Survivor Activism: Q&A

Last week I was asked to be a guest speaker alongside Viv Gordon at the #CSAQT Twitter Space. It was a space beautifully held by Five (@sur5vors) and Lucy (@smile4wales), and despite my nerves, I really enjoyed it! (It also helped doing it with Viv as we have worked together quite a lot and I feel quite comfortable with her).

If you missed the Space or you’re interested in Survivor Activism, you can read some of my answers below – including my answers to questions we didn’t have time for. Thanks Five and Lucy for inviting me and for helping me overcome my fear of Twitter Spaces!

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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.

Continue reading “Misconceptions Part Two: Ask Why”

The Flying Child CIC celebrates after receiving National Lottery Community funding

The Flying Child CIC celebrates after receiving National Lottery Community funding

Press Release: November 2022

A Surrey-based Community Interest Company, The Flying Child is celebrating today after being awarded three years of funding from The National Lottery Community Fund, to support survivors of child sexual abuse (CSA) in Surrey and to continue providing professional training through The Flying Child Project.

Founded in 2020, the survivor-led project has reached over 1000 professionals to date, across the U.K. in Education, Social Work, and healthcare settings, improving understanding of trauma resulting from CSA and the confidence of professionals in supporting both children and adults in a trauma informed way. In a recent participant survey, 100 percent of attendees said they felt better equipped to manage a disclosure of CSA, with all likely to recommend the training to a colleague.

“The training was fantastic. It openly addressed difficult conversations through real life experiences and first-hand conversations. It really highlighted the volume of CSA in the community, some not dealt with. We haven’t had training like it. I would recommend every [professional setting] to participate”.

Training participant (Primary School Teacher)

The new National Lottery funding will allow The Flying Child Project to continue their training, aiming to reach thousands more over the three-year period. It will also fund The Flying Child peer support and creative well-being groups for survivors of CSA in the local community.

The groups will consist of a 12-week therapist-led programme, co-facilitated by a lived experience support worker. In addition, creative groups for survivors will be offered, providing the opportunity to express trauma through art and writing, meet other survivors and build networks in a supportive space. Over the next three years The Flying Child aims to support 360 survivors of CSA – with initial groups starting in the new year.

Sophie Olson, founder and managing director of The Flying Child, said: 

“Thanks to National Lottery players, this grant means we have a fantastic opportunity to improve outcomes for both child victims and adult survivors of CSA. As an organisation we normalise speaking about an ‘unspeakable’ subject and challenge the societal culture of silence. Lived experience in training helps to break down barriers and dispel myths that lead to victims of abuse being overlooked, and their normal reactions to trauma being misunderstood. The current statistics estimate there are 11 million adult survivors of CSA in the UK, equating to 1 in 6, yet are a large, hidden, and marginalised group, with services often not adequately trauma informed or accessible.

 CSA is a devastating form of abuse with long-lasting consequences on mental and physical health, and wellbeing. Peer support groups play a vital role in the community. Because CSA is considered a taboo subject, stigma and shame silences the majority with many believing they are the only one. This is something we aim to change. This grant will make a big difference to people’s lives.”

 The Flying Child encourages the local community to engage on Twitter and Instagram @flying_project, and to become survivor ‘allies’ – helping to challenge the silence surrounding CSA. Sophie Olson’s story can be heard on the BBC Radio 4 documentary The Last Taboo. For more information about the training or peer support groups, please visit www.theflyingchild.com.

During the pandemic, in 2020 alone, The National Lottery Community Fund distributed almost £1 billion to charities and community organisations across the UK.

To find out more visit www.TNLCommunityFund.org.uk  

Misconceptions (part one)

Misconceptions (part one) by Sophie Olson

There are many misconceptions surrounding Child Sexual Abuse. This is in part due to the silence, but they are perpetuated because misconceptions are more palatable than the reality.

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Mandatory Reporting: is it enough?

by Sophie Olson

The Inquiry recommends that the UK government and Welsh Government introduce legislation which places certain individuals – ‘mandated reporters’ – under a statutory duty to report child sexual abuse

The Report of the Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse – October 2022

Mandatory reporting is one of the recommendations of the IICSA report. It is hard to believe that this isn’t already the case but here we are – hopefully this law will be passed and professionals working with children will be legally required to pass on a disclosure from a child or a perpetrator. Sounds good… except children rarely disclose, and perpetrators seeking help aren’t likely to disclose either if it means they’re immediately arrested.

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Lived Experience

It is a commonly expressed concern that survivors are too vulnerable to do this work and might be retraumatised in the process. I have never felt this, on the contrary I feel empowered when I speak and it is fulfilling to be left with the sense of having made a tangible difference to the way professionals might perceive, interact with and respond to child and adult survivors of child sexual abuse.

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Storytelling

One year ago today The Last Taboo, a Falling Tree production documenting my experiences as a silent child sexual abuse survivor through the mental health system, was broadcast on BBC Radio 4. The documentary has been broadcast twice and the first time was late in the evening. As the day progressed I began to get cold feet. I remember thinking what on earth have I done? There were things my own family didn’t know about the abuse and I’d sent an email explaining this and suggesting that they didn’t listen to it live, late at night whilst on their own.

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The Flying Child Project

One Year On…

One year ago today I took a deep breath and presented The Flying Child Project to approximately 100 teaching and support staff in a local school. It was the result of two years of planning, the idea sparked by a conversation with a headteacher, and whilst I was convinced there was a need for lived experience in educational settings, I had no idea of how it would be received. I have previously blogged about the bad reactions I’ve experienced personally since speaking out about CSA, and because of personal connections to the school I knew I would recognise some faces in the room and feared the worst. I added these words at the end:

For those of you who know me, I hope you will be able to look me in the eye when we cross paths because I am the same person I was before you knew my story. If you can’t, I recognise that the shame lies at the feet of the man who abused me, not at mine.

As it turned out, I didn’t need to worry. The feedback was positive and constructive and September 1st 2021 was to be the start of a pretty remarkable year.

We have reached around 1000 professionals since the pilot and have worked with social workers, students and NHS staff as well as continuing to work in schools. We have affiliated with AC education, and are taking bookings for 2023.

