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Category: Blog – June 2018

A Deeper Understanding of Childhood Sexual Abuse is Needed!

You cannot change something if you are unaware of its existence. Awareness of a negative situation, attitude or belief is the first step towards making positive changes.  Our intention is and always has been to help improve the lives of victims of sexual abuse.  To achieve this, we need to help people understand this crime.

Is there a difference between the way men and women view sex and sexual abuse?  Is this difference a contributing factor preventing the necessary supports and laws being put in place to tackle sexual crimes?  Could it be down to a complete lack of understanding of the magnitude of damage that sexual abuse causes for its victims and how the ripple effect impacts us all?

How Bad Does It Have to Get?

We have given this issue a lot of thought and remain completely lost as to why no one other than victims of this crime, seem to realise the necessity and urgency around putting the appropriate laws and supports in place. What can we do to change this? The sheer numbers involved in this crime is horrifying enough, add to that, the fact that it is a worldwide issue.  This should be enough motivation for world leaders to act.  They don’t, and we need to find out why.

It’s like the housing crisis.  We all think the situation is unforgivable and shouldn’t be happening. But there it is, families are suffering, and our leaders do nothing.  What needs to happen for things to change?  How do we help those in positions of power to see, that like the housing crisis immediate action is required? Unless something is done around improving how we currently view and treat sexual abuse crimes, we will all suffer the consequences.

Need for Understanding

We understand that sexual abuse is a very difficult and complex issue. We also know that it requires a willingness to listen to a subject that most would prefer to ignore. But further understanding is needed. Sexual abuse is not simply a sexual act which takes place without consent. It is so much more than that.  It is this very misconception that we believe leads to lack of action in addressing and implementing the necessary changes that are badly needed. This lack of understanding we feel is also present in our court rooms, resulting in poor sentencing for those who commit these sexual crimes. If we are to move forward, we must have open and honest discussions with our legislators.

Delving Deeper

We think part of the problem is that sexual intercourse means something completely different to men and women.  For men, it can appear to be simply a pleasurable physical act. Some men can enjoy the act of sexual intercourse with no emotional attachment to the woman they are with. That is not to imply that sexual intercourse has no emotional meaning for men, it can and does mean much more if it is with someone they love.  However, as the male genitalia is external, the very act of penetration can be perceived that the male is in control and dominant.

For most women, there is an emotional connection before sexual intercourse takes place.  For intercourse to take place it also requires the woman to allow someone to enter her body. This can often be interpreted as the women being submissive.  Allowing someone enter your body appears to be much more emotionally significant to a woman than to a man.

This difference in how sexual intercourse is viewed and experienced by men and women is very important when considering poor sentencing for sexual crimes. We feel that in some cases, judges and men in general don’t see rape the same way women do.  If judges or those who serve on a jury feel that the crime of rape is nothing more than a non-consensual sexual act, then they will pass judgement in ignorance of the impacts on the victim.  The judge may feel sorry for the victim, even empathetic towards her, but no apparent acknowledgement or understanding is shown for the long-term damage of sex crimes and this is itself adding to the suffering of the victim.

Lasting Damage

It is difficult to explain the damage caused to a human being who has been sexually abused.  Words seem inadequate and can hardly capture the sheer magnitude of the damage felt. Speaking from our own experience and listening to other survivors we understand that all sexual crimes leave similar scars.

Our experience of childhood abuse left us devastated. The abuse disrupted our development and increased our likelihood of experiencing other sexual assaults.  We all felt substantial distress and displayed a wide range of psychological symptoms, both short- and long-term.  We felt powerless, ashamed and have struggled to trust others in our lives.

Through our learning of how the abuse affected us we feel confident to say that our childhood experience of sexual abuse was so damaging to our psychological development that it can be compared to a virus. The virus spread to our brain and negatively altered every cell, thought and behaviour. Victims themselves can struggle to understand the level of damage caused by the abuse they experienced. Recovery required a complete reprogramming of all thoughts, feelings and beliefs we picked up throughout our life.

In the short-term, collectively, we exhibited regressive behaviours such as bed-wetting, sleep disturbances, eating problems, asthma, behaviour and/or performance problems at school, and unwillingness/inability to participate in social activities.  Long-term we suffered with anxiety, ill health, depression, anger issues, anxiety attacks, insomnia, and self-destructive behaviours such as excessive use of alcohol and cigarettes.

We each experienced fear and anxiety in response to triggers which popped up without warning. These were simple things like smells, sounds, expressions that reminded us of our abuser or something that was said innocently.  We experienced difficulties forming relationships and indulged in inappropriate sex or avoidance of sex altogether.

We felt anger at our abuser and our mother who failed to protect us. Worse still we felt anger at ourselves for not stopping the abuse.  We felt betrayed and powerless.  We often felt stigmatised by the shame and guilt and internalised responsibility for what happened to us.  We were re-victimized as our self-worth was very low and at times, non-existent. Due to the abuse we felt worthless and abnormal and held a distorted view of sex and love, and we all at different stages in our lives felt suicidal.

