Small Signs of Change

red and green tree leaves on a sunny day

One of the biggest issues we face as survivors is the public attitude towards the subject of CSA and, by consequence, ourselves. The negative responses we receive are extremely silencing but perhaps that is the point. There is great comfort to be found in denial of a crime that affects an estimated 11 million adult survivors in the U.K.

When I started on this activism journey, I shared the manuscript of my book (the fairy-tale part) with many people, and the responses from a few were so shocking and unexpected, such a punch to the stomach, that I nearly gave up.

It’s not easy to be shunned by those I cared for and respected, but I look back now with a strange sense of gratitude because it showed me the extent of stigma and how much work there is to do to challenge, and ultimately change public attitudes. I am curious as to why someone might look up my LinkedIn profile or view an Instagram story yet pretend they can’t see me when we walk past each other in the street. If they want to know about my work, then why not ask?

Maybe they are survivors, people say. There’s always the chance but I think this is not the case as they knew my story before. There was a distinct withdrawing, a distinct coldness after they read the words; when I moved away from ‘victim’ and spoke loudly with no shame. Perhaps they didn’t understand the reality – or the true meaning behind the word ‘survivor.’ Maybe it tilted their preferred view of a safe and unthreatening world. Perhaps my story was just a bit too distasteful. A bit too raw. Maybe they feel I crossed a line by disclosing quite as much as I did. Maybe they preferred me as quiet ‘victim’ and that our relationships were not as healthy as I believed they were at the time.

Some survivors, until they have support to understand the impact of abuse on their self-worth, are drawn to friends or partners with similar traits to our abusers. In my case this wasn’t the case with my partner but when it came to friendships, I felt more at ease with dominant and controlling characters when I didn’t have much of a voice myself. It felt familiar to me. Safe, even. Today my friendships feel more balanced, somehow. I no longer attract those who want to ‘rescue’ me or those who prey on my vulnerability.

I’m far from alone in my experiences. Survivors face responses like this daily. Some lose family when they disclose. Some lose friends. Others might be discriminated against in the workplace, perceived as a bit too vulnerable, frighteningly fragile… what if they are retraumatised? What if they freak out? What if they break?

It’s a significant issue I come across in research where I witness the barriers placed by ethics committees when they realise, we are not the subject of the research but leading it.

I come across it in the third sector. It seems that survivor-led work challenges or even threatens some who consider themselves the professional ‘experts’ in our trauma. The ones comfortable in their belief they know what we need and how to deliver it.

I am, however, encouraged because I am observing slight changes. Some larger organisations are joining in partnership with smaller ones like The Flying Child because they recognise the benefit of working with us, and that we aim to complement their service, not replace it. They see the voice of lived experience is invaluable and understand change will not occur without it.

I am encouraged because I see discriminatory behaviour and paternalistic attitudes being questioned, discussed, and called out.

I am encouraged by the sheer number of people, both survivors and allies, (including my beautiful friends who treat me the same now they ‘know’), joining the conversation.

I do think change is on the horizon.

One thought on “Small Signs of Change”

  1. I first disclosed in 2014 and found three main reactions

    * disbelief, repulsion and denial

    * quiet whispers ‘I’m a survivor too but could never speak up like you are, thank you’

    * I believe you and support you

    Groups 2 and 3 together outweigh groups 1 and I too think the tide is beginning to change

    Thank you for all you are doing and I can’t wait for the book

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