This year my work as a survivor activist, has also gone from strength to strength and I have loved every moment of it.

I can’t go back to yesterday. I was a different person then.

Lewis Caroll Alice in Wonderland

At this time in my life I feel this quote is particularly poignant. For many years I was unable to see life beyond my own pain. I stumbled through, often from one crisis to another, not coping, or coping in the only way I knew how to, by pushing away the pain. Shutting it down. Overdoses, self harming, chaotic and self-destructive ‘living’ of a life I didn’t want. I didn’t think I would survive to see my children reach adulthood and I am grateful to be here today and to witness my first child moving into her first flat and my second preparing for university. So many survivors of CSA have shortened lives, as the result of poor physical, mental and spiritual health, or addiction. The project is dedicated to a survivor who once crossed my path, who was unable to continue. Trauma is a cruel thief. It takes everything. Our childhood, our innocence, our trust. It steals hope, joy and the lives we feel we might have had. Trauma is insidious. It infects those closest to us, the ones we love the most and it begins to rob them as well.

This has been the year of tipping the balance. Of fighting back. With hindsight, I am the same person I was before you heard my story wasn’t strictly true. There is no going back to ‘yesterday’ because I am different as a direct result of speaking out about CSA. I am a different woman entirely, one who is learning to listen to instincts, believe in her own abilities and accept her own limitations. I am a different mother, a more regulated and present one, doing my best to break the intergenerational cycle of trauma.

Life still challenges me at times but these challenges are hills or mountains to climb, not hopeless, unfathomless voids in which to drown.

I’ve appreciated slowing down over the last six weeks but we start again tomorrow, working in a small infant school in the morning and on to a larger school in the afternoon. I look forward to seeing what the next twelve months bring, and to more ‘tomorrows’.

No Space

This was one of two poems I performed at an event by Drop The Disorder: an evening of spoken word performances to challenge the culture of psychiatric diagnosis and the pathologising of emotional distress.

I wrote it recently, on a day where I felt overwhelmed and exhausted by the consequences of CSA. In the past, I would have equated this with poor mental health and considered making an appointment to see my psychiatrist. I don’t do this anymore because the psychiatric system was unable to support me with trauma. I never experienced relief with meds, there was never enough time, my trauma history was not acknowledged as the root cause and I didn’t receive the empathy or gentle care I needed to heal. On the contrary, treatment felt punitive and came with undertones of threat and a distinct loss of autonomy.

Continue reading “No Space”

A Journey of Missed Opportunities

Preventing Suicide in Adolescents was the theme for the conference delivered by HSSCP & South Tees Safeguarding Children Partnership. Professionals across various agencies working with children attended the event.

This week I delivered my second workshop as part of this event.

The title of my workshop was CSA, the consequences of trauma: a journey of missed opportunities. This was the first time I’ve used my own story as the sole case study and participants were asked to identify indicators I might have shown and where the missed opportunities occurred. There was a breakout activity for small group discussion on how to open conversations with child survivors.

When there is an increase in child suicide and professionals come together to try and work out why, and what can be done to prevent it, really the only people who can tell us why are the children but they can’t because they’re not here anymore. By rights I shouldn’t be here either.

The Flying Child Project
Continue reading “A Journey of Missed Opportunities”

Drop The Disorder Poetry Night

I consider myself a survivor of CSA and the psychiatric system so was pleased to take part in tonight’s event by Drop The Disorder: an evening of spoken word performances to challenge the culture of psychiatric diagnosis and the pathologising of emotional distress.

One of the most significant moments of my journey was the time I reached out to a GP as I was leaving an appointment. She was kind, but as there was no screening for trauma, I was set on a path that delayed recovery for an entire decade. She didn’t intend to cause me further harm, she probably had little idea of what else to do with me. Trauma-informed pathways are long overdue and it is time for change. It is hard to have conversations like these without being accused of stigmatising mental illness but those who are harmed by the system must feel able to speak. When I do, I’m not denying the experiences of those who benefit from treatment, I’m validating my own experiences as someone who was failed by that system.

I regret hesitating at the door. This poem is called Door Handle Moment

Continue reading “Drop The Disorder Poetry Night”

Why didn’t you say anything before?

Why didn’t you say anything before? Were the words said when I disclosed. I didn’t know how to respond to that. The things I wanted to say spun inside my head and stuck in my throat but I couldn’t say them. I swallowed my words and looked at the floor instead.

Why didn’t you…?… you could have… you should have…

The events of that disclosure day unfolded violently, like a bomb exploding and glass embedding itself in our hearts. It was one of the hardest and worst things I’ve ever had to do. I tried to say why I hadn’t, I really did but I was mute with shame, regret and fear.

My fault was how I interpreted these responses. It’s my fault.

I was probably in shock too. Disclosure might be shocking for the recipient but it’s far worse for the one saying the terrible words we hoped we might never have to actually say – no more hoping that someone would just notice, ‘get it’ instead. It felt like peeling the skin from my bones, exposing the essence of me to the world. It hurt. I wanted to run away and hide. I wished I’d never said anything at all.

It was impossible to explain why I hadn’t because where would I begin? How could I describe my inability to retrieve the correct words and to speak them aloud? I didn’t say much after I disclosed. I couldn’t answer their questions and some of them made me feel so unsafe I wanted to die. I stayed silent and scrutinised their faces and body language. I was looking for any nuance of behaviour for a sign they didn’t believe me.

I waited to be cast out of the family and shunned for saying these terrible words.

Why didn’t you say anything before?

Now I have my words and if I could go back in time and do it all over again I would say,

I did.

I had been non-verbally disclosing since childhood but nobody was listening. They didn’t understand what I was trying to say.

