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Sexual Abuse Awareness in 2018: Why Abuse Victims Need More Support

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

Keeley: I'm Keeley Taverner, I'm a psychotherapist based in the heart of Uxbridge. I help individuals to heal and move on from difficult experiences.

Malcolm: And I'm Malcolm Underhill a solicitor and partner at IBB Claims, I specialise in acting for survivors of childhood sexual abuse

Keeley: So, today it's Sexual Abuse Week, Awareness Week and I'm intrigued to understand why do you think this campaign is so important?

Malcolm: Well there's continuing coverage of sexual abuse in the media, virtually every day but for me there is insufficient attention given to the survivors of abuse. Each and every day we read about abusers being brought to account for their actions and sent to prison but there is insufficient attention given to the consequences of abuse to those victims and that we don't appreciate when there seems to be a lack of understanding from government and from the media that even when it stops, the abuse doesn't stop and then people live with abuse for years and decades of their lives and find it very difficult to cope with it something that you must find in your everyday work.

Keeley: Indeed, I do. I think the legacy of sexual abuse impacts on a whole variety of ways from careers, relationship, general well-being. One of the things that stands out to me is a lack of trust in the self, questioning self-doubt and that can manifest itself in a whole range of symptoms that clients come to me with maybe anxiety or depression and as our relationship and trust is established, they begin to reveal deeper rooted issues that have been of a sexual nature sometimes with family members or close family friends that seems to be right at the [heart] of their challenges and there's been what I call it mutinous about that experience and sometimes an utter surprise that this is being unearthed in therapy when actually what I came for wasn't related to sexual abuse in any way, shape or form.

Malcolm: And despite the awareness that now people have generally there it still requires a considerable amount of courage from the individual to step forward and say that I was abused, and they'll come to me and say, that they've never spoken about this before and where do they start. It's not unusual for me to be the first person that they've begun to open up to even before they go to the police and for me, you know we need to work harder to encourage people who are still suffering to feel that they can find a safe place - a haven where that they will be supported; and in my experiences in terms of, certainly the police these days, they are doing a fantastic job they have specialist officers who provide specific facilities to make the process as comfortable as possible and of course I do the same thing when I meet with somebody and you too.

It takes a long time to gain the trust of someone so that they feel that they're able to talk openly and fully about what happened to them. Again, you'll know better than I but it's only once they've done that and you can begin to really help them sort of move towards the future and concentrate that rather carrying this baggage around for years and years and years as they are all often done.

Keeley: I think - I think one of the challenges and massive challenges is the guilt and shame and that is such a blocker and is an internal conflict that my clients have struggled with and that is present in the room. Sometimes I might have a hunch that something may have happened but it's a very delicate walk but also there's also a concern that if they tell me that I'll breach confidentiality and report the incident which is not the case. It's about providing a safe space for clients who explore and begin to articulate that adverse experience that happened to them and I think that's what's so exciting about us working in partnership together is that if a client does decide that they want to take criminal proceedings against their persecutor then I'm in a better place to be able to refer on and likewise, so that they're clear that there is a process should they decide but actually they want to take legal action and I think that's always a concern, if I tell you will you go and report.

Malcolm: Yeah, okay again I'm finding the same thing in terms of people come to me that they're worried that the moment they say something [it's] going to enter the public domain because as you and I know that it doesn't -  it remains between me and the person I'm talking to and if they don't want to take it any further they don't have to.  So they are in control and that I think is the concern is that they've not had that before that they will be well, taken advantage of but they've just they lose that ability to control what's going on and into the future.

So, they need to be looked after quite carefully as you identify, and you know with you too, that just because they'll come and see you doesn't mean it's something that others are going to learn about what's happened to that because you have this just remains within you and them. There is no need for them to worry about that so I think we need to encourage people to come forward more because just as we would not hesitate in seeking medical help if we broke our leg the same way when it comes to mental health issues, we should instantly think about where can we get that help and where should we go to because whilst it's a different issue, a significantly different issue as a mental health it is important to be directed towards and receive the right treatment early on, as early as possible to ensure that we get the best possible outcome.

Keeley: Indeed, most definitely and I think about all the documentaries I've seen with women who have experienced sexual abuse and how it manifests in their life as well as men as well who have been sexually abused and for me like I said it's the behaviours that can be shaped by a traumatic experience that then is buried and potentially shoved under the carpet. Then you get the behaviours for example repeating patterns that are unhelpful or having unhealthy relationships or just utter self-sabotage that is the root causes often linked to a traumatic event that hasn't been explored that's been muted and so it then seeps through into the behaviour in ways that sabotage the individual.

Malcolm: When one looks at their own awareness and thinking about what needs to be done about this part of the understanding I feel that media and government needs is this whole idea as I've said before it's not just a case of -when the abuse stops the effects do not stop.  The effects as we know and you know better than I do you know those personal relationships but beyond that it affects their capacity for learning and work and that then has a potential impact on society as a whole because clearly if someone is not able to form good relationships, is not able to work and hold down a position they become potentially a risk and a burden to society in the sense of they either fall in potentially fall into the criminal justice system and then find it impossible to escape, potentially impossible to escape or that even if they escape that in the workplace are not able to hold down a job long period of time they're not able to progress, not able to sustain long term relationships that again that has a wider impact on society both in terms of health issue and  possibly welfare benefit issues too.

So, you know it is that coming back to the importance of when we're reminding people to be alive to Sexual Abuse Awareness Week.  It's not about reporting it - it's about thinking more and concentrating and focusing much more on the survivor of abuse rather than for me - paedophiles and abusers - which we for me they particularly appear to be obsessed with. We should be concentrating as much time as a society and as much money towards survivors, and one area that really makes me particularly angry is the fact that society as whole - the government -  spends about £30,000 a year very roughly on locking up a pedophile or  abuser but spends nowhere near that much state wise when seeking to or trying to support a survivor of childhood sexual abuse,

You know it's frequently reported you know individuals who are referred by their GP for NHS counselling or simply obtains maybe half a dozen or a dozen counselling sessions - sometimes those are in group sessions which is clearly, in my limited experience far from ideal. They need one-to-one support which is where you come in and help them but we need that greater awareness particularly as far as the government is concerned so that they can put in adequate funds to ensure that people are properly cared for, you know do we know in a long term there is no way that the NHS will be able to meet the needs of childhood sexual abuse victims but you know, the state working in partnership with the private sector can do that but to begin with we've got to ensure that people feel confident enough in order to come forward and seek help whether it's first of all from you as a therapist or alternatively it's from me as a lawyer giving that generic advice about what potentially they can do and how they can be helped.

Keeley: Indeed, and I think for me just to kind of echo what your saying is the root is a lack of self-love and I think that ultimately is what I've witnessed -  that is sexual abuse does to an individual. The self-love element from the individual is compromised and when that is compromised it manifests itself in so many different harmful ways in individuals. 

How to obtain support and compensation for victims of 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 child 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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