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What is Choice?

If you look up the word choice for a definition you will get so many alternatives to its meaning and many different contexts in which the meaning of the word choice changes.

So when it comes to explaining why many victims that do not live with their abuser appear to choose to continually return to the scene of the crime only to be abused again and again is not a simple explanation and neither is the implied choice of the victim.

I can only speak from my personal experience of being a child that was continually abused by my father well into my teenage years when some would consider that I was then old enough to make the choice to say no, to leave home, to run away or to report him to the authorities.

I have heard this said by many people who do not understand the impacts of abuse and so many more people that really struggle to understand how grown women or men stay with a partner who is beating them sometimes so badly that they end up in hospital fighting for their lives.

In many cases when these women or men are asked to press charges against their partners they refuse stating that they couldn’t do that to him/her as they love them and they accept the show of remorse and the promise by him/her that they will never do that again.

I believe to explain this you have to understand how self-hatred, guilt and shame play such a huge role in removing the belief that you have choice, that you can say no, that you can run away or remove yourself from a dangerous situation or relationship.

When I finally said no to my father, I can honestly tell you I did not believe I had choice or that by me saying no, the sexual abuse would end. I also can’t tell you how much I suffered as a result of saying no, and the self-inflicted pain and mental torture that made my life a living hell from that day on.

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BELIEVE THAT YOU HAVE CHOICE?

What I can say however, choice is only there if the person themselves believe they can make a choice. The word itself implies that you have the ability to see what’s happening to you and all the possible alternatives and then pick which one is the best for you. It not about if the choice is difficult or painful or the possible consequences of making such choices, its about having the ability to think you can make one.

To me, that ability to see choice is totally dependent on your ability to see yourself as something worth saving.  Someone who deserves better, has a right to not be hurt, abused, tortured, diminished in any way. You need to see yourself as someone who matters in the world.

How many of us can honestly not only say that but mean it. Unfortunately, it is these very beliefs that are removed by the abuser as soon as they begin their grooming process. The grooming process can happen to anyone in any walk of life and at any age. It is this grooming process that allows the abuser to corrode the very things that makes us human.

The saying that ‘you can’t love someone else until you love yourself’ used to get right up my nose. I always felt I had no problem loving others in fact most of the time I didn’t think I had any difficulty being kind and generous with my friends and partners. It is only now that I actually understand why that saying is true.

I never made a true connection with anyone on any level other than superficial. I was operating out of my damaged self and avoidance of any real emotional pain was my end game. I didn’t know this was what I was doing, I always just believed that people will always let you down, everyone will always put themselves first, no one really cares about anyone other than themselves, and so all my relationships begun out of need and lasted because I focused on their issues and not my own.

I now believe that those who are abused by someone outside of their family have all the emotional hurts that victims of all abuse carry, without question. They feel just as sick, dirty, stupid and weak as I did. I bet they even believe that the hate they hold for themselves is more justified and have no difficulty taking on the views held by society. I can even bet they believe that what happened was their choice and not that of their abuser, that is how deep an impact the grooming process has on all its victims.

By Paula Kavanagh 

WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE?

  1. Do you believe that Jeffery Epstein would have attracted and been able to sexually abuse girls who believed their self-worth was equal to his?
  2. Do you believe Harvey Weinstein would have been able to sexually force himself on beautiful actresses f they didn’t believe in his power and fear that his power could make or break their career?
  3. Do you believe that hundreds, possibly thousands of 13 and 14-year-old girls were happy to continually return for sex with unattractive overweight middle-aged Pakistani men in the Rochdale sex abuse scandal?
  4. Do you believe that young boys and girls could have been frightened, manipulated and coerced into sexually abusive acts all across the world by scout leaders, coaches, parents, siblings etc for the sole purpose of providing sexual gratification to the perpetrator?  

In all these instances of sexual abuse, what makes it possible for perpetrators to abuse, is an imbalance of power.

 WHO’S IN CONTROL

The key to why a victim would return to an abuser after they had been sexually abused by them is in the grooming, and that is as unique as the people involved. The abuser will say anything he has to, instilling fear into his victims to control them in order to fulfill his sexual fantasies. In my case it was ‘if you tell, your mother will leave’ that was all it took. When you hear it as an adult it sounds unbelievable that I wasn’t threatened with death if I told the secret, but there it is. 

It is easy to imagine a child being manipulated and frightened into doing and believing whatever an abuser wants them to do/believe, but abusers are predators, with no conscience and can coerce anyone at any age or stage of life if the power imbalance is there.

The abuser does not have to be highly intelligent; the victim just has to believe that they are more powerful than them which makes them more susceptible to being controlled.

It is also important to note that grooming is premeditation of a crime and should be considered as such on a charge sheet.

WHY WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND

I feel it is vitally important that there is an understanding of why a victim would return to an abuser because this detail in a victim’s statement has been unjustly used against them in court. Barristers have been known to ask victims “how is it that you say this man sexually abused you but yet, you later attended his wedding?” or, “if this man sexually abused you, why are there photos of you both after the abuse is said to have taken place, looking very happy in each other’s company?”

My response to this is: It has been well established and acknowledged that victims put a lot of energy into hiding the abuse, possibly for their entire life, is it any wonder that it cannot be detected in a photograph? and so, it shouldn’t be allowed to be used against a victim in court.

WHY THEY GO BACK?

THE CHILDREN

An abuser often inserts himself into a child’s life by befriending the parents and taking his time. This ensures the child believes he is a friend to be trusted. He pays particular attention to the child, so she/he feels special, cared for, loved, understood and ironically safe. These are the actions that create an emotional and psychological response in the child, which adds such confusion when the abuse occurs.

Young girls and boys who are tied into a sport, hobby, or a club that requires them to return on a regular to an abusive coach, trainer or scout leader, often don’t tell of the abuse because they believe whatever the abuser has told them. The abuser may have convinced them they are guilty, and no one will believe them if they tell. Their parents will disown them, or they will be harmed if they speak out. Abusers alter their information (grooming) to adapt to the child’s sensitivities but ultimately it is once again, all about an abuse of power.

There are additional reasons why an older child or adult would return to an abuser including threats, manipulation, coercion, and or money.

