Child Sexual Abuse and its Impact on Development, Self Esteem and Relationships
Malcolm: I am Malcolm Underhill a solicitor who specialises in acting for survivors of childhood, sexual abuse. With me today is Rosemary Lamaison, who is a counsellor and is interested in a range of areas but particularly, in relation to those who have suffered some kind of harm in a boarding school environment. And what I'm interested to learn Rosemarie is about the impacts of assaults for those who've been in boarding school, but particularly, the whole area of relationships both in relation in the family at the time and way the individual copes or responds to the family at the time. And then as they grow older, how they then - you know their relationship with others. So tell me about what your experience is of acting for these people.
Rosemary: Well, I think these have enormous impacts, some have spoken to perhaps family members or to outsiders, and many have not spoken at all. And I think that leads to just not being believed. And I think most of them just yearn to be believed and to be heard. And in a way, that's what a counsellor can do you because you're not going to judge them, and you a neutral person. but the impact on their lives of not being believed, quite often the family turn their back on them, and yet they are young enough to still have to live at home. So, they don't feel they belong there, but they’re living potentially with the person… I won’t say abuser because really they are an assailant, you know it's a crime isn't it?
Rosemary: And it’s all done in secret and the family is in denial. And so, that's really difficult for a young person.
Malcolm: And I find you know when I act for people, and I ask them about emotional relationships, that is quite difficult for those who have suffered harm as a child because it seems to me there's a whole trust issue. And although they say to me I’ve been in a number of relationships… they’re pretty short-lived and that becomes repetitive. I mean again, is that because of that childhood experience?
Rosemary: I think you said about trust but its betrayal isn't it? 70% are within the family and the social environment so, if someone you know does something inappropriate and the child whatever age knows it’s wrong, but can't do much about it. And then who do you trust at a friendship level or you know in the workplace, but actually in a more intimate relationship, in a sexual relationship. it's really difficult to be in that vulnerable place. Who do you trust? Are they going to treat you badly? And I may say some people will say they've had a situation of sexual inappropriateness in their past and their partner, who now perhaps in a longer term relationship with. They may become an abuser too, once they know about that information. So, I think these people feel very alone.
Rosemary: They can't turn to the family who may well have denied it. I've worked with teenagers, who've found later on (they've taken someone to court and against all the family's wishes, but they've been very brave).. and then they find that actually the older sister was also being abused. But at no point backed up the younger sister, mother must have known, but at no point backed them up because they needed everything to just to stay as it was.
Malcolm: Alone, and that's such a damaging effect. When I talk to people and again address the issue of work with them, you know sometimes entering the job market, and holding down a job can be quite difficult. But even those that do you know it's not unusual to find that they will only hold down a position for a relatively short period and not really progress their career. It is like filling a gap. They are not looking to the long-term.future and find it difficult. Again is that just me making an assumption which is wrong or is that due to what happened you know in the boarding school environment?
Rosemary: I think it’s very individual I do think the self-worth is knocked sideways. I think a lot of people have very low self-worth, low self-esteem. I could say for some zero self-esteem and so they are not going to feel good about themselves. And they could be very able but they can't see that because they haven't had anything very positive happening. And they've often been led to believe that it's their fault, so if they are young - when it first happens, they think they are bad, they are at fault, you know … they carry these false messages and unless someone is there, helping them, turn that around .. but you know people keep these things secret.
Malcolm: Yeah. One cannot help feeling for these people because the profound effect of something that may lasted a relatively brief period.. but just ends up dominating their life so much. And it impacts upon their social activities or social relationships too.. so that you found that often they have a pretty small social circle. And again I suppose it comes down to the betrayal and trust issues.
Rosemary: And what's interesting to me is that, for some people it isn't that it's been what most people say when you hear sexual abuse… that it's penetrative or major… but for some people, it is just a touch or a kindness or a grooming and that in itself leads to long-term damage of how a person thinks, how they feel about themselves, how they query their sexuality it's major.
Malcolm: Yes. I agree with you in that it doesn't have to the most severest of assaults.. it can sometimes be relatively minor.
Rosemary: Well, the severe is the impact it has on someone.. not the behaviour.
Malcolm: A profound effect.. .whatever the nature of that harm at the time, it can permeate all aspects of their life. So, Rosemary.. very interesting discussion, I mean can you sort of summarise those key issues that we should be looking for?
Rosemary: There are so many issues. so, I think probably to summarise.. it's the enormous impact of not being believed, and therefore, feeling very alone. And that probably turns into self-worth being very low. And so, many losses, you lose contact with the family in the way you'd like it to be. You don't have a normal childhood you may be still with a family and your sexual behaviour maybe...You don't know what normal is. And so, I think the sexual behaviour is about getting love and affection and not necessarily what other people would choose in partners. And I think it can affect your health, Anxiety levels are raised enormously, and people feel very fearful and threatened wherever they go. And well, I just say there are so many. So, there is the health, the education is often reduced..their academic progress. But I think the key thing is not being believed and the impact that has on someone really for the rest of their lives and feeling really left alone with it.
Malcolm: I agree. And so, and I think one of the things you just said about not being believed. So, the messages is thankfully that there are now lots of people who believe those who come to us and want to talk about their childhood experiences and if you would like to contribute to this debate or ask us any questions, please contact Rosemary or I on the usual details.
Support for victims of child sexual abuse
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Child Sexual Abuse and its Impact on Development, Self Esteem and Relationships