Sexual and Physical Abuse Claims

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The Effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse on Relationships and Intimacy

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(Transcript of a discussion between abuse lawyer, Malcolm Underhill, and Uxbridge based psychotherapist  Keeley Taverner.


So, building trust is a massive factor when I'm working with victims of sexual abuse and often the lack of trust is often cemented in their experience of being sexually abused so there's a lack of trust of others, there's a lack of trust of self and that manifests itself also in the room.

There's this fear that they're going to have to tell me all the intricate details and that is absolutely not the case. Often by the time a client is able to tell me that there has been a sexual abuse, it's about the fact that we build up that trust and so the fact that they're able to tell me that in and of itself is symbolic of where our relationship is. So, there is no need to re-traumatize that someone doesn't need to re-traumatize themselves by giving me the explicit details. I'm sure you have the same experience, Malcolm.


I do that when people contact me it's not unusual for them to say, you're the first person I've told that I've been abused as a child and when they say that they're not telling me the precise details on what happened is just revealing the fact that they are someone who is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

Certainly when I first talk to them and meet them, I do not ask and I do not expect them to tell me what happened to them, why would they do that because as you've indicated they - they don't trust people once they've been abused they find it very difficult to trust other adults and therefore I'm very sensitive to that and I wouldn't ask and I do not feel I need to ask and it's only as our relationship progresses and they feel more comfortable and that could be over quite a long period of time that they then feel that they're able to tell me what happened.

It doesn't necessarily mean that they tell me face to face because that can still be very difficult and sometimes they will because they just feel they're able to, which is fine or alternatively they [suggest] well let's talk about it over the phone, I can tell you over the phone because you're not looking at me and I'm not looking at you or I'll write you, I'll write to you I'll send - I'll send you something perhaps, an email some like setting up because again it's easier to commit it in writing and use certain words rather than speaking those in person.

I understand that saying I would never ask someone at a very early stage precisely what happened, although as their lawyer and to ensure I can act in their best interest, I ultimately need to understand you know that's way down the line.

Those early conversations are in a much broader sense to understand the environment in which it occurred and how it occurred rather than the detail of it. I suspect you from what you've just been saying same thing for you is when they feel sufficiently relaxed and confident and [trusting], that's when I can talk but until then it's step by step which is why it's important to have long-term support from you and the private sector rather than just simply relying on the NHS short term.

Because that there just isn't six sessions or a dozen sessions or even a few more it's just in my experience a lawyer and having worked with survivors of childhood sexual abuse that it's nowhere near long enough. 

In order to build out that relationship [where] you can learn about what's happened to them and again I sit from a position of ignorance because I don't treat these people but what you were sort of saying that you know only when you've got to know that over months and months and months can you really begin say right now this is how I think, you know I can help you about those issues particularly as you say, the initial reason that coming to you may be nothing to do with what happened to them as a child but they just you know for good reasons they masked it, masked it.

It's only through your sessions with them you began to see actually the underlying issue here is something that happens to them as a child to get to that point, it'll take a long time.


Indeed, and I think the way that I work is in a non-directive, it's a non-directive approach which is I let the client lead.

I let them lead but then I will be curious so that's when I'll say, I just noticed, and I think that letting the client lead is so helpful because there is what - what comes out of that is unexpected.

So, for example if I have a hunch they have been sexually abused I won't necessarily say, I'll just let the client go where they're going and that means that once that trust is in place and they feel able to disclose again I'm not going to come in with all my own curiosities, I'm going to let the client dictate, let them lead where they take me and I think that because we have that time and that space, we build a rapport and the trust those are all the bedrocks of what made therapeutic relationship work and if we know that the legacy of sexual abuse is a lack of trust, trust in others and self what are we saying we offer some six sessions to begin to heal who's going to develop that trust in such a (Inaudible, 05:5). Now, whilst maybe some progress I think it's somewhat naive to believe that within six sessions or even within a group setting that somebody is going to get the healing that they need for the legacy of the traumatic events.


I entirely agree who knows when we're sitting down talking about it again next year perhaps we'll be talking about the fact that you know the NHS now is on to provide like great support to abuse victims but I suspect it will still continue to struggle and therefore we will be talking more and more about the need to sway government that it does really need to provide extra financial resources to ensure that people have that first tier support before hitting reality, they need to turn to you Keeley because you and I know from working these people on long term basis that they really do need ongoing support and that even when they get to that point where they finally feel they reach that point and they go off and you know to the world and much better place the reality is that they will stumble, they will fall and they will need to come back just perhaps only for one or two sessions but who knows whether being a year, two years, five or ten years because there'll be those life events that none of us can predict and just cause them to stumble again and say, look I just need to be restabilised and put back on the path to ensure that I just don't regress because that would be a terrible thing, you know again thank you for joining me again Keeley and there no doubt to say we will be talking again next year during sexual abuse awareness week.


Thank you Malcolm.

Compensation for childhood sexual abuse

At IBB Claims, our personal injury team has the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent you if you wish to seek compensation for sexual abuse. To talk about how we might be able to help, please phone our No-Win No-Fee abuse lawyers on 0333 123 9099, email us at or fill in our contact form.  Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence.

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