Dentists Need To Know

Over the last few weeks I have been using my own lived experience as a survivor activist, working with The University of Bristol, Bristol Dental School and activists Viv Gordon, Patricia Debney and Hazel Larkin to coproduce research ‘Improving Access to Oral Health Services for Adult Survivors of Child Sex Abuse.’ It has been a wonderful and empowering project to be part of, beautifully and safely held by all, and I’m excited by the change already on the horizon. Many survivors (including myself) find accessing dentistry almost impossible and I look forward to the day in which survivors’ needs are recognised. We can be perceived as ‘nervous’ patients but this is not the case. We are traumatised by our experiences of abuse and going to the dentist can be triggering and re-traumatising, leaving many of us avoidant. The fault does not lie with us for not being able to ‘overcome our fear’, it lies with a system that doesn’t (yet) understand and accommodate our needs. Many thanks to Brigstow Institute and Bristol and Weston Hospital Charity for funding such valuable and vital research, and to Viv for setting this ball in motion.

This is my response to one of the creative writing tasks from the workshops. We were asked what we thought ‘Dentists need to know.’

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Catching the Feather:

A short story of CSA

There was a brown flower on the cups we drank our tea from.

I once filled the brown flower cup with water and around thirty soluble aspirins. I then used that vile mixture to wash down around twenty paracetamol tablets, I was 11 years old and I never, ever, told a soul… The hospital staff looked for reasons for my illness, from kidney stones (which I was ultimately plagued with) to appendicitis (had appendix out on another attempt, and never told a soul), but they could not find anything. Just that my liver wasn’t working and I was a very poorly girl. I was allowed home with no diagnosis.

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On the Crest of a Wave

Content: Child sexual abuse. Suicide.

This week I have been considering why it’s so hard for survivors to reach out even when our support network is strong. I feel that I’m an old hand at this and it should be easy to say when I’m triggered but it’s not. Some triggers grind me to a halt and I need to take a few days to reflect on what it was, process the memory and wait for the wave to pass.

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Swim Against the Tide

One reason I love doing this work is the variety of people we come into contact with. Since piloting The Flying Child Project in September last year we have delivered training to approximately 400 people including teachers, school staff, admin staff, Masters students, practice educators, consultants, nurses, doctors, matrons and Psychology students. Today we presented to Social Work undergraduates.

The information we give to Social Work students is quite different to the information we deliver to medical staff or teachers simply because they could work in a multitude of different locations and situations, supporting a diverse range of individuals including those in prisons, schools, hospitals, care homes and family settings; they will work with the homeless, and with people struggling with mental health or addiction. As we know, many survivors of sexual violence may need support later in life. Some will end up in crisis and they risk their trauma responses being misunderstood, as ours were. We took the students on a journey and allowed them to step into our shoes as we shared our own experiences, including the impact of trauma on motherhood, postnatal depression, mental health, relationships and discussed intergenerational trauma. We had a lot to say, as did the survivors who had shared their experiences with us on social media.

With their permission, we were able to bring in many quotes from survivors of CSA- the aim being to reduce the chance of ‘othering’ the public speakers and of our stories evoking sympathy but being disregarded as unusual, or a one-off.

As well as encouraging the students to always consider trauma in the work they do, we helped them to understand why it’s not always easy for the survivor to speak out, and pointed out that people display signs of trauma in different ways. We said they mustn’t be afraid of asking the question, “what happened to you”, and discussed the power and importance of human connection and relationship.

There was an interesting question and answer session and we were able to touch upon social justice and the problems survivors face when reporting. Our focus was intrafamilial abuse, as research suggests that over 90 percent of children are abused by someone they know (Radford 2011), but we included quotes from male and female survivors who were abused by non-family members.

My biggest wish is for people to leave our talks with an insight that they may not have had before, and for our stories and the survivor quotes to give them food for thought as they move forward and start their professional journey. Above all, I hope they feel inspired to do their bit to swim against the tide and break the culture of silence surrounding CSA.

Worldwide Trigger

This guest blog is a first from my co-speaker and Director of The Flying Child. Her name is Anna: we first met at a peer support group a few years ago. She is a very dear friend, and plays a pivotal role in everything we do. She wanted to explain what was going on in her head and I suggested it might make a relevant blog for survivors of CSA. I relate very much to this; I haven’t spoken about the situation in Ukraine as right now I’m too unsettled to do so. Anna succinctly puts into words what I am unable to.

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So…how are you now?

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.

Continue reading “So…how are you now?”

All The Lost Things

Some pieces of writing have been sitting in draft form for a while. I am always unsure whether to post things this as they don’t paint an accurate picture of where I am currently in life. This poem was written nearly two years ago, at the very beginning of my activism journey. It was a time of intense self-reflection and processing of unexpected grief. Shame was still an unwelcome and persistent visitor as I starting to speak openly but I was receiving a few negative reactions. It felt like teetering on the edge of a cliff. I nearly gave up on my ideas and aspirations but I didn’t. I had a tremendous drive to move forward to the next stage in my life that I couldn’t ignore any longer. I was just on the cusp of ‘learning to fly’.

Continue reading “All The Lost Things”

Survivor or Victim?

The mindset we hold about the crimes committed against us is deep-seated and individually complex. Those who have suffered Child Sexual Abuse are referred to as ‘victims’ or survivors’. How we feel about any one of these terms is most likely governed by where we are on our healing journey.

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Dance, Then, Wherever You May Be

Content: CSA. References to suicide and self harm.

I danced in the morning when the world was begun,
And I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun,

At school, during the Spring term, I would stand in a sea of bottle green tunics and grey pullovers. With my red hymn book in hand I would sing with gusto, in time with the pounding keys of the out of tune piano. I sang with all my might:

I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black;
It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back

Continue reading “Dance, Then, Wherever You May Be”

A Good Week!

This week has been a busy one! On Tuesday The Flying Child Project presented to a secondary school. It was successful for a few reasons: Firstly, we learnt an important lesson as to where our own limitations lie. We know that running the same workshop four times in one day is too much. When you do this work, you share from your soul. It took its toll and, during an important debrief meeting on Thursday, we decided how we can better manage the structure in the future.

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ACE’s: Proceed With Caution

I recently watched an online discussion about ACE’s and outcomes for the individual. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, it made me feel a bit uncomfortable. Trauma; how we react to trauma, and the consequences of trauma will vary between individuals. We are all different, and labelling trauma survivors must be done responsibly and with caution. Most would agree that support for trauma survivors is lacking and inconsistent and must be more widespread, but care should be taken when striving for a trauma-aware society, not to inadvertently end up with a one-size fits all model of care. 

