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Category: Blog – December 2017

Does Childhood Sexual Abuse Change Who You Are Forever?

Can you ever be healed from the impacts of childhood sexual abuse (csa)? or does csa become part or your DNA?

It might seem strange to anyone who has not suffered abuse to even ask the question, can you heal from abuse. This is because we live in a society where conditions or ailments can be treated or cured by taking a course of medication.  For those who have experienced sexual abuse or childhood trauma, it can often feel like it can never be overcome.

Even when you think that you’d doing ‘okay’ and getting on with things a major event can throw you completely to such an extent that you feel like your life is falling apart. Well, that’s just what happened to me when my mother died. My reaction to her death made me look for answers to the questions I have always held about areas of my life that I felt were unfixable.

Looking For Answers

I wanted to know why even after all the work I had done on myself and all the knowledge I had around the various impacts of child sexual abuse I still felt there was something missing that stopped me feeling human. I had always struggled with making lasting connections with people, always found it strange that I was still incapable of feeling empathy and compassion for people on the news in horrendous situations. I was still not able to feel or cry at emotional events unless I was completely pissed….of course.

Attachment Disorder and Childhood Sexual Abuse

It was only through a chance conversation with my partner in which she suggested that I should look into attachment disorders that I eventually uncovered the missing answers to my questions.

I had only ever heard of attachment disorders in relation to children and separation from a mother, so I had never made a connection to the possibility of this being related to victims of abuse. This search sent me down the road to uncover information about how the levels of trauma experienced as a child can impact brain development and inhibit connections between different parts of the brain. It helped me to understand the many conditions and disorders that can develop as a direct result of CSA and even showed me how childhood trauma can alter our very DNA.

Childhood Sexual Abuse Changes The Body and Brain

I found information about the changes that occur in brain chemistry and development as a result of overexposure to trauma in early childhood. How these changes were then linked to long-lasting physical, emotional and mental effects to victims of CSA.  I made so many connections to my own life and how I had long suffered from many physical ailments in the form of pain. I had at one point accepted as just me. This information allowed me to seek out other forms of treatments to help overcome these physical problems.

I discovered that due to the result of impaired structure and functioning of cells in the developing brain of victims of CSA our thinking, feelings and behaviours can be forever altered.

This information was so important to me. I always knew I was different than other children growing up. Even then, I saw things differently than my peers. I never related to how they felt or what they were interested in. I always felt different and weird. Armed with this new information I could see and make a connection to how this lack of development in certain parts of my brain impacted how I was in the world.

Overexposure to trauma in childhood is found to inhibit the development of the prefrontal cortex, which controls the intensity of our emotions, modulates feelings of fear which is necessary for impulse control. It helps us behave rationally and think logically and is a critical area for learning.

Living With The Effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse

This under-development for me showed up as excessive reactions to even the most mundane task. We each wrote about this in ‘Click, Click’ how in school, the levels of anxiety were overwhelming for us. For me it resulting in me soiling myself if any attention was directed at me. Because I was unable to concentrate learning for me was a nightmare and resulted in me growing up with the belief that I was stupid and incapable of doing anything.

It is also documented that overexposure to trauma can affect areas like the pleasure and reward centre of the brain that controls how we regulate emotions and moods, form attachments, and respond to drugs.

For me, this lack of development manifested in all sorts of conditions/disorders, anything from social anxiety to attachment disorders, to suffering from depression and an overdependency on alcohol to allow me to engage with others.

Knowledge is Power

So what difference does having this information make to a survivor of CSA? I can honestly say that this information has changed my life. Understanding how my brains development has been impacted allows me to see the damage that was caused by my abuse. It provides me with answers as to why I think, feel, believe or behave in a particular way.  It stops me judging myself so harshly and from hating myself for something that I had no control over.

When we were writing Why Go Back? 7 Steps to Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse’ we wanted to make all the information that helped us in one place. We all feel that if we had access to this information it would have made such a difference to our healing and the length of time it has taken. Our intention is always to help others by sharing our own experiences, what worked for us and how it impacted our lives.

If you accept that your very DNA has been altered due to your experience of abuse you can also accept that knowledge and understanding of just how that occurred will absolutely allow you to find a new way of being in the world. Taking the challenge to journey into your past is not easy but in my opinion, is the best way to rid yourself of damage caused by your abuse.