THE ADULTS

With adults, their abuse may involve physical violence or threats of physical violence to either themselves or possibly their children. Adult sexual abuse is often tied up in coercive control and domestic violence. There is also sexual harassment that occurs in work settings which brings up the possible loss of livelihood or career choice if one decides to make a stand.

If the sexual abuse continues with a person from childhood to adulthood, the power imbalance remains in place.  The victim is now somewhat institutionalised and although an adult can see the childhood threats should no longer be viable, the power imbalance has been so established to allow for dispensing of threats altogether.

Power imbalance is gender inequality. Some people think they are separate but think about it; sexual abuse could not occur if both people held equal power.  Because of this power imbalance, for so many victims, returning to an abuser, is not a real choice at all. There can be no choice when there is an imbalance of power.

JEFFERY EPSTEIN

In the Jeffery Epstein case, a lot of the teenage girls he abused were from impoverished troubled backgrounds. He behaved in a way that completely normalised the abuse which would have totally confused these girls.

He also paid them $200 every time he abused them. These girls would probably never have that kind of money before. He promised them he would pay for their education {which he never did} but the promise was there. He manipulated them until he got what he wanted.

He lived in a mansion, brought some of them on his private jet to his private Island to meet with A list celebrities. Can you imagine how that would feel as a teenager?  He would ask them if they any friends they could bring and he would pay them extra for each person they brought. This was very clever because it would not only increase his victim portfolio, but it ensured the victims took ownership and felt complicit in their abuse and that of the other girls they introduced to him. This was a deliberate move on his part, to ensure they would never tell.

THE ROCHDALE SEX ABUSE SCANDAL.

In the Rochdale sex abuse scandal, hundreds, possibly thousands of teenage girls were being abused in every town in England by mainly Pakistani men in well organised street grooming gangs.

At first these men would befriend girls from difficult backgrounds, the men would pick them up in taxis and bring them to a room over a local curry shop. They would give them food, cigarettes, alcohol and drugs to make them believe they were their friends. The alcohol consumption would escalate until the girls were completely intoxicated and they would begin raping them. Then things would change completely, these men would threaten the girls. This was all carried out with a sense of entitlement by these men who then began passing the girls around among many other men.

The girls would feel it was impossible to get out of the situation. The men knew the police were not taking any action even when on occasion one of the girls made a statement. These men over time became more and more brazen and treated the girls as objects whose only purpose was to provide sexual gratification. They then discarded them with the same regard as a used condom (which none of them seemed to use) as many of these girls became pregnant.

 

HARVEY WEINSTEIN

There is also Harvey Weinstein, who was regarded as one of the most powerful men on the planet at one point in time.  He used his power as leverage to gain access to women’s bodies. He sexually abused them with impunity. He had such levels of power and like Jeffery Epstein, he normalised his abuse and created an entire support system around him. He held people’s careers in his hands and anyone who didn’t go along with what he wanted, he would ruin them and ensure they were unemployable.

He would play with people’s lives and wave leading roles over the women he abused.  He would arrange meetings with women in hotel rooms to discuss a role in a movie and then corner them somewhere and force himself on them. He would then brag that these women threw themselves at him because they wanted a particular role in a movie. 

POWER AND CONTROL

Sexual abuse is about power and control and in our patriarchal society, it is up to men to admit to and address this imbalance. In the absence of this, victims of abuse are left confused and filled with self-hatred.

Do you still believe victims are making a free choice returning to an abuser?

TRIGGERED!

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In the past few weeks, I realised that the coping mechanisms I used as a child to survive my abuse were being triggered in response to the corona virus and the lockdown restrictions. Growing up I really struggled with anxiety that often manifested in anger. I hated not having any control over my life, and today,I find myself right back were it all began. The more the government continues to increase the restrictions that curtail my movements, interactions, and relationships, the more my resentment grows.

You may think that I should not be taking it so personal as the government are ‘supposedly’ only looking out for me. It’s just the only other time someone was supposed to be ‘looking out for me’ was when I was a child and my father exerted similar measures in order to control me, granting him the freedom to regularly rape and abuse me.

The daily onslaught of death notices and reminders to stay inside, only serve to further frighten and confuse me. The more I listen to the various experts on both sides of the fence, the worse I feel. So here is why I think my childhood anxiety/trauma has come to the surface again.  

If I were to write a step by step guidebook on how to groom a child for abuse, it would be similar to what is happening with the covid crisis.

 STEP ONE:

ABUSE: After telling the child you care about them, begin slowly introducing fear into the child’s life. At the same time introduce rules that must be followed; small rules to begin with that will help you gauge how compliant the child is.

COVID – The government reassured us on how we will get through this if we all work together, consistently reminding us of the severity of the consequences (instilling fear) if we do not wash hands, coughing into our sleeve, and stay away from others.

STEP TWO:

ABUSE: Increase the fear gradually over time and introduce more rules that must be followed. This will ensure the child will keep your secret and feel it is for their own good. If done correctly – this will be followed without question.

COVID – Government daily death counts, reminders of the rules and consequences for us all if not followed. Increasing the restrictions gradually – introduce more things to fear- objects, surfaces – widen the group to stay away from and include those most vulnerable (elderly, sick).

 STEP THREE:

ABUSE: While continuing to increase the fear, introduce catastrophic consequences for telling your secret. Make them responsible for others – (if you tell anyone, your mother will leave; your brothers and sisters will be taken into care). This will ensure the child feels responsible for the safety of others instilling a sense of guilt and fear.

COVID – Push the need to use hand sanitisers, wear masks and gloves. This will make sure you understand that it’s your responsibility to protect others, if you don’t you could kill someone you love.  Increased isolation for everyone making it against the rules to visit loved ones especially those that need support like elderly parents and those suffering or dying with an illness.

STEP FOUR:

ABUSE: Assert your opinions on the child. Insist you are the only one that will tell them the truth, everyone else will only lie to them. Convince them that you are the only one that can protect and care for them. Keep up the fear levels warning that outside the home is unsafe.  

COVID – Maintain daily bulletins, announce deaths while showing images of body bags and communal graves. Denounce other media reports as false or dangerous sources that you should ignore. This is a sure way to make you compliant, afraid, and responsible for everyone.

