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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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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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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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.

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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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BBC Radio4 documentary:

Listen to Sophie Olson’s story…

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

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