As much as I hate labels, in our case being labelled as victims of sexual abuse gave us direction when we first went looking for support. However, I know that even now, the level of support available for victims of sexual abuse in Ireland, and around the world, is inadequate and receives insufficient funding. There is a lack of will from governments to improve the support survivors can assess and this needs to change.
Survivors Helping Survivors
In the absence of adequate support for victims of sexual abuse, survivors are taking control and providing support for each other. Shaneda Daly, a fellow survivor of sexual abuse has taking matters into her own hands and set up a support page on Facebook for survivors of abuse.
In addition to this, Shaneda is looking to fill the gap by setting up support groups around the country that will be run by survivors for survivors. While this is very commendable it is also sad that survivors must resort to this due to lack of available resources. It may well be the only way to reach the multitude of survivors.
In our new book ‘Why Go Back? 7 Steps to Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse’ we want to make survivors, and those who support them aware of the ways abuse effects every aspect of their lives. In addition to this, we think it’s important to highlight the impact that abuse has on those who have not been directly abused, who we call secondary victims. I know that for every victim of abuse, there are family members, partners and friends who share their pain.
When someone you love tells you that they have been abused it can be overwhelming. Often those we tell aren’t equipped to know what to do or say. If you are lucky enough not to have experienced sexual abuse first hand, knowing someone close to you who has been abused can leave you feeling anxious, depressed, and powerless.
We have had many reach out to us asking how they can support someone who has disclosed their abuse. These supporters rarely feel that they too may need help. Abuse affects not only the life of the victim but also those close to them. Finding out that a son, daughter, sister, brother, mother, father, or friend has been abused can change their life forever. They need to learn how to deal with their own feelings in order to be able to effectively support the victim.
A Brothers Pain
I am part of a large family and even today I watch my siblings struggling. When the silence about the abuse my sisters and I experienced was finally broken, our siblings were not seen as victims. Yet the fact that they also grew up in our family home meant that they too were groomed. Like us, they also lived by the unwritten rules that came hand in hand with abuse. The negative feelings and thoughts they learnt to push down are similar to how we felt, but they were not awarded the same level of empathy we were or directed to get help.
I see my brothers struggle to get through life. I know they feel they let us down by not protecting us and they are ashamed that they didn’t stand up to my father when they were children. It challenges their sense of manhood in ways we don’t fully understand. They do not give any credence to the fact they were children when all this was happening.
Unfortunately, they don’t have the skills to separate how they felt then from how they feel now. This is taking its toll on each one of them. They continue with their inner struggle of self- judgement, guilt, and shame. As men they worry that they too may be judged as having the same sexual tendencies as our father.
The fear they carry, without any justification, remains with them always. They are not equipped to face the fear but instead they continue to beat themselves up over an issue that was not theirs but our fathers.
A Sisters Struggle
My older sister was not as fortunate as us when it came to getting help and support. This was mainly because she left the family home when she was 18. Also abused by our father, she escaped to lived abroad and has done ever since. She continues to carry guilt for not being able to protect us, her younger sisters and constantly questions if things could have been different if she had of spoken out and reported our dad years ago.
Prior to the court case she returned home to make a statement, but my father accused her of ‘jumping on the band wagon.’ While he admitted to sexually abusing each of us, he continued to refuse that he had also abused her. With no one able to collaborate her story the Garda suggested she not pursue any additional charges.
She was informed that the legal outcome for our father would be the same regardless of whether she was part of the process or not. Although my father did get sent to prison, I often wonder how she feels deep down. She never got to tell her story and I wonder if this still hurts her.
A Mothers Innocence
I am aware that not all victims of abuse are fortunate enough to have their family stand by them when they disclose abuse. While we cannot ignore the fact that some mothers are responsible for abusing their children this is not my personal experience, and so best to leave that for another conversion. It’s best that I discuss what I know.
In the case of my own mother, I watched her persecuted both internally and externally when our abuse was made public. Her perception of how neighbours and friends thought of her ensured she became a recluse. She felt so guilty for not protecting us. She believed the view of the outside world was that it isn’t possible to have abuse in a house without the mother knowing. This presumption is born out of ignorance. I believe that unless you have grown up in an abusive family you cannot understand the complexities that go hand in hand with abuse.
We are so grateful to the brave mothers who shared their stories in ‘Why go Back? 7 Steps to Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse.’ Their experiences will break your heart. They tell of the isolation and pain they felt as secondary victims of abuse. Each of them know that with a little support their life could be a little easier.
That really made me think. It’s clearly not recognised that although not directly abused themselves, their worlds have been turned upside down by abuse. They too are victims. They are not responsible for what happened to their children. They shouldn’t be isolated, they need support.
The lack of family support systems is clear. Families and secondary victims need to receive help and be able to access appropriate information to build their understanding of the impacts the abuse has had on each member of the family.
Adequate support will allow secondary victims to identify their own feelings and work through the pain and confusion. With the support of a professional the whole family could help each other heal.
Until that happens I urge you to be mindful when you hear of cases of abuse and instead of jumping to judgements be aware that there are secondary victims too.
Joyce-9th January 2018