Spaces for survivors of Child Sexual abuse (CSA) are few and far between. As a group we are hidden and can feel silenced. Even when people ‘know’, it can be hard to speak openly. We know the misconceptions people have, and the judgment that might be passed. We know exactly what speaking openly risks and what we might lose.
Thanks to The National Lottery Community Fund, our in-person, peer support group is now up and running. It is therapist and lived experience co-led, the aim being to create a sense of ‘us’ as opposed to the ‘them and us’ approach favoured by some but disliked by many. The encouragement is to share openly if you need to, leave armour and masks at the door, and to know that above all, you are welcome in the space. This applies to facilitators as well. If something feels relatable then why not say so? We can become so tied up in policy and protocol that we forget we are humans too. This can create a power imbalance within a group setting. It can also breed resentment. I used to ask, ‘but how do you understand? Have you experienced this yourself?’ and being frustrated by the cagey, neither yes nor no response.
CSA survivors who have experienced manipulation, betrayal or gaslighting to the extreme, deserve authenticity, connection, and sincerity, not rigidity and inflexibility.
As a group, CSA survivors are often placed in a peer support with others who have no experience of CSA. Whilst there might be similarities with those who have experienced sexual violence as an adult, there are also differences. I have benefitted from mixed groups – in many ways they were life changing for me and played a vital part role in my own journey, and I value beyond measure, the connections I made. However, at times I felt excluded from conversations because I was silenced by these differences. In my head they were significant, and I sat with a heavy feeling in my heart that others just wouldn’t – or couldn’t understand. So, I sometimes didn’t speak, even when I desperately wanted to. I longed to meet people ‘like me.’ I would have preferred a group of CSA survivors had there been a choice.
Spaces for survivors of CSA allow opportunity for us to meet and speak to others who can understand and relate in some way. Our stories may differ, but we will all face common challenges in a society that prefers to turn away from this form of abuse.
It is a privilege to meet such incredible and inspiring survivors at our different peer support groups, to hear their stories and to witness our isolated community coming together.
These 12 week in-person groups are not therapy groups. They are particularly suitable for those looking for survivor-led support but with the added reassurance of a highly experienced therapist and her well established (excellent!) self-development programme. The Surrey location is conveniently accessed on public transport with easy links to London.