Why aren’t we Horrified at the Numbers

It is globally recognised that this is the most under reported crime.  Because of that and the outdated statistics, a gross underestimation of the real figures that state that one in four women and one in six men are sexually abused before they reach the age of eighteen.  Based on these figures imagine one in four women and one in six men across all socio-economic backgrounds are living with the previously stated impacts. It is also important to understand that alongside all those victims are the abusers.

All these victims are currently living every day with the damage of their abuse and we are all, without exception, impacted.  Even though victims may not come forward with their abuse for many years or for some never, they are acting, parenting and socialising out of that damaged self every day.

A New Vision

Can you possibly imagine how it would feel to live in a world where this heinous crime was eradicated?  A world where no one ever again had to go through the pain and suffering that goes hand in hand with sexual abuse.  We all have a responsibility to make that a reality. It’s time to ask yourself …. can I do something about this?

The Kavanagh Sisters-14th June 2018

How Do we Fix Our Broken People?

Sexual Abuse is accepted across the world as being the most under-reported crime and here in Ireland we are no different. With our current population and our seriously outdated statistics, we can estimate that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men have experienced some form of sexual abuse in their past. That means there are at least 900 thousand citizens currently living with the impacts of abuse.

Now take into account that the abusers are out there too. Based on these figures we also must realise that for every victim there is an abuser. We would all like to think that we would recognise a child abuser if we saw one. That we can pick them out of the crowd based on their creepy look or their odd behaviour. But those stereotypes are simply that, stereotypes. The fact is, child abusers are not monsters, they don’t walk around with signs saying ‘abuser’.  They are able to include themselves in our lives and our children’s lives because we trust them.

An abuser can have many victims but let’s take a conservative figure of an abuser abusing 2 victims, that means there are 4.5 hundred thousand sexual predators living amongst us.

As horrific as these statistics are, we reckon that at best, half of our population are directly impacted by abuse and all of our population, suffer the secondary impacts of abuse victims and perpetrators living within our communities.

Unlocking the Memories

As victims of child sexual abuse, we understand just how difficult it is for victims to open the doors they hid their memories of abuse behind.  However, without unlocking your memories of abuse, those memories will be the fuel that drives you forward or keeps you stuck. Though those memories or emotions can be on an unconscious level, they are most likely the force behind every decision, relationship and dream you have for yourself and those around you. Until you are able to open those doors and look into the dark spaces you will continue to live your life as a victim, which not only affects you but all those around you.

Tell me Why?

Offenders can only continue with their behaviour if they remain in the dark about the impact of their actions on their victims. As a victim myself, I wanted to know why my father did what he did, and I desperately wanted him to understand the damage he did to me and be truly sorry.  It wouldn’t have taken away the pain of what was done but, if I had any chance of understanding the ‘why me?’ element of the abuse, it might have helped me heal a little and find forgiveness for myself sooner.

A Reason to Look?

Why would an abuser look? We need to give them a reason to explore the why and how they do what they do.  Seeing into their dark places will provide them with the answers to the questions they hide from themselves.

How we view rapist, sex offenders and paedophiles as less than human, monster’s or creatures that deserve neither compassion nor understanding serves no one and certainly is not helping to stop their offending.  They, like victims need answers if we are ever to stop abuse.  Simply placing them behind bars is not the answer. Offenders absolutely need to be punished and suffer the consequences for their actions and the lives they have destroyed. Their punishment will allow the victims to feel vindicated, heard and most importantly believed.

Make it Stop

Surly we all want abuse to stop, for suffering from this act to stop. We have no choice but to find solutions to stop abuse, to show those who commit these atrocities that they need to stop. You will never change anything if you do not understand why you do it and what impact you are having on someone’s life.

If that is to happen we have to stop seeing sex offenders as separate to us, but rather people within our communities that are damaged and need repairing. Probably more importantly we need to have support and help available throughout the country to prevent abusers ever getting to the point of action. There has to be a better way as clearly what we are currently doing is not working.

New Measures

Today 6th June 2018 the government announced that it is considering new measures, including electronic tagging, to tighten restrictions on sex offenders after they are released from prison. The tag would be dependent on the risks that sex offenders pose on the community. The released sex offenders will also be required to be finger printed, photographed and register with gardaí within 3 days of their release from jail and provide any change of address.

A New Approach

We must stop with our reactive response and begin by treating the cause and not simply the symptoms.  We don’t even do that adequately enough, the scant service provision and cost of attending therapy along with long waiting lists further inflict pain and suffering on the victims of these crimes.

We must begin by providing balanced solutions that help all those impacted, victims and perpetrators alike. We must stretch ourselves and see past the behaviour that destroys lives and look at the person behind them. Only viewing sexual abuse from one angle will not change the outcomes. The ones committing these crimes are the only ones that can provide the answers that we need. We need to provide treatments that will prevent these heinous crimes occurring in the first place.

 

 “If you keep on doing what you’ve always done,

you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got.”

W.L.Bateman

 

Isn’t it time we fixed all our broken people.

Paula Kavanagh- 6th June 2018

 

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