Misconceptions Part Two: Ask Why

By Sophie Olson

Another misconception about child sexual abuse is that professionals will act upon signs and concerns.

In my experience this was not the case. This short blog illustrates how easily concerns might be disregarded, and gives a brief overview into my experiences at school, as a survivor of CSA.

Some teachers perceived me as good. Polite. Quiet and Compliant. These are words that appear on old school reports.

This was true, I was all of these things but I was masking.

In reality I was experiencing inner turmoil. I was terrified of school. Teachers represented authority and I was scared of authority.

I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. When you’re good, polite, quiet and compliant, teachers tend to leave you alone.

My ‘faults’ were that I was a daydreamer. I was distracted easily. I looked out of the window. If teachers had asked why, they might have realised they were witnessing hypervigilance. I might have told them I was frightened. I was watching for the perpetrator’s car to drive into the carpark because I feared he’d abduct me (these fears did come true in my teenage years)

I was so scared of having to get changed for swimming I once soiled myself in fear.

I was seven.

The teacher never questioned me or asked if I was ok. I saw the disgust on her face as she put me in a separate room and opened the window. I remember the shame of that.

I was often physically sore. I tried not to touch myself because I knew it was socially unacceptable but it was hard not to. I was in pain.

Once my teacher noticed. She could see, from her position at the front of the class what I was doing as I sat at my desk.

I saw her embarrassment. Her cheeks flushed red and looked away. She never asked if I was ok.

Her reaction made me feel so ashamed.

I was eight.

I was academically able. And then, quite suddenly, I wasn’t. There was a noticeable decline in achievement, especially in maths – one of my favourite subjects. The numbers didn’t make sense anymore. If the teacher had asked why, I might have said I had more important things on my mind. Abuse had escalated to rape.

I was nine.

In my teenage years my body reacted. Glandular fever. Chronic fatigue. ME. Scoliosis. Recurrent tonsillitis. One thing after the other.

Bang. Bang. Bang.

In the longer term, CSA has been linked to a range of illnesses and disabilities: in one study, one CSA victim and survivor in four reported a long-standing illness or disability, compared with one in five of the general population.

The impacts of child sexual abuse: A rapid evidence assessment (IICSA)

My attendance suffered as a result. I was at a private school and there was no empathy. Nobody asked how I was feeling, if there was anything I was worried about or if there was anything going on at home. Achievement was everything. Results matter.

I was told to try harder and to put in more effort.

An old school report. It says: Sophie has never believed in her own ability in this subject and absences have cost her much of the necessary continuity. To achieve a 'C' grade a huge effort on this term's coursework is necessary.

I became withdrawn and depressed. I survived my first suicide attempt. Nobody even knew I’d tried to end my life.

I was fourteen.

I scraped a few GCSE’s, went to college, was happier as I chose subjects I loved and the abuser had gone yet trauma was dragging at my feet. I pushed it away but it was a ticking time bomb .

Diffusing the bomb would have meant speaking about CSA but how when society doesn’t speak about it? I wasn’t even aware of the term child sexual abuse.

When I went to University I was away from the institution of family for the first time.

I understood my life hadn’t been the norm.

I couldn’t cope with this and I wanted to sleep away the days so I didn’t have to think.

I was nineteen.

When I asked my personal tutor for help – (to help me catch up – not for help with the CSA. It would be years before I could articulate I needed help for that), she told me to leave. She said I was a waste of a space, a drain on the system. She told me I’d never achieve or be accepted at another university.

You are a disgrace were her parting words.

I left.

Years later, I tracked down an old teacher. It turned out he had noticed more than the rest. He recalled me as troubled, nervous and cowering but he never asked why. He didn’t record these signs.

He looked the other way.

Most people do.

Signs are usually not recognised or they are misunderstood as reflective of another issue. I can’t recall even one professional during my time in education who took the time to have a conversation about my behaviour, or to ask why I was showing clear signs of distress.

@Lads_Like_Us are running a campaign called #askwhy . Check it out here.

3 thoughts on “Misconceptions Part Two: Ask Why”

  1. The unraveling of your experiences is sometimes very difficult to read, and I celebrate this bravery, this facing the reality and your hard, hard work which will change the lives of so many others. Thank you so much. A powerful read, as ever.

    1. Thank you so much for reading. Not that long ago I would have been unable to voice some of the words but the shame has gone. It is not my shame – what happened and how I coped – and the reactions of others – not my shame.

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