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What doesn’t kill you…

Survivors are often told they’re resilient, or strong. I hate this. On the surface it seems an innocuous comment doesn’t it? Complimentary even. It’s not. It minimises our experiences and it silences us. It feels so disrespectful to the survivors I knew who took their own lives, and to the many others I know who struggle to put one foot in front of the other. Does this mean that they’re not strong or resilient enough? Of course not. There are many factors at play when it comes to ‘recovery.’ In my case, if it wasn’t for the peer support and therapist; people who crossed my path at the right moment in time, I wouldn’t be here today. It boils down to luck.

Continue reading “What doesn’t kill you…”

Hiding… in plain slight?

Content: Child abuse. Child sexual abuse.

I look back now and I wonder – how? How was this not seen, this depth of sadness, by others in my family? Why could they not sense the burden I was carrying? It was so terribly heavy.

Continue reading “Hiding… in plain slight?”

Sounds (Part Two)

By Sophie Olson

(CSA. Suicidal ideation)

Sounds.

As well as men breathing and people eating, the sound of cars on a road are another trigger.

As she was assaulted inside a car that was parked in a lay-by, she could hear the swoosh swoosh swoosh of the cars drive by and as she detached from self, the child pictured the drivers of the cars, in her head. They were of course, oblivious. If only they had slowed. If only the drivers had stopped for a rest and been curious enough to look inside the car. They didn’t and she remained out of sight and invisible, but she was there and she heard each and every one of them. That day, the sound of cars of cars passing burnt into her psyche and became a trigger. She was nine years old.

Continue reading “Sounds (Part Two)”

Sounds (Part One)

Sounds.

The bringer of joy and the bane of my life. I couldn’t live without music. I have extensive and eclectic playlists. I love the sounds of my children’s laughter, or the birdsong at dusk that floats through my attic window on a warm summer’s evening. I like the comforting drone of a distant lawn mower, or the fat crooning of the content pigeon, who rests in my cherry tree. Other than laughter, human noises such as the shout of man or the tap of shoe on the pavement make me deeply uneasy. The noise a human mouth makes when it chews, slurps, sips or swallows pains me. I can’t bear it. I simply cannot BEAR it. It’s an everyday painful occurrence as everyday someone eats in front of me. Not their fault of course as they need to eat, but it’s not mine either, so I’ve stopped apologising for my reaction.

Continue reading “Sounds (Part One)”

Reflections

It has been such a joy to work with Viv Gordon and her team over the last 16 Days of Activism. Seeing The Flying Child mentioned in the final slide makes me feel a bit emotional and I’m not sure why – maybe it’s because it makes everything I’m doing feel a bit more real? I believe in what I do, and when Viv asked me to join the campaign and work alongside her, it made me realise that other people must really believe in what I do too.

I’ve learnt so much, have felt supported and valued, and have even broken more of my own silence by contributing a short film in which I talk about my own abuse. It was a piece I wrote a while ago and wasn’t sure how to share it, as the blog didn’t feel quite right somehow. Reading it aloud, whilst cutting out my doll felt exactly right. I will share it on the website at some point. I hesitate, because some people I know subscribe to the blog. I need to stop doing that (hesitating).

The last 16 days has made me re-evaluate a bit. I need to make more room for creativity within my own work. My original vision for the project was to present our lived experience to professionals in a very creative way. I contacted theatre companies, artists and dance schools but it’s unrealistic to expect people to work for nothing and I had no funding to pay them at that point.

Over the last few weeks, I have met some inspiringly creative survivors. There is a lot of talking and planning going on behind the scenes. I have SO many plans. We all have so many plans. As the flying lady says in the illustration kindly shared with us by @lucybeacham @apinchofsaltsophie (you can find them over on Instagram) – “we have so much work to do…” and it is EXCITING!!

Illustration by Lucy Beacham and shared with kind permission by Sophie Ellen Powell

The Wisdom of Hindsight

By The Flying Child

The Flying Child CIC consists of a very small team. It is small, partly because we are still in the early stages, but also because I don’t trust others easily. I haven’t always been distrustful, in fact the opposite was true. I have trusted too easily at times and it’s been to my detriment.

Continue reading “The Wisdom of Hindsight”

A Sense of Solidarity

A Sense of Solidarity was one of my contributions to Epione’s SeeMeHearMe blog a few months ago. Epione is Scotland’s largest trauma training provider. Check out the fantastic work they do here.

I have always had a thing about groups. I don’t like them, I don’t trust them. I have been wary of groups, ever since the time an eight year old girl with stocky legs and suspicious eyes accused me of laying eggs during a playground game of 4040. This was the worst crime imaginable in Year 4 in 1985. Hand on hip, she stood back to watch as 30 indignant little girls and boys formed a menacing circle and she stared unblinkingly at me as I stood in the middle wondering how the world had suddenly turned so dark. 30 shrill voices began their chant: “ Lay-ing EGGS!, lay-ing EGGS!”

It was untrue and unjust but I did nothing; I didn’t defend myself, didn’t shout, didn’t cry or tell a teacher, I just braced myself and waited for it to end.

Continue reading “A Sense of Solidarity”

Unspeakable Things

By Sophie Olson

I was the victim of a crime, an abhorrent act that was done to me, and to many others like me, yet when we speak about the acts of depravity that were inflicted on us, some people turn away from us.

Why?

Continue reading “Unspeakable Things”

A nonsensical short story

By The Flying Child

A young woman turns up at A and E and seems a bit confused. She has a headache and is complaining of feeling a bit nauseous. The doctor sits patiently and listens to her intently as she describes her symptoms. He asks her to walk across the room and carefully observes her unsteady gait.

Ah ha!’ he exclaimes, ‘I’ve got it. You’re finding it hard to walk properly so I diagnose a broken leg! A spiral fracture!’