If you want a really easy talk on how your DNA is impacted by childhood trauma check out Pediatrician Dr. Nadine Burke Harris who talks about how ‘trauma affects health across a lifetime’ at a TEDMED – 2014

Or read the study carried out by Dr. Vince Felitti at Kaiser and Dr. Bob Anda called the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study

Paula – 29th December 2017

Survivors Guide to Christmas

Happy families seem to be everywhere during the festive period and pictures of the idyllic family Christmas can trigger feelings of inadequacy for those that have become estranged from their family for whatever reason. Victims of sexual abuse often feel that portrayals of ‘normal’ family life highlights the closeness that they often lack.

Christmas time can be overwhelmingly social.  We can live for it or dread it. Society tells us that Christmas is when we sit around the tree passing presents with every member of our family.

The truth is, that many of us for different reasons, don’t have family or close friends to spend Christmas with. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, and only highlights our lack of friends and family which we can often see as a failure on our part.

For some, Christmas is not a time of celebration, but a time we hate. Society tells us that to be alone is sad and there is a societal belief that no one should be alone at Christmas.

When we are alone we are faced with our self and our thoughts. This can be used to your advantage and is the most crucial time to truly ‘Mind Yourself’.  Many survivors of sexual abuse may have lost their families due to disclosure.  They may feel self-doubt questioning themselves and the choices they made.  Memories can be crushing, and everything around seems to act as a trigger. Don’t spend your time being bitter about the way things are instead make plans to change the things you are not happy about.

It is crucial to put a lot of effort into minding yourself at this time of year.  Remember regardless of what you may feel about Christmas, it is only one day and it will pass quickly. This alone time can be put to your advantage as their will be no distractions to stop you pampering yourself or finally getting to do something for yourself that you have been putting off.

Tips for Minding Yourself

Loneliness can trigger repressed emotions that can be countered by being mindful. Breathe deeply and truly connect with your inner child. Spoil the child in you by doing something that your child would consider a reward. Write a list of possible rewards you can give yourself prior to Christmas and ensure you have all you need to provide the reward on the day.

Connect

Survivors Side by Side is a support group on facebook.  They are currently in the process of setting up a buddy system which could support you if you need it on the day.  Connect with them and identify the supports available.

Make a list of anyone you feel can truly support you and let them know in advance you may need to connect with them on the day

Writing

Writing is a powerful tool and can help purge you of negative thoughts.

  • Treat yourself to a gratitude journal and list the things you are grateful for; no one’s life is perfect but we all have things we are grateful for.
  • List your achievements you will be amazed when you take the time to note your achievements just how many you come up with and it helps you realise just how you have grown and how much of your past you have worked through
  • List three things you have done for other people in the last 24 hours. Don’t look for monumental answers, making someone a cup of tea, listening to someone when they are upset are just some examples.  This may help you realise just how much you do for others, the little things are what we all remember and appreciate. It is also helpful in making you realise your own goodness.

Reading

Reading can be a powerful tool to take you out of yourself.  Reading an inspiring story can transform you and help eliminate negative thoughts.

  • Put a nice book aside for over the Christmas period and relax in front of the fire or in bed and enjoy.

Pamper Yourself

Do something nice for yourself that you normally put off

  • Have a long soak in the bath.
  • Cook yourself a nice meal
  • Wrap up warm and go for nice long walk
  • Watch a nice movie

Volunteer

There are many organisations that would truly appreciate your help on Christmas day.  Helping those less fortunate can put things into perspective for you and hopefully will remind you that things are not so bad

Reach Out

There are many support groups online you can reach out to if you feel the need.  Allowing yourself to ask for support is a sign of strength not weakness.

Finally I offer the following quote by A.A. Milne to all those survivors that may doubt themselves

Joyce-December 20th 2017

Sex Offenders-Not in My Back Yard

On Monday 18th December 2017 Irish Independent Correspondent Conor Feehan reported how a local community are seeking the eviction of convicted sex offender, Michael Murray from his rented accommodation in South Dublin.

Members of the local community have placed posters of Michael on the lampposts in the area where he lives with the words ‘Warning – Rapist About.’