STEP FIVE:

ABUSE: Undermine the child at every turn, tell them they are stupid, ignorant and know nothing. Criticize their choices and opinions. Maintain control over their movements, activities, and relationships. Let them know that no one is to be trusted but you.

COVID- Take away independence and create dependency through job losses while providing just enough financial aid. This will make people believe that you really do care in case they are wavering. Encourage division asking people to be vigilant and report on their neighbours’ activities – after all its in everyone’s best interest.

STEP SIX:

ABUSE – Ok collect your diploma – you now have total control over every aspect of the child’s life and the acceptance by the child that this is just how it is.

COVID- Normalise the situation, make it routine, provide small rewards for correct behaviours. Lift restrictions gradually while make it understood that you can take them back if people don’t behave.

A perfect breeding ground for abuse is when an individual is vulnerable, isolated, and totally dependent on someone else for their survival. This will also ensure that the child or adult learns to ignore their natural instincts and will not turn to those they know and love for support. For me, the current crisis makes me feel like I’m right back in my home with my father controlling the narrative. I’m being told to ignore what I’m feeling because after all, aren’t we all in this together. However, after all the years of work I’ve done to reconnect with myself and trust my gut, I refuse to fall into that trap again.

I constantly hear government officials stating that they are the only source I should be going to for information.  This automatically makes me feel uneasy.  I have spent years overcoming my ability to blindly follow and not question what I’m being told. To assume others, know better, understand more and are smarter than me. It took so long to reconnect with my gut feelings and trust myself when something feels wrong.  For me it’s healthy to question what I’m being told. I am no longer willing to ignore what I feel. I have the right to ask questions, to seek answers, to allow for other opinions and viewpoints. To make up my own mind when I have access to all the information, and not just go along because it’s the easier option to avoid conflict.

I now understand the importance of listening to myself. I no longer fear my own instincts, my need to question anything that feels wrong or uncomfortable. I’m not trying to sway anyone to believe one thing or another. I am merely pointing out that regardless of what you believe, questioning what is happening around you is the healthiest thing you can do no matter what the outcome.

I am not suggesting that our government is grooming us for their own ends, however, I think it is appalling the way things unfolded. It is clear there was no care, planning or understanding of the effects on the mental health of victims of trauma, their families or those within their communities. Not one centre providing support to victims of trauma, be it rape, incest, or childhood abuse were given additional funding. In fact, all the current services suffered badly due to the inability to fundraise just to keep their doors open. Another thing, that is an utter disgrace given the surge of abuse cases which occurred as a direct result of the lockdown.

So, if like me you have been triggered during this crisis, know that it’s perfectly normal and understandable given our history with trauma. Understanding that the abuse of power in the hands of our abuser was reflected in the steps that this crisis brought, will at least help you make sense of your reactions and emotional responses over the past few months.  It is important that you mind yourself, your mental health and reach out for support to family or friends. I would urge you not to try to go it alone but talk to someone even if it is just the person on the other end of a confidential helpline.

By Paula Kavanagh

APPEALING TO ABUSERS!

Apologies for the title only I wanted to be sure to draw your attention. Now that I have your attention, relax, this is not an appeal to abusers but rather an appeal to all of us who have been and continue to be affected by sexual abuse. I noticed the comments that followed yesterday’s post, regarding sexual abusers. It was interesting to see how many comments this raised as most of our followers choose to remain silent regardless of the effort June puts into those posts. 

THE INTENTION!

The comments imply that not only were we reaching out to abusers but we are being told we do not have the right to do this on our own page, as some felt it’s not appropriate and certainly not the appropriate place for such an appeal.  As June explained this was not an appeal to abusers but rather an attempt to draw attention to the damage caused by them.  

For victims and survivors of this crime we thought this message was obvious, and we were not targeting the converted, but rather we were once again reaching out to the ignorant. We believe the ignorance is deliberate due to the discomfort of this subject. If we are appealing to anyone, it is to all those who struggle to move past the discomfort. If nothing else, we must all be aware that ignorance is not bliss and holding onto a belief that if you are not aware of an unpleasant fact or situation you cannot be troubled by it, will no longer work.

As uncomfortable as this message may be, we believe it is important that all people in the circle of abuse (abusers, victims and witnesses) need to be brought into the circle if this issue is ever to be dealt with and the crime eliminated.

DISCOMFORT!

We have spent so much time in a struggle to understand why so many people refuse to discuss this issue, and although we are aware of the discomfort caused by sexual abuse, we have come to believe that if we can’t move past the discomfort, we will never succeed in eliminating abuse from our communities and  society in general. 

Although I am aware that the main burden of this crime always falls on the wrong shoulders, e.g. victims, we see them as the strength behind getting this crime into a discussion around the right tables.

Discomfort is not an excuse to put the difficult things away, as all issues relating to sexual abuse must be given time and unfortunately that must include perpetrators.  So many of us want them wiped from the planet, castrated, beaten or killed. Unfortunately, we are also aware that if we do any of these things, we will not get the outcome we desire. Instead we are the ones that will end up in jail serving time and wasting more of our life trying to heal from our abuse, and we will also have to face the fact that there are still so many abusers out there. 

IS THERE JUSTICE?

Some abusers may never be identified, some will never ever pay for what they did.  And due to the lack of understanding of abuse by our judicial system many of the abusers who have been caught will never serve time.  The inconsistency in sentencing is laughable at times, yet, regardless of how many or how often this is expressed nothing changes.  We must do something different.

Now the way I see it, I can waste more of my time wishing abusers dead, disowning them, planning how many ways I want them punished, and thus allowing them to continue to have space in my thoughts. Or I can bring the subject of abusers to the table and work towards eliminating sexual abuse from our culture and ensure no more children have to suffer like we did. 

Unfortunately, this will require us to move through our discomfort, to work towards discussing all aspects of this crime as we would any other crime, and support those in power to do likewise.  As uncomfortable as this is, we believe it is the way forward.  We do believe abusers need to receive treatment, they need to learn how to own and understand their behaviour, they need to learn how to move towards making amends for their actions.

STAYING THE COURSE!