The young woman is feeling so unwell and she’s relieved to hear him talk about treatment. She is eager to start. She would do anything to feel better and to be able to walk without falling down, and so, with her leg in a cast, she carries home her prescription of pills and with due diligence, swallows one a day, as instructed, despite the inner voice that knows her best, saying, ‘but are you sure?’

Two weeks later, the young woman is back. She’s still not able to walk steadily, and still feels sick and confused. Her head is pounding. She feels sick with pain. The doctor reassures her that some broken legs take longer to respond to treatment and hands her another prescription for stronger pain killers, and sleeping pills to help her sleep. He gives her a pair of crutches. ‘It’s a transverse fracture’ he says with conviction. ‘This will do the trick’.

Six months later he’s a bit perplexed. He has prescribed a new cast, extra-strong painkillers, sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medication – and nothing is making the slightest bit of difference. The young woman still can’t walk from one side of the room to the other without falling over. ‘Well this is a tricky case,’ he says. And the young woman decides to come clean. She felt too embarrassed before to say that she thought the problem might be an injury to her head. She tells the doctor that she was hit on the head as a child, repeatedly, with a brick by a person she loved and that she hadn’t known how to tell him because of the shame. Because it was hard to explain. Because she was afraid of what he might think of her and her family. The young woman feels relief when the truth is out as this has been a heavy secret to carry and she waits for the diagnosis to change, and for the treatment for her injured head to begin.

‘I’m sorry to hear that,’ says the doctor, and then to her surprise he adds, ‘but you are still having this problem walking. We need to sort this out. I think we need to amputate the leg. It’s the only way I’m afraid. Sounds drastic, but others swear by it. You’ll be up and about in no time at all!

The young woman can’t believe her ears. None of this makes sense. ‘But what about what I just told you?’ she asks the doctor, and she refuses to give her consent to amputate the leg, despite his cajoling.

‘There is no more treatment’ the doctor says. ‘I therefore diagnose you with a disorder of the leg that is severe and enduring. You will never recover, or indeed live without community support or medication to manage the symptoms’

The young woman says goodbye to the doctor and walks unsteadily out of the hospital, throwing her cast, crutches and pills into the bin on her way out. (Apart from the anti-anxiety pills which she hangs on to as she’s feeling extremely anxious about her predicament)

Eventually, after a lot of searching, the young woman finds a head injury clinic. The head injury specialists know the right treatment but it takes a lot of time . They teach her how to rest and care for her head, in the way she avoided in the past because she didn’t like to think about the past, or even acknowledge that she had a head at all, and in the end she makes a full recovery. They tell her that every now and then, the sickness and headaches may return. They tell her not to be surprised if her body reacts to seeing a person, or a brick, or if she reads a story about a child being hit over the head. ‘If you react to this’ they say, ‘if the headaches, sickness and unsteadiness return, it’s perfectly normal. It doesn’t mean to say you need a cast or crutches for your leg. You now have the wisdom and tools to know what to do’, they tell her.

‘Of course’, they remind her, as she walks steadily out of the door, ‘this doesn’t mean that there’s no such thing as a broken leg, or that you will never break your leg. If you do, by all means seek treatment to heal it.’

Look Up (Guest blog by Elizabeth Shane)

Elizabeth Shane (CSA Survivor – Author of Silhouette of a Songbird)

Look up. Two simple words that have stayed and only now, gained the realisation why this has affected me so much. I spent nearly my whole life looking down. Looking down through shame, through fear, through self-loathing and feeling too vulnerable for people to look into my eyes and heart in case they see the darkness I felt. I carried so much baggage I think I could have filled Heathrow airport without a label and would still be the only luggage that never got lost! This is a snippet of my story – condensed version.

Continue reading “Look Up (Guest blog by Elizabeth Shane)”

“Not me and not my child”

This powerful quote is one of a few used by The Flying Child Project during our initial presentations. It was interesting to watch professionals during the project launch. I didn’t know what to expect and I was surprised when I first saw visible signs of connection. Faces softened. Arms uncrossed. Body language shifted from impenetrable professional to vulnerable human being.

At first, my co-speaker and I felt as if we were holding our breath, not because of nerves or because we felt re-traumatised by the process, but because we were both desperate for the audience to just get it. To understand exactly why we were there. Not as a curiosity, or freak show. Not to tell our sad and tragic stories. Far from it, we were there as survivors. Ones who’d made it through the trials and pitfalls of recovery. Ones who’d seen darkness but, through a combination of luck and specialist support, had managed to reach the light. Not only were we bringing our own experiences into the room, but we were standing in solidarity with a spirit army of other survivors from around the world. Other survivors had contributed and their voices, with their permission, were brought to the attention of staff who needed to hear them, via presentations, film and groupwork.

We were there as advocates for the children. The ones who can’t speak up for themselves. Children who, without specialist support are unlikely to speak out for many years.

“Not me and not my child.”

We would rather not think about child sexual abuse. We might accept that it happens, but we prefer to believe it doesn’t apply to us. It is more comfortable to believe that abuse of children happens elsewhere: to other people, not to people like us, or to people we know.

This is understandable. It’s challenging to engage with the horror of it. CSA is horrific. It’s unnatural. It threatens the safe world in which we want to live.

Not engaging with the topic compounds shame that the survivors already feel. How can we speak up when we sense, from childhood, society’s unwillingness to listen to stories like ours? When we speak, we’re shamed. Victim blaming is appalling but it happens all the time – to adult victims of sexual assault and to people who were abused as children.

There is a lot of work to be done. People don’t engage with this subject very well. Social media is a good indicator of this reluctance. On Facebook, when people post about the work of The Flying Child, it never gets much response. It’s not a radio silence, and there are a few great comments, but the large majority stay silent. A post about trees being cut down by the local council on the other hand, causes total uproar. Eloquent messages are fired by outraged individuals asking; what can we do about this? Who should we contact? Shame on the ones responsible! A post about an injured bird or hedgehog will evoke a similarly collective emotional response. Personally I agree that the trees should be saved, and that an injured bird is sad, and I think taking action on these matters is admirable and important but I care a lot more about the risk posed to children, in every community, by predators who will be only too aware of society’s preference to look the other way. The ones who will be noticing the lack of response, and not feeling any shame at all.