Murray was jailed in 1996 for raping four women and sexually assaulting two others in south Dublin during a six-day reign of terror in September 1995.

What Should We Do With Sexual Offenders?

As a survivor of sexual abuse, the following opinions might seem strange but it has come about through personal healing and education.

So, what are we to do with those individuals that are convicted of sexual offences. Do we put them on an island and leave them to fend for themselves? Do we take them out and shoot them? Do we castrate them?

If you even look at the headlines and how we describe offenders and their crimes, the language used when talking about them is unhelpful and can even be quite dangerous.

A Sense of Security

Sex offenders registers were first established in the early 1990’s in the US and have since been introduced by multiple jurisdictions as a way to make communities feel safe. They are designed to keep people informed about where convicted sex offenders live within communities.   However, it must be said that sexual crimes are the most underreported crimes across the globe and those that are reported have such a low conviction rate that we must understand that the majority of those who perpetrate sexual crimes are successfully living amongst us having never been convicted of a sexual crime.

We must be very clear that isolating those who are sex offenders can be a very dangerous road to travel.  If we think that we can treat all sex offenders the same and that it is safer to remove them from society without any focus on rehabilitation we are not protecting our children or communities.

Abusers, rapists and child molesters do not look like the monsters portrayed by the media. They are individuals who live in communities. According to Abel and Marrow, 83% of child sexual abuse seems to occur in domestic settings by men who are typically married, religious, holding a good job, well educated, and in positions of trust.  They also point out that 93% of typical abusers have a sexual interest in adults as well as children and as such are unlikely to cause suspicion in our homes or within our communities.

Safe Communities

It is natural to want to live in a community that is safe. Often marginalised groups within society are portrayed in the media as being different and this can cause suspicion and fear of what we do not understand. But it is only when we are willing to become informed about those other groups that we will even begin to find ways of living together.

We need to consider each case on its own merit and recognise that different categories of abuse and abusers require a carefully tailored response to avoid destroying lives unnecessarily.

Sexual Crimes and The Law

I also think that in Ireland, and also across the globe, there is inconsistency in sentencing and often members of the legal system that are charged with dealing with sex offenders are likely to have received little or no education as to the true impacts of such horrendous crimes. This results in mixed messages about what we think and feel about sexual offences and its millions of victims.

However, I also feel we must also temper any punishment with appropriate treatment programmes that will assist those individuals to understand their behaviour and put interventions in place to encourage them to seek professional help prior to committing any crimes and also for those who have abused to prevent them from continuing to abuse, hurt and devastate the lives of their victims.

The Paedophile Voice

When we were researching for our latest book, ‘Why Go Back?’ we spoke to  Todd Nickerson, from Tennessee, who is a non-acting paedophile. He contacted us having read our first book ‘Click, Click.’ We may not agree with all of Todd’s opinions, but we found if encouraging that he was open to reading and educated himself on the damage the actions of those who abuse can cause. Below is a statement that Todd made when trying to explain about who are paedophiles that don’t offend.

Todd said:

Not many of us are willing to share our story, for good reason.  To confess a sexual attraction to children is to lay claim to the most reviled status on the planet, one that effectively ends any chance you have of living a normal life.  Yet, I’m not the monster you think me to be.

I’ve never touched a child sexually in my life and never will, nor do I use child pornography.  But alas, I could never hurt a child.  No matter what, some small part of me still holds out hope that things will go back to normal, or as close to normal as a celibate paedophile with little prospect of a future can get.  Besides, like I said earlier, I just couldn’t allow myself to foist this abomination onto another human being.  

 The following information was drawn from Channel 4’s ‘The Paedophile Next Door’ November 25th 2014

The programme was a radical and controversial documentary which explored a new approach to protecting children and interviewed a non-offending paedophile on camera.

In the programme, they discussed how predatory paedophiles operate at every level within society abusing children with impunity. It states that child abuse had reached epidemic proportions ten years ago and it is only getting worse year on year.  The programme stated that a staggering number of one-quarter of a million known paedophiles exist in Britain.

The more messages we send out to paedophiles about how sick and perverted they are and just how bad a person they are, then the more they are likely to internalise that self-hatred resulting in them acting out the very behaviours we are trying to stop.