I do not believe it is our job to work out how this is done. Let that lie in the hands of those in power.  I do know that what is happening now is not working, how the issue is being dealt with or ignored is not serving anyone.  Oh yes, some of us will be considered lucky because our abuser was caught and jailed, but if we are honest the only part of that which helped us was knowing that we were believed.

It was still us that had to deal with the crap that followed, it was still us who had to live with the consequences of his actions, as he sat in jail with no pressure to stay in employment or worry about where his next meal would come from, or how he would meet his bills.  So, on top of trying to heal when all we wanted to do was lie down and die, it always felt like we were left with the biggest burden.

I know we are stronger than that, we have moved past only wanting to deal with the issues that appeal to us.  Our goal is to eliminate the world of this crime once and for all. So, thank you to all who took the time to comment or express your repulsion with this post as it made me realise, I was getting lazy.  I was beginning to believe our goal could never be reached but I know we are stronger than that, bigger than our problems, and thank you so much for reminding me that through the power of togetherness, we can change things, and we can protect the children of this world. 

Joyce

LIVING IN FEAR! NOW DO YOU SEE ME?

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We have spent years trying to help people understand the fear experienced by children who suffer child abuse or childhood trauma and how that fear impacts their lives. We do this not just to provide a deeper understanding of the crime itself, but also to help those in a position of power comprehend that fighting for lifelong supports to be put in place for victims, is warranted. At present no government in any country has stood up to the task but we will not give up until that position changes.

It occurred to me while recording our latest podcast that the Corona pandemic may provide us the perfect opportunity to succeed in this endeavour as we now have a real life experience of intense fear that everyone alive can relate to, which could improve the likelihood and willingness of people in positions of power to finally understand why it can take a lifetime to recover from being sexually abused.

To fully utilise the experience of fear gripping the world today to for the greater good and help us fuel the desired outcome I would like to demonstrate a small comparison between the fear experienced by children who are sexually abused and where we find ourselves today.

JUST ANOTHER DAY IN 2020

I woke to the sound of my alarm and as I reached to grab my phone, for a split second I forgot what was happening in the world and thought about the job I once looked so forward to going to.

When reality kicked in, I felt a heaviness in my chest from a mixture of anxiety and fear. I gave out to myself yet again for not deleting my alarm as it is now three weeks since I left my home and it doesn’t look like that will change anytime soon.

I delay getting up and turn on my tv to block out the silence only to be hit with another news bulletin about how many deaths worldwide has occurred overnight. Fresh warnings about staying indoors run across the bottom of the screen and the warning that the police were mounting roadblocks to stop you if you break the curfew.

I feel a tightness in the pit of my stomach that is now a constant, along with the unwelcome sound of my heart pounding.  I feel the familiar sensations of tingling rushing through my body and I sit on the side of the bed screaming in my head, in an attempt to stop the inevitable panic that is coming.

The voice on the tv keeps repeating ‘stay at home’ like it’s a new mantra. Don’t listen to any news source but us as there is a lot of fake news out there and it will only get you distressed. Trust no one, not even your grandchildren, as they may be infected, we are the only ones that you should go to for the truth, We have your best interest at heart, We are here doing our best to protect you and will always put your health first.

Social media bombards you with repeating the death toll and how easy it is to be infected by standing too close to someone, or touching your face or an item that comes through the post because the virus can be still alive for a long time after an infected person touches it.

I am terrified all the time, I don’t know who to listen to and the voice in my head won’t stop as it tells me I could get sick and die all alone surrounded by people in hazmat suits. So, I stay isolated and alone every day. I am too afraid to go outside and yet I feel just as afraid indoors. I feel so trapped and alone. Who can I speak to, no one will understand, and they won’t believe just how bad it is? I am not sure I could explain this feeling. I am afraid of everyone and everything.

When I do speak to other members of my family on the phone, they all seem to be coping just fine, so I am not going to tell them how bad I am. They seem to be handling this situation so much better than me so it must be me. I must be mad or weak or stupid. I don’t think they really care about me.  I would feel ashamed and embarrassed telling them I’m terrified. They have their own lives to live. I am all alone in this, I’ll have to find a way to cope.

I try but struggle to change my focus, my legs won’t work, I have no one to call they are at least an hour’s drive from me, so they won’t be able to arrive on time to save me. The tears start to stream down my cheeks, and I can’t breathe what will I do? I think about dying alone in a makeshift hospital surrounded by people in hazmat suits. God what a way to go.

I reach into my dresser to grab more painkillers. These pills the doctor prescribed to lessen my panic leave me feeling exhausted and not wanting to do anything, so I climb back into bed and pull the covers up over my head.

JUST ANOTHER DAY IN MY CHILDHOOD

I woke abruptly to the covers being pulled off me and I scramble to pull my nightdress down to cover myself. “get the fuck up now” he said  

I immediately feel the heaviness in my chest of anxiety and fear. My movements are laboured, and my heart is heavy because I dread facing another day of hell.

I get dressed and head downstairs only to hear him shouting at everyone “get the fuck out to work ‘Now’ and I won’t tell you again

I slowly walk out to work in the factory (it’s a large extension attached to our home) and hear him, in response to a question telling one of my brothers that he shouldn’t listen to the news reports its all fucking lies anyway and if he wants to know anything just ask him.

My father is a bully who rules the house with lies, intimidation and fear. He has control over where and when I go anywhere, what I do with my time, who I see and what I watch on tv and what I listen to on the radio.

He is constantly telling us that no one can be trusted and that family stick together and that he is the only one who can protect us.

He is always clicking his fingers shouting out orders to everyone.  I am cleaning up when I feel him behind me, I know what he wants, the hairs on my neck stand up and my heart is thumping, the blood is rushing to my head.  There is no escape, no one coming to save me, I escape in the only way I know, by going inside my head to a dark space until its over.

WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER

Because of this pandemic I may no longer need expressions like, imagine if this was you, only to see people struggle to either bring an image or an emotion to the surface. Although I believe childhood fear during abuse is worse than the fear we are all being exposed during this pandemic, I still feel, when I explain the fear and anxiety I grew up with, everyone now has some sense of what childhood fear can feel like not only for me but for those like me.

