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“I was abused as a teenager and am afraid of telling anyone”

October 16th, 2013

Dr Petra

This post discusses childhood sexual abuse and may be triggering or upsetting. The link problem/reply linked to in the following paragraph contains sources of support and advice if you are affected.

Earlier this year I received a letter from a woman who had survived childhood sexual abuse but was finding the extensive media coverage of child sex abuse cases distressing. In my reply I looked to explore ways the woman might feel more in control while signposting her to services and organisations that might be able to support her. You can read her question and my reply here.

The publication of this letter clearly resonated with others and I had a number of emails from people reporting feeling similarly. I also had the following feedback about the reply I gave:

“I think you did a good job of balancing a calm this-is-how-it-is-sometimes-for-survivors tone with making it clear that she doesn’t have to go through it all alone. Not sounding shocked or demanding Action! Now! is my survivor-support need number 1. You’ve also gently offered her some vocabulary to start structuring her thoughts with and that she can use to speak to others, which is fab – that can help to distance you enough to keep the heid while talking to someone… I think part of it is the need for workers to recognise and rein in their (our) saviour complexes, and part the panic and pressure induced by time limits and policy drivers snapping at your heels. Part of it, though, seems to be a lack of empathy and a culture of rarely acknowledging that we (as workers) are messy and damaged too, and scared of other people’s messiness because it reminds us of our own…I’m starting to think, actually, that every level of human-services training needs to include a compulsory element of self-reflection. It’s not just psychotherapists who could do with learning themselves before telling other people who they are. The main part of the job is using what you are to connect with people and help them achieve goals. If you don’t know who you are, or refuse to have it be relevant, you’re not going to practice well.”

Ronete Cohen
“My only comment is that it’s worth being aware of the fact that she was abused by a relative and has told no one for all these years. This suggests that she possibly grew up in an unsafe family situation: the abuse came from within the home and/or the family wasn’t safe/functional enough to prevent that happening, notice or make it possible for her to tell someone what was happening with the knowledge that she would be supported and cared for. People like that are more likely to go on to have other dysfunctional relationships, especially when they have had no therapy or gone through any other healing process. It is worth bearing that in mind re getting her to tell her husband and not assuming that her current home situation is nurturing and supportive enough for this to have a good outcome. This doesn’t necessarily have to mean a negative reaction, but could even mean a lack of care and support (which could be what prevented her from telling anyone when she still lived at home, which could be quite traumatic)”

“I couldn’t tell from the letter whether her abuser was a man or a woman. You didn’t seem to assume it was a man in your answer. I was a victim of child abuse when younger. My abuser was a woman. People forget women can be abusers. Victims need help regardless of who abused them. We need to break taboos around telling sometimes women abuse too”

If you have links to organisations that support child abuse survivors please feel free to email me and I can add them to my Help and Advice page.

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