When we present a talk or workshop on CSA, we state at the beginning that we welcome disclosures as we do like to signpost people to further support, and we always allow ourselves extra time at the end so people don’t feel under time pressure if they want to talk.
Some want to speak about their experiences and others talk about the experiences of friends or family.
When lived experience is used to shape professional training, the listener is effectively taken on a journey. We invite them to step inside our shoes for an hour or two, to help them to understand what it feels like to be that child or adult victim, why they may remain silent, how it feels when you want to speak but can’t, what disclosure feels like, what signs they might be displaying that are going unnoticed and perhaps most importantly to challenge their personal attitude to this topic that society shies away from, minimises, misinterprets or misdiagnoses.
Stories like ours reach the individual on a visceral level. We are very aware of how these may land and therefore take great care to create content that minimises the risk of traumatisation, and reduces the chance of the listener ‘othering’ us. As well as the obvious risk of causing someone distress, it also risks being counterproductive. ‘Othering’ can make us feel better about a situation that elicits feelings of helplessness or sadness. ‘Well, that’s an extreme case…poor her.. but that must surely be a one-off. I’m sorry for her, but there’s no way that’s happening here.’ Othering can justify the easier option which is to do nothing, not change our approach or attitude as it’s not that common, there’s nothing we can do about it, and it’s really not our problem anyway.
We try to avoid this by telling our stories in an emotive, yet constructive way. We are not graphic, however, we will never shy away from using certain words such as abuse and rape, which would contribute to the culture of silence we’re to encourage non-survivors to break. When we ask professionals to interact, we encourage them to be reflective and evaluative of their current practice, and to constructively work together in a way that adheres to current safeguarding policy and fully supports the abused child or adult who is in need of help.
I want The Flying Child Project to evolve with experience and time. I want to adapt it to the needs and ideas of other survivors we bring in, when we have the funding to do so. I never want it to become stagnant or worst case, a tick-box exercise in Trauma-Informed training. We are trying to change an unconscious mindset people may hold and to challenge stigma. This change needs to be longterm and sustainable. A multiple choice training during a lunch break will not be sufficient.
At the end of the sessions, if time allows, we show survivor quotes on screen that were responses to a question: “why do you think CSA is such a taboo subject?”. The purpose of this is to realise that there are terrible consequences when a world turns its back on the abuse of children. One quote: “[My son] has been an incredible support but has also suffered secondary trauma through how it has affected me” has prompted a few conversations afterwards on intergenerational trauma – a subject, that as a mother of four, is very close to my heart.
“I mourn the life I wanted to live” – another very poignant and important quote for teachers of children, and one that I personally relate to. An abused child will find it harder than a non-abused child to thrive and to meet their potential in life. Statistically survivors of CSA are more likely to suffer from ill-health and addictive behaviours. Life can be extremely challenging at times. I am curious to watch the faces of the audience who read these quotes. It’s like watching the penny drop. This isn’t just about here and now, this is about the rest of a human life and future generations too. Missing the red flags, failing to pass on concerns, including those that come from a place of intuition and instinct, has consequences.
When the inevitable question So how are you now? is asked I feel a moment of guilt that I can’t allay the fears that there is no fairytale happy ending – or at least not the one they might be hoping for. We hesitate. Well… we begin, life is a lot easier than it was, that’s for sure, but you don’t leave it behind. It’s not that simple.
The consequences of trauma are what they are, and there’s no escaping that. My physical health remains poor and probably always will. Survivors of child sexual abuse can find a way to live alongside trauma, but it’s not easy. We have had to find the strength to help our own children process trauma, in my children’s case, watching their mother spiral into the deepest depths of depression. I explain that I feel lucky, as a multiple suicide attempt survivor, to be here at all… and that I view my eldest children as indirect victims of CSA too, because of bearing witness first hand to the aftermath of my trauma. No child should have to go through that. But one thing is for certain: the trauma ends here. There is joy to be found in life, sometimes it just takes us longer than feels fair, to find it.
Tomorrow The Flying Child Project will be presenting to 200 social work students and practice educators at Winchester University. Our talk will be quite different to the work we do in education as we will be focusing on the consequences of the adverse childhood experiences on the adults we become, as well as raising awareness of CSA in the middle and upper classes, in families that remain mostly invisible to services, due to the misconceptions surrounding child abuse and the protective walls of wealth, education, privilege and connections.