Today the source of that fear comes in messages we receive daily such as, the fear of what could happen if we don’t stay at home and stay away from others. We are asked not to buy into conspiracy theories or streams of information coming from social media stating that we should only trust reliable sources, we don’t ask who these reliable sources are but instead we accept they are, as we are told in the media. We are assured that our government have our best interest at heart and that they are here to protect and guide us.

The people holding all the control can go unchallenged because we all want to believe that no one would willingly hurt us. The same applies to children being abused, quite often by someone they know and trust. As children they are hurt and confused as they too don’t want to believe someone would willingly hurt them.  

The feelings of self-hatred and blame destroy any chance of the child breaking free from their situation and just like all of us today they adapt to their environment and do all they can to bury the fear and anxiety. Sadly these feelings become a way of life and although they are often unconscious, they can lead to an inability to ask for help.

HOPES FOR A BETTER FUTURE

My hope is that you can see through this small example how todays pandemic could be triggering for survivors of childhood abuse and the similarities in the control and power imbalance.

It is my wish that victims have compassion for themselves and an admiration for the strength and courage they possess to survive childhood sexual abuse or trauma.

This pandemic could have some very positive outcomes if we only try to see that we are all impacted when even one of us is suffering. It is my belief that only when we come together can we make the lasting changes that benefit everyone.

The Silver Lining in the Corona Virus

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It’s frightening and surreal to think that we, or those we love could be harmed or even die from this virus and being confined and isolated from those we love only heightens the sense of panic we feel and makes it all the harder to manage our emotions.  The constant reports, news bulletins and all the possible conspiracy theories that are floating around out there is not helpful.  It only succeeds in dragging me into the panic that can shut me down emotionally if I let it. 

SENSE OF COMMUNITY

I watch my neighbours rally around ensuring no one is left alone or stranded and even social media, that can often be negative, is filled with positive stories of people pulling together to support one another. Almost hourly there are posts of communities finding creative ways to demonstrate that no one is alone in this crisis. It is heartening to see people using humour to lift themselves and those around them to stay the course and see the possibilities that can come from hard times.

It’s amazing to see how those that find themselves on the front line (nurses etc) that normally have to fight to be recognised and valued for the work they do, are finally shining through as the real heroes when the chips are down. They not only are on the front line but are willing to put themselves in harm’s way without ever being asked, in order to keep us all safe and cared for.

POSSIBILITIES

I really feel within this crisis we are being handed an opportunity to truly know who we are when all the running and doing we normally fill our days with has been removed.  Some have turned to reading, art, baking, having fun (a thing most of us have forgotten how to do), spending genuine quality time with those they live with. Each day we are finding more and more creative ways to stay in touch with the family members we cannot physically touch at the moment. 

In some ways it has brought me back to my childhood, and aside from the abuse, I do recall the neighbourhood I grew up in, where people looked out for each other, shared what little they had, left doors unlocked and knew without a doubt they had someone to lean on if and when it was needed. 

That time has been offered again as we watch neighbourhoods find ways to interact within the restricted guidelines, enjoy being playful, being creative with simple everyday household items, turning to arts and crafts and most importantly never forgetting the most vulnerable in our neighbourhoods and society in general. 

Many shops seem to have taken the focus off making money and instead are looking at ways to get people through this rough time.  Their commitment to their staff and customers and making sure everyone is kept safe is reassuring to see.

Celebrities and those in positions of influence are pulling together to lift people’s spirits through music and positive messages, again all with the intention of letting us know we are all in this together.

I think it’s magical and although at times I still struggle thinking I should be doing something more, I acknowledge that I am really enjoying doing the things I like and want to do, rather than simply doing things mechanically because it has become my norm.  I find it interesting to know that when things I previously thought vital to my life like going to work, school pickups etc are removed, my world is not falling apart, and life goes on regardless.

I have returned to listening to music. I almost forgot what enjoyment I get from it. I am now taking time to develop a playlist of music that I loved throughout my childhood and teenage years. For as much as I love listening to music, I had forgotten how it lifts my mood and spirit. Until now it was just another thing I put off because I was too busy with things, I believed were more important.  

THE GIFT OF TIME

I believe this time is an opportunity to live rather than merely function. To relax and realise that regardless of the roles we play i.e. mother, wife, sister, friend we are being given a gift of time. Time that we have all forgotten can be filled with people and things we love. Time to look at how we normally fill our time stressing about what has to be done rather than what is really important.  Time to explore what fills our heart, makes us laugh till our stomachs ache, what moves us to tears, time to recognise how much we love and are loved by those around us.  

We are all so familiar with always being busy that we struggle when that feeling is removed.  If we are lucky, we work really hard throughout the year hoping to afford a two-week holiday. The holiday that we almost always waste the first week trying to relax with doing nothing and re-connecting with ourselves. By the time we have finally relaxed its time to go home.

I believe we deserve more than a life filled with to-do lists and deadlines that must be met. The time we spend running back and forth to work, shops, home all without even being conscious of how we spend our days, weeks and even years. This virus has given us the gift of time to re-evaluate our lives, to look and see what fills your soul and what changes you can make to not only survive but really live, live a life full of possibilities.

I also believe that the gift of time has also been given to our planet. The time to repair the damage we as humans have caused. With less people running around in cars polluting the air, we are reducing the toxins in the air we breathe, especially in our towns and cities. It is also allowing rivers and lakes to heal, for fish and dolphins to swim in the lakes that were so full of pollutants that it wasn’t possible before this outbreak.

RECONNECTING

It is inspiring that throughout this epidemic communities have reconnected with what is important. We are all gaining a better understanding of who we are, what matters in our lives. We are selfless in our volunteering, our support for those in our communities that need more help, like the old and sick. We are seeing the true heroes in our communities come to the front-line on our behalf.

I hope we all learn to appreciate that material things don’t really matter in the end. It is the people in our lives that help us to survive and whom we survive for.  We do so much better when we look out for one another. Our lives are richer, more creative, inspiring, thoughtful when we understand that supporting each other is what brings the most joy and happiness in our lives.

Through these times we are being offered a way of swapping the attitude of every man for himself to a deep understanding that we need each other and looking out for others really feeds our souls.  I hope that when this is all over, we all pull together and ensure that the frontline healthcare workers who are literally risking their lives for us and who in the past were undervalued and totally unsupported financially will finally receive respect and the tangible benefits that they deserve.