“Not me and not my child.”

The lack of response, messages, likes or emoji faces, in comparison, is a telling reflection of the negative responses survivors face day to day. Why the silence? Where is the indignation? The rage? The militant call to action? There will be many reasons I expect. Some people reading will be victims themselves but unwilling to engage because if they are silent about their experiences (which let’s face it, most are), then what can they possibly say? Others will be abusers. The majority will be ‘normal’, good people who prefer to believe not me and not my child and simply look the other way and patiently wait for the post to pass by before jumping on the next, more palatable bandwagon.

Prejudice is another reason for the silence. This is a phenomenon not specific to CSA. We see it in discussion about domestic violence and rape. Some would agree the narrative has changed slightly in regards to racism or misogyny, but only when it fits society’s expectations. Sarah Everard’s story has sparked an important national reaction – and conversation, but what about Nicole Smallman, Bibaa Henry and Blessing Olusegun? Why is society less outraged about their murders? What about Bernadette Walker? – murdered by the man she called ‘dad’ after years of sexual abuse. Are their deaths less worthy of debate, discussion and incensed fury because of the colour of their skin? Or the nature of the relationship between victim and predator?

This is not good enough. There can be a paradigm shift when we stop playing by the rules set by stigma and expectation. The statistics tell us that children continue to be sexually abused, many in their own homes, behind closed doors, in ‘normal’ families.

It strikes me that dissociation around child sex abuse is a wider collective experience too – as a culture we find it very difficult to engage with something so devastating and so threatening to the our understanding of the world as a kind and safe place .

Viv Gordon

Surely we have a collective responsibility to engage with this topic – for the sake of these children, and of the survivors too: doing their best to cope with the aftermath of trauma. Their coping mechanisms frequently misunderstood or judged by others – not because people are deliberately unkind (although sometimes they are)- but because they are simply uneducated about CSA and its ramifications- because nobody talks about it.

“Not me and not my child.”

Enough is Enough

By Sophie Olson

When I was 14, I got into a car with a man who had already abused me.

Even though I knew he would do it again.

Despite being in a public carpark in daylight, with people all around.

Despite my instinct telling me I would never come back.

Despite being in fear of my life.

Because I was female. Because he was male.

Because he told me to.
Because it’s hard to say no. Or to make a scene.

Because of fear.

The abduction was stopped. I never forgave myself for getting in the car.

I think about it a lot. It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. I dream about it often. Sometimes I wake up in a state of terror. I scream in sleep in a way I never did at the time. I wake up others in the house.

But I know that despite this happening to me then, if I had been in Sarah’s shoes, I would have got in the car.

Because of fear. Because of intimidation. Because he is a man. I am a woman. Because it’s hard to say no, or to make a scene. Because you can’t think on your feet when in a state of shock. Because you can plan for something like this but when it actually happens to you, it doesn’t feel real. It feels like you’re watching yourself in a film. It feels pretty unbelievable. You do not react in the way you expect. You freeze. Your arms and legs feel like they don’t belong to you. You do as you’re told because in that instant, there is nothing else you can do.

It was not her fault. She didn’t ‘submit to arrest’. She had no choice.

It is not on women to be more streetwise, or to better educate themselves. It is on men, not to feel entitled to a woman’s body. Not to rape. Not to kill.

It is not on us.

It was not her fault.

It was not her fault.

“It’s Time to Move On…”

By Sophie Olson

As a survivor who is currently ‘surviving’ pretty well at the moment, I take issue with the phrase ‘move on.’ You don’t have to move on from child sexual abuse until the time is right for you. You may never feel able to move on but that doesn’t mean you can’t heal or live a happy life.

When you hear someone telling you to move on, you need to bear in mind that what they might mean is ‘get over it so we don’t have to keep on listening to this.’

Continue reading ““It’s Time to Move On…””

Too Close

By Sophie Olson

Sylvia Plath wrote in The Bell Jar: “I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am”

I recently read a memoir by Maggie O’Farrell – in which she describes 17 brushes with death. The title of this book: ‘I am, I am, I am’,  has inspired this writing.

Continue reading “Too Close”

Two Halves

I am dead:
Thou livest;
…draw thy breath in pain,
To tell my story

Hamlet Act V scene ii 

(Content: CSA, suicide).


She simply died, infected by the touch of him. It began, this slow death, with a hand upon hers, iron fingers curled around small bones that could snap like twigs in an instant. A wrist too small, always too small for this. She was born small, stayed small, perfectly small for this. 

Continue reading “Two Halves”

The freedom to be me (nearly)

Today, I have no one else to disclose to. Finally at the age of 44, disclosure is complete.
Yesterday I disclosed the severity of the abuse to my own family of origin. I had hesitated because I thought it would protect them from hurt and horror and protect me from shame. I knew the documentary on Radio 4 would be listened to by my family and it felt like the right thing to do.

Continue reading “The freedom to be me (nearly)”

As Long as it Takes

Trauma is misunderstood, misdiagnosed and often treated with unnecessary medication. Labels put people in a box. In my case, they left me in victim mode and unable to move on. I was told by a psychiatrist that I would be unable to live without medication and yet I have lived for years without. I choose to recognise my reactions to certain stimuli as normal trauma responses.

Continue reading “As Long as it Takes”

BBC Radio4 documentary:

Listen to Sophie Olson’s story…

A Falling Tree Production: produced by Redzi Bernard and Phoebe Mcindoe.

Precious Connections

Recently I was pleased to have had the opportunity to take part in a survivor/journalist interaction. We had a behind-the-scenes conversation about child sexual abuse, discussed the way it’s currently covered in the media, suggestions for how this could be improved and how we personally are contributing towards solutions in our own work and activism.

As an ice-breaker exercise we were asked to share something meaningful and the item I shared made me reflect upon the connections survivors make with one another, how precious these connections are, how we just understand each other.

Continue reading “Precious Connections”

What is your armour made of?