Where To Next?

It’s time to open the discussion and encourage frank exchanges about what makes someone sexually abuse another child or adult. We need to acknowledge the devastating impacts that any sexual crime leaves with its victims. We constantly underfund and undervalue the services that do exist to provide those most vulnerable with care and support.  We must be at the very least open to the possibility of funding treatment programmes for offenders.

Focusing all your attention on those very few high profile and know convicted offenders draws all the attention away from the millions of offenders that fly under the radar on a daily basis. Offenders are your brother, father, son, daughter, sister, friend, family relations)

By ‘de-monstering’ offenders we can begin to understand the underlying problem associated with offending and its resulting impacts.

It is time to admit that what we are currently doing is not working.

Paula, 18th December 2018

Why Ending Celibacy for Priests is not the answer to ending child sexual abuse

This week the media have been reporting on the commissioned report in Australia that investigated an epidemic of child abuse dating back decades. The commission identified 4,444 victims of abuse most of those suspected of abuse were Catholic priests and religious brothers.

The commission has urged the Australia’s Roman Catholic leadership to press Rome to end mandatory celibacy for priests.

My feeling on this are that again governments and the media do not understand the nature of abusers or the crime of abuse itself. Priests being celibate is not the problem or the driving force behind individuals who carry out childhood abuse.

According to Dr Elly Hanson, clinical psychologist and advisor to CEOP, “most child abusers are not only sexually interested in children. Children are often targeted for sexual abuse simply because they are usually more vulnerable than adults.”

Just why some men abuse children is the question that everyone wants answers to.  Unfortunately, it is such a complex issue with no simple answers to. I also believe that governments want to label and categorise the people who commit these crime without ever putting any strategy in place to prevent and treat those who do commit these horrendous crimes.

There are in fact no simple answers as to why someone commits child abuse because when you are dealing with people, we are all different and different circumstances result in different outcomes.  However, there are some common threads when investigating those who have committed abuse and some priests can be identified with sharing some but not all of the traits of those who abuse children.

For example, some research found that about half of the men who sexually abused children were in a stable relationship with many abusers continuing to maintain a sexual relationship with their partners so priests who are celibate are not any more likely to abuse than other men;

Some hold positions of power and influence within their communities. They can in fact have suffered abuse of some form when they were children and as a result seek to find feelings of power and control over others and their sexual interest in the child is second to the need for control and power over the child. Again, priests being celibate will not make any difference to this driving force.

Despite what many people think, most sexual abuse of children is carried out by someone they know, including relatives and family friends. When looking at the statistics on child abuse you will see that over 90% of sexually abused children were abused by someone they knew with 80% of preparators being a parent. So again, celibacy for priest is not the big issues here.

I am not for one-minute minimising the damage the catholic institutions have done and continue to do to our children. But looking in the wrong direction only avoids actually putting in place measures that will address the underlying causes of abuse and help support the millions of victims across the globe.

The issues of child abuse needs more than soundbites and shocking headiness. We need real discussions and commitment to services that victims need to help them recover. We also need real discussions and services to help those who abuse and a culture that allows for those individuals who have inappropriate desires to come forward and receive treatment.

Paula, 16th December 2017

Getting it Right- to Report or Not to Report

In an article published in the Irish Times on Monday December 11th 2017, Helen Buckley spoke about the many reasons why Children’s First Legislation -Mandatory Reporting of child abuse will put children at greater risk.

She said that the perverse consequences of this legislation may indeed outweigh its benefits due to the current under resourcing of social workers and their lack of availability to address any increase in reporting.

I would just like to give a different perspective on the need for mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse and why I believe it is at very least an important step in the right direction.

Although Tusla is greatly under resourced and this government and those who went before them fail to protect children. Doing nothing is not the answer. Waiting for yet another report or more evidence that children are in danger is simply scandalous.

Not having adequate reporting structures in place and not providing training for all those working and or caring for children to be able to identify a child at risk is just not good enough. Leaving individuals with the question of ‘who and should I report my suspicions to’? is not going to help anyone.