The only thing I believe the government are getting right is their constant message of ‘We are all in this together’.

Accountability!

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I was blown away when I heard the announcement of Harvey Weinstein’s sentence.  It felt like a personal win to me and I found myself checking the news, to be sure I wasn’t mistaken and that he had indeed, received a 23-year prison sentence. Even now I have to say WOW.

The women involved in this case may never know how many lives they have saved as their bravery has made an enormous impact across the globe.  This is a victory for all victims of abuse everywhere.

To see someone, previously referred to as a ‘Giant of the Movie Industry’ being held to account for his actions is evidence of real change that will inspire more victims to speak out while putting all predators on notice, with particular emphasis on the rich, famous and powerful ones.

It was remarkable that Judge James Burke, gave no credence to pleas from Weinstein’s legal representatives when asked to consider Weinstein’s personal charitable giving, advanced age, medical issues and lack of criminal history.  This judge demonstrated the wisdom of his position to realise that none of those attributes curtailed his sexual misconduct, so why should they factor at all when considering his sentence.  Wouldn’t it be great if judges worldwide got this message?

Watching this case unfold reminded me of being in court, prosecuting our father for sexually abusing us as children. We were told repeatedly that our fathers age, health and standing in the community are very likely to result in a non-custodial sentence. Thank god it didn’t work out that way as he received a seven-year sentence. 

We continue to be horrified by the number of cases in the Irish courts where these personal attributes that have absolutely nothing to do with the crime, are not only considered but are in some cases the deciding factors when it comes to sentencing of sexual predators. This is shameful. And my only hope is that this case will act as turning point for how things should be done.

AGAINST BEST ADVICE

It was fascinating to hear that not only did Weinstein speak in court, but he did so despite the advice of his very experienced and expensive legal team.  Weinstein practically blamed his legal team for his silence throughout the case whilst continuing to ignore their repeated attempts to hush him as he spoke for about twenty minutes in court.  

Weinstein with no sense of understanding of the lasting harm he had done, expressed his remorse for the situation he found himself in.  He displayed his complete ignorance about consent and lamented about how the allegations had impacted his personal life. He was outspoken about the confusion he felt not only for himself but for all men as he felt he did not understand why this was happening.  He expressed his fear at the lack of due process for men and stated he was really worried about his country.

He continued to speak about his total confusion about how he has ended up where he was as he felt he had consensual relationships with these women.  He felt lots of other men would also be confused if they were to be accused of sexual abuse. He wanted the judge to speak to people he felt had greatly benefitted from his charitable work (naming 9/11 in particular). It was clear that he believed he had done nothing wrong and that what was happening to him in the courts was both unfair and an injustice.

SELF INTEREST

To me, all predators when caught, focus their concern on what is happening to them and how they have been personally impacted, without a thought for their victims.  It seems of great importance to them that we understand the pain they are in.  They have no desire to understand the damage they have done to their victims. These similarities tell us something about the type of people we are dealing with.

My father’s only words when receiving his sentence was ‘I hope you are all fucking happy now’.  I have no doubt, he believed we were the ones that caused him great pain while he remained oblivious to the pain he had brought into our lives. 

The closest my father ever came to an apology was on one of his early court appearances. My sisters, brothers and my mother were all huddled in a circle standing in the hallway of the packed courthouse.  My father appeared behind Paula and attempted to push past her to get to my mother. Paula was not moving. He was furious with the veins standing out on his neck. He had no choice but to continue with the speech he had prepared from the outskirts of the group.  He spit his words out. He was so angry that he could no longer intimidate us to move and let him speak to my mother.

He began to mutter some form of apology to my mother. She was not interested in anything he had to say and simply ignored him.  He was furious at our lack of obedience and Paula’s continued obstruction really bothered him.  The audacity of him attempting to act like the leader he believed he was, while spurting out an insincere apology and expecting that to change everything.  The Guards noticed him and walked towards us to remove him, so he had to reluctantly walk off, still enraged, believing we were the problem.

I find it interesting that regardless of what case is taking place in the media, but particularly when it’s a big case, memories of our own experience get triggered. I feel a great sense of pride in the courageous women involved in all sexual abuse cases and hope these women know how amazing they are and what a great service they are doing for the millions of victims out there.

‘THE MORNING SHOW’

Recently I watched an American TV series called ‘The Morning Show’, produced by and starring Jennifer Aniston (Alex) and Reese Witherspoon (Bradley). This show, although fictional, provided some insight into the world of rich and powerful men like Harvey Weinstein.

The programme is based on a news and talk morning television show that is thrown into chaos when Alex’s (Jennifer) on-air partner of 15 years, Mitch Kessler (played by Steve Carell) is fired for allegations of sexual misconduct.  

Mitch is loved by the audience and appears to be admired by all the production team. He presents as charming, funny and charismatic. However, as the plot unravels it becomes clear that Mitch has used his position and influence to make or break careers of ambitious females within his industry, not unlike what Weinstein did.  

What is very interesting throughout the series is seeing the struggle all the characters within the show had with understanding Mitches behaviour, how they had played a role in maintaining his belief that he was entitled to do what he was doing and there was nothing wrong with it. It explores how those around him, especially the heads of the network colluded in allowing him to basically get away with sexual abuse for years as all they focused on was the ratings.

Mitches own struggle with accepting that his behaviour had serious consequences for the women he abused was demonstrated so well.  Even the female colleagues and specifically Alex his co-anchor and friend really didn’t want to see that they had turned a blind eye to what he did accepting that it was just his way and in fact the way of the world of business.

This programme will challenge you to see how easy it is to work in or live in a toxic culture. A culture that allows those with all the power to do what they want to whom they want. It demonstrates how we all can turn a blind eye to injustice as to speak out would mean the chance of losing careers, friends or family members.  But more importantly it shows how powerful men like Harvey Weinstein and Jimmy Savile can and did get away with abuse even when it’s in plain sight, they are aware that if you turn away once you are unlikely to every speak out.

Joyce 

YOU ARE YOUR OWN MOTHER

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Mother’s Day is a national celebration enjoyed by many, but for others the day acts as a reminder of the lack of nurturing they received as a child. This often raises unjust feelings of shame and unworthiness in victims.  They can be bombarded with memories of the lack of motherly love and nurturing in their childhood. This can lead to sadness and isolation and in many cases negative self-talk.