This piece was homework, set by the very lovely Saša in the weekly writing group I attend. It’s one of my favourite times of the week. Saša (you can find her here, and over on instagram @sasawrites) and I have known each other for a few years and it’s a very safe place for me to speak. I can speak freely and be myself in ways I can’t in real life. She posed the question: “what is your armour made from?” and it made me reflect. Do I wear any armour? Yes I do, but it’s a different suit of armour to the one I wore during the years I stayed silent. It began to change, as I found a way to speak and tell my story…

Continue reading “What is your armour made of?”

Nobody Knows

Statistics that tell us the prevalence of CSA, are vague – depending on which researching body or charity you refer to. One says 1 in 4. Another leading charity says 1 in 5. I’ve also read 1 in 6, 1 in 8 and 1 in 20. Nobody knows. It is a hidden crime. The 2019 Crime Survey for England and Wales estimated that 7.5% of adults aged 18 to 74 years experienced sexual abuse before the age of 16 years (3.1 million people).

According to NAPAC: cases of child abuse remain hidden; around one in seven adults who called the National Association for People Abused in Childhood’s (NAPAC’s) helpline had not told anyone about their abuse before.

It is estimated that only one in eight victims of sexual abuse come to the attention of statutory authorities (Children’s Commissioner 2015).

Sometimes I study these statistics as I want something tangible to bring into my presentations, and I tie my brain up in knots. There is no single definitive answer it seems. Nobody knows the true extent of how many children are sexually abused.

A singer called Brenda Rattray contacted me this week, asking if I could share the release of her new song ‘Nobody Knows’.
She describes it as ‘a song for the voiceless.’ I think it will speak to many survivors: it is beautiful, raw and honest.

Why a child (or adult) survivor might not disclose abuse (and how to word a question in a way that may promote disclosure)

By Sophie Olson

This blog post stems from an email to lady who asked a question on a tweet. The tweet emphasised the need to ask a child again, if you think they may be being abused but they deny they are. She asked how these questions could have been worded to encourage disclosure. I sent her a couple of first-hand accounts from survivors of CSA along with my own. This is my (edited) reply.

Continue reading “Why a child (or adult) survivor might not disclose abuse (and how to word a question in a way that may promote disclosure)”

Silence is…

*Trigger Warning* This writing contains depictions of sexual violence and self-injury that some may find upsetting.

I use poetry as a way to release trauma. It may not be any good from a literary point of view, but that was never the point. It is visceral, cathartic and from the heart. I write (and speak) a lot about silence because I was silent for so many years about everything that happened to me.

Writing was key to my recovery from sexual violence I experienced as a child. In therapy when I couldn’t speak, I wrote instead. Now I attend a weekly writing group which I love, and much of my blog content is inspired by these sessions. I encourage anyone struggling to express their trauma to give writing a go. Writing doesn’t have to mean paper and pen; much of my writing is done in the Notes app of my Iphone!

Continue reading “Silence is…”

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow.

Yesterday I was buried. Six feet under. There was no light. I could not see in the dark. When I opened my eyes, I was blind.
When I opened my mouth I was choked.
When I tried to shout, I was mute.
I could not breathe as my chest could not rise.
My arms were pinioned to my sides. I could not move.
There was space for my legs but this was unfortunate.
I couldn’t sit up so I lay on my back. There was no one else there because I was alone until I realised I wasn’t.

A monster lay with me.

Continue reading “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow.”

New Shoots

Trigger Warning: This post contains references to suicide that could be distressing.

For some, life reaches a point where it derails you completely. It is the moment where you feel that death is preferable. Some refer to this as ‘Rock Bottom’ and when I reached mine, it may not have felt like it at the time, but it was the day that I began again. I was 30, and as the first third of my life came to an end, so did the walls I’d built around myself. My persona, my mask, and my pretence began to rot and decay, along with my twenties and I was scared. I feared there was nothing underneath, that I’d just disintegrate and dissolve to nothing.

I didn’t.

Continue reading “New Shoots”

“The Poo” (Guest post by Willow Thomas)

This month’s guest post is by Willow Thomas. It is a powerful analogy of ‘the life of many survivors of family abuse.’ Willow’s focus is on Australia, but as a survivor living in the U.K. it certainly resonates with me, and I’m pretty sure survivors around the world will relate too, regardless of their culture, upbringing or religion.


Continue reading ““The Poo” (Guest post by Willow Thomas)”

When the drugs don’t work… what then?

It is common for the survivor of child sexual abuse to struggle with their mental health. Many will find themselves in the psychiatric system. At first it can feel like a huge relief. We are told we feel the way we do because we suffer from X, Y and Z. We are told to take medication and we do, because it comes with the hope of recovery. For some, medication provides relief. They may take the prescribed dose for the recommended time and feel better, able to continue with their lives, untroubled by past trauma. But what do we do when we feel we’re not recovering from child sexual abuse? How do we cope with the bitter realisation that we feel exactly the same about what happened to us when we reach our forties, fifties and beyond? We begin to wonder; is true recovery even really possible? We hear a lot of talk about ‘recovery’ from trauma, but the truth is I didn’t believe recovery was possible – or maybe it was possible for others and there was something wrong with me. The years went by, along with the hope that anything would change for the better.

Continue reading “When the drugs don’t work… what then?”

Myths, Misconceptions and Modesty shorts

The U.K.’s lead Police officer for Child Protection has expressed support for schools that insist girls, as young as four years old, wear modesty shorts under their summer dresses.

Quite aside from the outcry this has provoked on social media about ‘body-shaming’ – I would like to suggest that this senior police officer has missed the point entirely.

Continue reading “Myths, Misconceptions and Modesty shorts”

Alone in a crowd

“It’s easy to stand in the crowd but it takes courage to stand alone”

Mahatma Gandhi

Content: child sexual abuse. Sexual assault.

I’ll never forget the horror of being in danger, in public, and the sickening realisation that no one was noticing. I was too frightened at the age of fourteen to reach out to anyone at all. I felt an insane mix of terror and loneliness, on a bustling high street on a Saturday afternoon.

The worst thing about this terrible situation I found myself in, was that I felt it was my fault. I had instigated this meeting between me and the man who had sexually abused me throughout my childhood. I still feel the flush of shame when I think about that.