Knowing that the system that is in place can not handle its current workload is beyond reprehensibly. But it is still not a good enough reason for leaving individuals who suspect and in some cases, know that a child is at risk say nothing to no one only continues to encourage a culture of no accountability.

When I was 7 years old my father raped me so badly that I developed a prolapsed womb and when, at my mother’s instance my parents brought me to hospital to be examined, the doctor that carried out the examination did not report it, he did nothing.

When my sister Joyce told our family doctor when she was 16 that my father was abusing her he did not report it, he did nothing.

When my sister June told a priest in confession what my father was doing to her, he did not report it and again did nothing.

I am not saying that mandatory reporting would have resulted in stopping my father but what I am saying is that at the very lease it would have created a chain of accountability that could be followed and traced back and those individuals that did nothing could be held to account.

Mandatory reporting alone will certainly not solve the many problems of child abuse. Inadequate training provision and lack of political will all need to be challenged. We all have an equal responsibility to report suspected child abuse. We should not require reporting child abuse to be mandatory but unfortunately, we do. The fear of getting it wrong, along with a culture that still exists of minding your own business and not interfering in your neighbours life is not a strong argument for not reporting your suspicions. The risk of getting it wrong is outweighed by the benefits of saving even one child from a life of suffering.

Governments fail time and time again to understand the importance of properly resourcing those agencies that take care of our most vulnerable. The cost of not doing so is a price we all pay. If the cost to society of not providing adequate services to children and all victims of abuse were truly understood, then funding those services would never even be questioned. Mandatory reporting is such a small step to help children, but at lease it is a step.

Paula, December 14th 2017

 

A Signal To Society

On November 24th, 2017, I was watching the RTE news when a relation to the pensioner siblings Willie, Flora and Chrissie Creed who suffered a brutal attack by three men who broke into their home in rural Ireland. The relative spoke about his feelings on the combined 46-year sentence the perpetrators received.  He said that he was extremely happy and believed that the sentence sent out a clear statement that society would not tolerate these crimes.

When I watched the man speaking I couldn’t help but compare the poor sentencing policies we appear to have in relation to sex offences and how society does anything but send out a message that we will not tolerate these particular crimes.

In an article written by Donal O’Keefe www.thejournal.ie in July of 2017, he reported on the case of Magnus Meyer Hustveit who had confessed to regularly raping his girlfriend for over one year while she slept.  The Judge Mr Patrick Mc Carthy actually said before suspending the entire seven-year sentence that if it had not been for Hustveit’s confession there might not have been a prosecution at all.

Why as a society are we not outraged by Judges that are afforded the rights to pass sentencing on crimes that they clearly have no idea of the lifelong impacts they have on their victims.

The Irish Times also reported on the case of former Christian Brother teacher, James Treacy who received a 3.5-year sentence for what was reported as barbaric sexual assaults on boys in his class.

On October 24th 2017 in a highly published case of Tom Humphries a former Irish Times Journalist the Judge Karen O’Connor showed inappropriate empathy when handing down a 2.5 year sentence of which Humphries will serve one year, seven months, and seven days for defilement of a child and grooming her for two years when she was only 14 years old.

Again on November 15th, 2017 the Irish Times reported on a case of David Radford who received a 3 and a half year sentence for sexual assault. David had 15 previous convictions, three of which had been for sexually assaulting women in random attacks dating back as far as 2010 when he was only 14 years old. Another example of a Judge having no idea of what he is doing for the victim of the perpetrator.

My point in highlighting these cases is to demonstrate the urgent need for Judges and all who manage sexual abuse cases to take part in mandatory training on the crimes of abuse and its complexities. It is not only vital that they understand the damage they cause by sending out such lenient sentences to the victims but also the perpetrators. The 14-year-old who comes in front of the courts needs counselling to ensure that the cycle of abuse stops. By either suspending or handing down such ridiculous sentences the judicial system can be accurately accused of colluding or at the very least supporting those who prey on children.

We are all equally responsible for allowing this behaviour to continue by staying quiet and if we want a society that values our children we must speak out. If we can take to the streets because of the unjust call for paying water taxes surely we can do something to demonstrate our outrage at the systems that allow messages to be sent out that if you harm a child you can expect a slap on the wrist at best.

Paula November 30th 2017

 

 

 

 

 

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