Our relationship with our own mother was at times very difficult. She was not available to us emotionally and because she held no value in her own worth, she demonstrated what she was taught culturally about the role of women and how they had nothing of value to contribute other than being selfless and put everyone’s need first.

A Change in Perspective is Needed.

Normally on days like this we provide suggested lists of how to mind yourself.  However, as this year women here in Ireland and across the world have shown such strength in speaking out against injustice, we think this might be a great time to make a stand and realise this is a day to be celebrated. Consider this, we are all here and without a mother that would not have happened. 

A Walk in the Park

We believe that if you have survived sexual abuse, this one-day challenge should be a walk in the park for you.  Celebrating your own life may be a challenge, but one you are more than capable of succeeding in.

Enjoying watching others celebrate this day may in the past has been difficult but let’s change it around and make it YOUR DAY.  If you see this day as sad due to memories of an abusive mother or the loss of your mother, challenge yourself to see it differently with the focus on you as the mother to be celebrated.

Do not let this day of celebration turn into a day of mourning and nostalgia but rather recognise that you deserve to feel really good about yourself. Regardless of how you feel or have felt about your mother, she brought a great gift into the world and that gift is you, so let the celebrations begin.  Even if it is only for one day let’s push ourselves to make that happen.  Use it as day one of acknowledging your own worth and the realisation of just how special you are.

What Can You Do for Yourself?

To help keep you focused try to answer the questions below.

  • When is the last time I told me that I love me?
  • What are the gifts/qualities I bring to this world?
  • Do the people I surround myself with bring value to my life?
  • Do I treat myself with the love and respect I deserve? If not, is that reflected in how others treat me?
  • Where am I on my priority list
  • Do I mind and respect my body?
  • When is the last time I did something nice for myself?
  • How do I feed my soul?
  • Where am I not being honest with myself and why?
  • Am I kind to myself?

Answer these questions as honestly as you can, by answering them truthfully warts and all you will see what you know about yourself, what you like and want to keep and which of those beliefs you may need to let go of.

Hopefully this will help you identify your thoughts be they negative or positive. It is only with awareness that we can decide to let go of things that no longer serve us and make the changes needed in our lives.

The main thing to remember is that you deserve to be loved and the best person to do this is YOU.  In loving yourself you are setting a trend; you are relaying to others just how you expect to be treated and you learn how to truly respect yourself.

Focus on yourself for this day, regardless of if or how many children you have, or whether you have pleasant or negative memories of your mother. Use this as a day to begin putting yourself first, recognising all the things you place of more importance before your needs.

Let’s make Mother’s Day a day to remember positively. 

The Price Of Surviving Childhood Sexual Abuse

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Besides the sexual abuse that went on in my childhood home, the physical, emotional and mental abuse was also an everyday occurrence.  Thinking about how I survived and the coping mechanisms I used, has been triggered by the questions arising while creating our podcasts.  Although somewhere inside, it is clear to me how I survived, I still struggle to understand or explain it.    

Was I Blind to the Truth?  

How could I be so blind to all that was happening around me?  How can I say with any degree of honesty or certainty that I really didn’t know what was happening to others in my home?  In order to understand and explain this, I have found myself for some time now really looking back and reliving memories from my childhood.

Now I can see, not only did I know my father was abusing my sisters and beating my brothers, I had actually witnessed it.  That’s not easy to understand or explain, even for me.  So, here’s the contradiction, although I witnessed a lot, I also genuinely believed that I knew nothing about the abuse taking place in my home.  I had to really examine my ability to disassociate and compartmentalise what was happening in my home. Only now, at this stage in my healing, can I see why and how I was able to remove myself from any situation that I read as unsafe and convince myself it never happened.  I will attempt to explain how I did that in the hope it will help other victims of childhood sexual abuse understand themselves.

Escaping the Fear

Imagine your home as just one very large room and all of your family are in that room. When I close my eyes and go back in time, I can clearly see my brothers sitting at the table eating their dinner, my mother is cleaning the kitchen, my younger sisters and brother are playing a card game on the floor and my dad is shouting at the TV as he watches a football match.  Everything seems fine on the surface as I sit and try do some homework on my lap. 

My father suddenly stands up and click’s his fingers. I freeze. It feels like I’ve momentarily lost my sight, as everything goes blank and very quiet. I can hear nothing.  When I realise, he is not directing his attention towards me, I focus on getting out of that room. I can see the door and I know exactly how many steps I have to take to reach it. Everything else around me disappears, except for a few sounds in the room that somehow, I can still hear. I focus on getting to the door, nothing else matters. I am still aware of my father’s movements and hear the sound of him smacking one of my brothers as he passes him. I can hear him shouting obscenities at one of my other brothers.   I am aware of his movements as he nods for my sister to go upstairs where he will rape her. 

My attention goes to my heart, it’s beating so fast. My throat feels dry, and I’m aware I’m shaking. I’m terrified and I know I have to get out. It’s not safe here and I cannot allow myself to see what’s happening around me.

I have to get out, but everything feels like it’s moving in slow motion. It takes forever to reach the door. I can’t breathe and all I can think is, I have to get out.

What was the cost?

Based on my present understanding of how I survived on a daily basis, this is a fair description of how I handled the trauma. Once outside, I managed to completely block out what was happening inside my home.  I usually joined some friends that were playing on the road and immersed myself in whatever they were doing. Slowly, my heart would calm. The dissociation allowed me to leave my fear behind and carry on playing like I was normal, the compartmentalisation allowed me to hold onto the belief that I saw, heard and knew nothing as by now what I witnessed was already stored somewhere in the back of my head. The weight of what was happening was far too heavy for me as a child to comprehend or deal with and both of these coping mechanisms allowed me to live in a bubble where I was the only one that my father was abusing. I also believed I deserved his abuse and it happened because of who I was or something I had done or said.

Understanding Myself

It is obvious to me now that the guilt and shame remained with me even though I dissociated and compartmentalised memories, which was even more confusing because I had no known reason to explain these feelings. I could only conclude I was inherently bad.