Continue reading “Alone in a crowd”

The Power of Speaking Out

I was questioned recently as to the point in my activism work and why I had chosen to tell people what happened to me. It was a good question and one I fully expect to be asked again. It made me think. What is the point of all this; the blog, The Flying Child Project, the activism? How is this work perceived by others? Does it even work? Does speaking out achieve anything other than raising pity?

Continue reading “The Power of Speaking Out”

What Lies Beneath

Processing trauma can feel like an ongoing battle; at times a bloody war. I’ve always known that I must process all of it. If I leave any stone unturned I will trip up and fall, most likely landing flat on my face, with a broken rib or two. It’s best to clear the ground now. To prevent the inevitable.

Trigger warning: The following post contains themes relating to CSA that some may find upsetting.

Continue reading “What Lies Beneath”

From a therapist’s perspective… (guest post)

When I began specialist therapy I was unable to speak the words I desperately wanted and needed to, in order to recover. I had learnt how to be silent about the abuse; as a child, as a teenager and well into adulthood, only disclosing after attempting to take my own life at the age of thirty. I made a few attempts at trying to ‘get better’ but nothing seemed to work. Medications numbed me but did nothing to change the way I felt about the trauma. CBT missed the point entirely and psychotherapy was too cold and detached. EMDR, that provides relief for many, felt too intense, pushing me out of my comfort zone and triggering me to the point of being unsafe.

We are all different, and what works for one survivor may not help the next. In my case, I needed complete trust in the therapist. To take things at my own pace. I needed someone who wasn’t afraid to show empathy, or to hold my hand if that is what I required at the time. I needed someone intuitive to help me unlock the ‘Big Black Door’ in my mind, behind which I kept my trauma, to support me to find my voice and tell my story. I was fortunate to find the right person and, in time, recovery for me was to be found at the end of a pen. Only through writing was I able to finally tell my story. This month’s guest post is from the perspective of a person-centred therapist. She has worked for many years with survivors of sexual violence.


Continue reading “From a therapist’s perspective… (guest post)”

… (Part Two) How TO respond to a survivor

My previous post what not to say to a survivor stemmed from a thread on Twitter that was liked and retweeted many times. Survivors identified with the responses from others after disclosing their own child sexual abuse. Some added more to the list. One person replied with ‘thank you for sharing. What would be helpful to say to a survivor?’ and I began to reflect on responses that had helped me.

Continue reading “… (Part Two) How TO respond to a survivor”

What NOT to say to a Survivor (part one)

Disclosing non-recent child sexual abuse was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I will never forget it. It was in 2009 during my first inpatient stay in hospital where I’d found myself after a breakdown. My family had reacted with frustration and, at times, anger at this unfortunate turn of events; after all they hadn’t seen it coming. I had presented a version of myself to the world that wasn’t real – a competent mum of two. A wife. A functioning member of society. But it was all a facade. Totally fake. As it turned out, I had been the most excellent actor and master of disguise. No one had noticed how desperate I was on the inside – and why should they? That had been my intention, but I had spiralled deeper and deeper into the fire of addiction and ill health. I was dying. I had wanted to die. I had tried to die and found myself in a psychiatric hospital.

I was surprised by the frustration. I certainly hadn’t expected anger.

Continue reading “What NOT to say to a Survivor (part one)”

Body Memories

The shape of a jawline, the smell of cigarettes and whisky on someone’s breath. The click of a man’s shoes as he walks behind on the street. Being followed up a flight of stairs. A clearing of the throat. A wink. A song on the radio.

When abuse ends, we have to find a way to live with the triggers.

Trigger Warning: (child sexual abuse/trauma)

Continue reading “Body Memories”

Thief: part 2 (guest post- a partner’s perspective)

In a recent blog post Thief, I talk about abuse being a thief of many things and the sense of loss that a survivor may feel. Child sexual abuse has a ripple effect on many aspects of the survivor’s life. The impact can be felt by the survivor’s own loved ones but it’s not something we find easy to talk about – for many reasons. My partner and I didn’t discuss these issues for many years; he felt guilty not knowing what to say or do for the best, and I was reluctant to talk about it with him. We both buried our heads in the sand and pretended there wasn’t an issue, but inevitably this took a toll on our relationship.

This guest post is written from the point of view of a partner of someone who is a survivor of child sexual abuse.

Continue reading “Thief: part 2 (guest post- a partner’s perspective)”

Left vs Right

Trigger warning (CSA, suicide)

I wrote this shortly before being admitted to a psychiatric hospital. I think back and wonder if I knew why I was so unwell. Did I equate this depressive state with child sexual abuse? The answer is yes, but I don’t allude to it here. When I wrote this, The Black Door was locked and bolted, but it was a deliberate choice to keep it that way. These memories were always clear to me but I didn’t allow myself to let them out. At this stage, they were beginning to find a way through the gaps, but I wasn’t ready to write about that. I was silent about the abuse, even inside my own head.

Continue reading “Left vs Right”

Thief


“I feel like he took my soul” is a phrase that I’ve heard from more than one survivor. The first time I heard it, I wanted to cry with relief. That is exactly it, I thought. I was overwhelmed with relief that someone felt the same way as me. It made me feel less alone.

Continue reading “Thief”

Trained Thoughts…

Some of the most desperate in society have suffered more than you can possibly imagine.
I live near an organisation that provides help for the homeless, many of whom have challenging mental health needs. A lot, if not all of these people will have suffered trauma
in the past and now face daily judgement.

Continue reading “Trained Thoughts…”

But What If I Can? (The pandemic from a survivor’s point of view)

This was written in 2020, during the pandemic. It is important to include because it illustrates that the journey to recovery is not linear. It’s bumpy, sometimes there’s a road block and diversion, but that’s ok, as long as we keep going. 2020 hasn’t been easy for anyone. Under times of acute stress, the survivor of child sexual abuse may find themselves stumbling off the path for a while and they must climb back up. Sometimes good things can be achieved during tough times.

Continue reading “But What If I Can? (The pandemic from a survivor’s point of view)”
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