Don’t Ask Victims of Sexual Abuse to Speak Up Until You Can Help Them!

I was abused, and I know that neither the cash-poor voluntary sector nor the NHS is currently able to provide the support survivors need.


Young woman seeing therapist
‘There is no funding to arrive at a proper diagnosis of what psychological problems may exist – and the prospect of meaningful long-term therapy at no cost is unrealistic.’ Photograph: Alamy

As a victim of historical sexual abuse, currently under investigation, I watch the daily news coverage with interest. Unquestionably, police inquiries and prosecutions are welcomed, as is greater exposure of the problem in a “post-Savile” era.

However, every headline and breaking news story, such as Wednesday’s arrest of 660 suspected paedophiles, is accompanied by a mixture of conflicting feelings. Each shocking new revelation brings a personal delight that this filth is being uncovered at long last, but with it comes hurt as it has been hidden for so long – both by society and inside me. Very old scars are opened, and thought patterns become an electrical storm – overloaded by adrenalin, cortisol and a malfunctioning hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which governs the fight or flight response. It is called Complex PTSD for a reason.

But alongside the emotional exhaustion of the nervous system, I am reminded that others cannot understand the depth of pain that I feel. Friends are unable to provide much meaningful support – the hole in which I find myself is too deep and too dark – and eventually they stop calling out.

And so with each call for victims to come forward, I want to scream: “Do not ask them to come forward if you are not going to help them.” The trauma suffered is such that victims need help, nursing and wrapping in cotton wool. They need compassion, understanding and to be able to trust – something that they have not been able to do for so long. However, what happens is that police refer victims into the voluntary sector, where agencies provide some immediate “first aid” and kind words – but little else. There is no funding to arrive at a proper diagnosis of what psychological problems may exist – and the prospect of meaningful long-term therapy at no cost is unrealistic. These organisations are so starved of funding, that often much more than a helpline is impossible.

So, what of the NHS? My first doctor said “you seem OK”. The second said “the NHS are really bad at this sort of thing – if I were you I’d pay for it myself”. Eventually after a year I got to see a psychotherapist, who assessed that I would need unlimited support. However, as they were only able to help for two years on the NHS, they said that they were ethically unable to begin any treatment as I might end up in a worse state than when they started. They agreed that I needed help but the impending court case meant that they didn’t “want to open my can of worms”. This only serves to compound my lack of trust for authority figures.

So, I am left delighting in the exposure of decades of abuse, but screaming for a sensible victim support response – the absence of which traumatises me, and will traumatise others. I know my life will never be the same again. I have a criminal case to endure, followed by inquiries into institutional abuse followed by inquiries into the failings of the criminal justice system – but the question I ask myself is “after all of this … will there be enough of me left to enjoy the days I have remaining?”

All I can do is try to help create change for the children I will never have.

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