I understand the power of the body to protect us from what is perceived as imminent danger and our minds ability to deny and hide away traumatic events that it feels will harm us.  That was what I did, but never consciously.  I also believe what I did to survive is exactly what happens to most victims of childhood abuse.

As a child all I ever wanted was to be loved. Sadly, for me, regardless of how badly my father abused me, I still was able to convince myself that he did love me.  I was so innocent and naive and believed every word he said.  I didn’t know till much later in my life that he deliberately isolated me from my family so we would never sit and have conversations or confide in each other. 

I feel such a deep sadness at times because the tools I used to protect myself became the biggest obstacles in getting to know myself and heal from my past. Even now I have to consciously check in with myself in order to know if I am hungry, tired or feeling anything at all.

While sex no longer brings back painful memories and is something that I can feel good about, the effort involved in staying connected to my body often leads me to believe it’s simply not worth the hassle.  Now while I do not wish to sound negative, nor do I want others to think my daily existence is consumed with this stuff, as although the fight for me continues and is part of my everyday life I am blessed to have support from those around me who understand and love me and I have now developed mechanisms to help me connect.  The main point is that knowing myself does not come naturally to me due to my background and the learning never ends.

Joyce

Multiple Abusers – It Must Have Been My Fault!

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I’ve thought of writing about this for a long time and to be honest, I’m not sure why I haven’t. The abuse at the hands of my father, in many ways, made my other abusers fade into the background. I was sexually abused by a brother, John, whom I haven’t seen in over thirty years and another close family relative.

The first clear memory of John abusing me was when I was around 4 years old, he gave me this beautiful butterfly badge that you sew on to your clothes and told me I could keep it if I let him touch me. I had absolutely no idea what he meant and my only memory of what happened with him was me, staring at this blue and pink butterfly badge when my father walked in and screamed at John, calling him all sorts of names.

My father then battered John leaving him black and blue, he literally kicked him down the stairs. I was so shocked I just stood there not moving, terrified, waiting on him to kill me too, even though I didn’t understand what was happening. I am aware, that all sounds like an appropriate reaction to finding someone abusing your child. But what happened next was even more devastating to a four-year-old, and ensured I never said a word to anyone.

My father came back upstairs and told me to go into his room and sit on the bed. He lay me down and removed my pants all the while telling me that he would make me all better. He repeated that I was to never let anyone do that to me, that I was to tell him if anyone ever tried to touch me again. He kept saying that John was a little bollox and was lucky he didn’t kill him and if he or anyone else hurts me again he would kill them. Then he raped me. That is my first clear memory of my father sexually penetrating me and the physical pain is something I don’t think I could ever forget. John went on to abuse me for many years after, but I never told on him.

Because I had multiple abusers, I never felt safe either in or out of the house. What was even worse was I had no reason not to believe that the abuse wasn’t my fault. I was the common denominator. I grew up believing I was the one to blame, that I was a sick and evil person and I would definitely be going to hell when I died.

I now understand why I found it so difficult to identify with other girls in group therapy. I felt I couldn’t say it wasn’t my fault and mean it. I hadn’t told about my other abusers and so I really struggled to say or see myself as a victim. I could, over time accept that maybe I was a victim of my father’s, but it didn’t explain why I was also being abused by two others.

I couldn’t blame the other abusers on my father, so it had to be me. I had to have allowed it to happen with John. That’s hard to even think as John was on the spectrum of special needs. He was not someone I think I would have been afraid of. With that in mind the only conclusion I could come to was I either allowed it to happen or by not telling, allowed it to continue.

Suffering abuse by multiple abusers left me even more isolated, I wanted to belong and desperately needing to be loved. I felt like I was a freak and had somehow been placed in this home by mistake. I kept thinking there had to be some reason why everyone hated me, I believed that I was different than all  my siblings. I blamed myself for being overly sensitive and hated that I didn’t find their slagging and making fun of me amusing. I wasn’t quick witted so couldn’t respond with something witty without feeling even more stupid. I waited for years for someone to come knocking on my door to tell me there was an awful mistake and that my real mother and father now want me back. needless to say, that didn’t happen.

I now understand that I was easy pickings for both my brother and my relative. I was lost and starved for love. My understanding of love was being abused so why would I have ever had any other experience. I was a moody, angry, sullen child who made it difficult for anyone who was a good person to get close to me. I didn’t trust anyone and yet I was easily taken in by the mere idea of someone liking me or wanting to be in my company.

I never confronted John in person, but I know he did abuse many others in our neighbourhood and eventually ran to England to avoid being arrested here. I have thought of John over the years and wondered what would have happened if I told someone, could I have stopped him abusing others, I will never know the answer to that. I didn’t have the courage as a child to do anything other than survive. John entered into a treatment programme in England when he was arrested and given a choice either the treatment programme or jail. It was whilst there that I sent him a letter telling him what he had done to me and how my life had been impacted. John denied everything said I was lying. He went on to take part in a channel 4 documentary on paedophiles as the star pupil.

With regard to my other abuser I won’t name him as his family are all aware of his past and it would serve no one to publicly name him which would only result in hurting his family who are all innocent. I confronted him in person, about two years into therapy. I made the decision because he had children himself and I wanted to make sure he didn’t abuse them. I asked Joyce to come with me and we called to his home when we knew he was at home alone. I told him exactly what he had done to me and how it made me feel. His response was not to deny everything and just kept saying that he didn’t remember anything. I had already been prepared by my councillor of what could happen, so I just repeated the damage he had done to my life. I threatened to bring charges if he didn’t get help. He agreed to go into treatment but to be honest at the time I really don’t think I would have had the strength to press charges and go through the justice system again. He did get help and spent a number of years in treatment and to my knowledge has not offended since.

Having a number of abusers just solidified my self-loathing. It made seeing myself as a victim so much harder to believe. It has taken me years to understand that each time I was abused and by whom, all needed examining. The damage inflicted on my mind and body is incalculable but with time and compassion I have allowed memories to be explored. I understand the damage that was done to me and the behaviours and beliefs that shaped all my interactions that at the time saved my life. Today, for me, it’s about letting go of what no longer serves me and living a life not filled with anger, resentment or pain.

Paula

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