CSA: When Words Fail…

By Sophie Olson

Prompted by Twitter threads here and here.

Most people have little idea of what to say when someone discloses Child Sexual Abuse.

Some react brilliantly – a hug, a kind word or two (it’s rare). There is usually a shocked pause (forgivable – after all it is a shocking form of abuse). I sense the cogs turning as they search for something, anything to make this uncomfortable, unfathomable and perhaps unwelcome moment in time feel a bit better. For them.

I have had many responses including:

At least you have your children. Focus on the good things. Don’t dwell on the past.

These comments suggest you think I’m making a fuss, that I shouldn’t bring it up, that I should… what… forget about it entirely?

I never trusted him. Oh I did wonder – I thought he was like that.

Comments like these suggest nobody cared enough to act upon their instincts when they believed someone close to me was a potential paedophile. I’m sure it’s not difficult to imagine how that feels.

Have you reported? You should report. Have you called the police? You must.

If I could give one piece of advice it would be to support and don’t coerce. Respond, don’t dictate. Respect personal decisions, don’t judge.

Are you sure? We would have known. You were fine before you spoke to your therapist. What exactly did he do?

Comments like this tell me you doubt my reality. Nothing will silence me faster than words like these. (Although perhaps this is the intention).

CSA survivors need space to speak, to share without feeling shut down or invalidated. Or victim-blamed (why didn’t you tell me/anyone at the time) being a case in point. If you ask me this I will try not to look incredulous, and reply (politely) because I was a child.

When I say I’m a survivor of CSA I do so because it’s connected to my work, to my day to day life, or – because I want to tell you. You might share all sorts of things about your past with me, including the bad things in your life such as the loss you experienced at a young age of a parent or sibling perhaps, or your traumatic move from one school to another, your parents divorce, the operation on your eye when you were seven, or the time you had a car crash on the M4.

We are all connected to our past, there are events in our lives that do shape us and that’s just the way it is. CSA shaped me. It is part of who I am. This isn’t ok – it shouldn’t have happened, but I’m not ashamed of being me.

If I tell you I’m a survivor, I’m not looking for solutions (you can’t turn back time).

I don’t need help identifying the positives in my life because I’m aware of them already, and I greatly appreciate them. Positives don’t make up for child sexual abuse. (It doesn’t work like that unfortunately ).

Above all, if I tell you I’m a survivor of child sexual abuse, please treat me exactly the same. Please don’t don’t pretend you haven’t seen me (I will notice because I’m a survivor, not stupid). I’m the same person you always knew – just a bit more me.

Thank you to those who do say all the right things or who ask me when they’re unsure of how to react. Thank you to the ones who don’t treat me any differently now you ‘know’. You know who you are – and I appreciate you.

If you don’t know what to say, or if you are unsure about how to express the emotions you feel, you can tell me because I will understand this. We can talk about it.

Sometimes words fail me too.

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