Battle of Beliefs

By Sophie Olson
A survivor’s view on the debate between trauma and mental illness

Some people with underlying trauma will be misdiagnosed. I believe it happened to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. I’ve also seen for myself the devastation of untreated mental illness, the way it impacts on family and the miracle that happens when that person emerges from the depths of despair to claim back the life they lost.

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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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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.

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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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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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“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.

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.

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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.

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.

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