen to to put a lock on her bedroom door, to protect her from further sexual assaults by her stepfather. I read of one-off rapes; attacks that change the course of a lifetime, of secrets kept and manifested into physical illness, of poor mental health. I read about addiction and depression, of suicide attempts and failed relationships. I cried as I read the words written by a woman, too afraid to have her own children and her grief at the life she never had. I heard from people in their sixties and seventies and those barely out of their teens.
I felt a rollercoaster of emotions; sadness, grief, and anger. Survivors were given the option of including their image for use in a final mosaic effect in the film. The creative decision was made to pixilate all images, regardless of whether their abuser had been found guilty in a courtroom, to illustrate that ‘despite speaking out, silence and stigma still silence the majority.’
It was important to me that every survivor who participated had at least one quote appear, either in the film itself, or during the presentations or activities with staff. Some of these quotes will be added to the website soon – one question I asked was, “is there anything else you’d like to say?” and the responses were so powerful and profound that they need a section to themselves.
Childhood trauma and CSA pushes toxic tendrils into everything we do – especially if our experiences are not validated at the time.”
Anonymous survey responder.
The film is called Child Sexual Abuse-Memories of School. It is due to be released online in the near future and we would love it if you could share it far and wide, for the sake of the survivors and to help educate a wider society that tends to turn away from people like us. Try talking about this topic and about this particular film to friends, family or colleagues. You will quickly get a sense of who wants to shut the conversation down. You will begin to understand the problem that survivors, both child and adult, face. Simply talking about this helps to break the culture of silence that keeps so many of us silent. Abuse, the abused and the perpetrators hide in the shadows of this silence.