Honest Conversations

By Sophie Olson

Stigma.

Shame.

Silence.

Three words that epitomise a problem survivor activists face as individuals trying to break down barriers, and make a positive change to the lives of both child victims and adult survivors of Child Sexual Abuse.

It’s easy for me to stand in front of strangers and say the relevant words, but when it’s to someone I know, it takes a different sort of strength. I know what it risks. I’m tired of the ignorant reactions and know the likelihood of receiving one is high.

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Don’t Touch

I watched a drama on TV and felt unwelcome body memories fire as an older man placed a necklace around the neck of a young girl. I remembered once hearing that it takes seven years for cells to replace themselves. That made me feel good. Is my body no longer tainted by your touch? If so why does my skin still crawl? Why do certain things make me shrink and curl up small inside my head? Why do I feel you still, if you’re no longer here? I want to shake you off, but the memory of you clings with grim determination.

Are we ever truly free?

Diary entry 2020

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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 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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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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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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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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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’.

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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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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.

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“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.’

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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. 

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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.

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BBC Radio4 documentary:

Listen to Sophie Olson’s story…

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

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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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