23 May 2019 | Comment | Article by Alan Collins

HJ Talks About Abuse: Adult survivors

In this week's episode of the HJ Talks About Abuse podcast, Alan and Sam discuss the recent APPG report on Adult survivors of sexual abuse.

The May 2019 report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse sets out some alarming facts regarding the impact of childhood sexual abuse, access to essential services, the demand for essential services and the gap in funding which allows many survivors to languish without proper treatment or support.

At the outset it is important to note the magnitude of this problem – 7% of people aged between 16 and 59 report they were sexually abused as a child.

This tells us many things, but most importantly, the impact of childhood sexual abuse is on a scale many would never imagine and it is not a vestige of a less civilised past, which many would consider the case. This is a 2019 report with recent data. The youngest persons surveyed are 16 years old and the oldest are 59.

You would be forgiven for thinking that recent awareness of this issue and great leaps being taken in safeguarding techniques, laws and procedures would reduce the incidence of childhood sexual abuse, but this data suggests otherwise.    

So this is something that can no longer be ignored, there is a human cost and an economic cost to society.  Taking this into account, the report asks a pivotal question – can adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse access justice and support?

In doing so 365 survivors of child hood sexual abuse were surveyed and the following alarming statistics were revealed:

  • The average wait time for disclosure of sexual abuse is 26 years;
  • 90% of respondents told the inquiry that the abuse has negatively impacted their intimate relationships;
  • 89% of respondents told the inquiry their mental health was affected by the abuse;
  • 81% of respondents told the inquiry their family life was adversely affected by the abuse;
  • 72% of respondents told the inquiry their career was negatively affected; and
  • 65% of respondents told the inquiry their education was negatively affected by the abuse.

Whilst these results are startling at first blush, it is not at all surprising.  One only needs to search the internet for similar studies conducted across the world to see the devastating and insidious impact of childhood sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is pervasive, it invades the lives of those affected and can sit dormant for many years. We must then ask why this is the case?

It was been the position of society for decades that such things are best left unsaid, it was a secret which many institutions and organisations didn’t want let out of hiding.  The Catholic Church is a perfect example, it can now be said with some degree of certainty that this problem of epic proportions was known about, and covered up, for decades. Survivors were conditioned to feel it was their fault, to feel guilty, to hide it deep inside. This served one purpose – the protection of the institution and the abuser. Now we know this is not specific to the Catholic Church, but a problem which has touched nearly all facets of religion and government.

The effect is what we see in clear terms in the report – survivors take decades to report. This is not at all surprising given what they were conditioned to feel.

Moreover, the individual survivor disclosures in the report evidence a culture which surrounds childhood sexual abuse – often the people around you just want you to get over it.  A monumental task and one which those who haven’t been affected are ill equipped to understand.  It is this mentality which contributes to the 90% of survivors who report their intimate relationships being negatively impacted and the 81% of survivors whose family life was negatively impacted by the abuse.

Again, this is hardly surprising. The report details many survivors are unable to access good quality information about the impact of childhood sexual abuse – if the survivor is unable to access this information then how is a loved one or friend able to properly understand the devastating impact? This misunderstanding of how childhood sexual abuse pervades many aspects of a survivor’s life leads to a clear impact on relationships, a downward spiral, leading to further depression and less likely prospects of successful treatment.

This is the human cost.  It is undeniable.  But how is this treated and what can be done?  Whilst 47% of survivors found that the most important support to recovery is specialist voluntary sector counselling, the report demonstrates glaring holes in access to support and services due to a distinct lack of adequate government funding.

For example, SurvivorsUK which provides support and services for survivors has reported that in each of the past three years demand for services has increased by 30% year on year – a 90% increase – and their staff has grown by 300% but is still unable to meet demand.

So what does the report recommend to address this issue?  The key recommendations are as follows:

  1. The Home Office should commission and publish research on the economic and social costs of child sexual abuse.
  2. The upcoming Spending Review for 2020-2023 should create a discrete, cross-departmental strategic fund to transform Government response to child sexual abuse. This should fund core services to meet demand and recognise the value of the specialist voluntary sector.
  3. NHS England should collect data on Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) expenditure on long-term therapeutic care for survivors, and consider ring-fenced funding as a way to ensure CCGs commission specialist voluntary sector services to meet demand.
  4. Government departments should issue guidance to frontline professionals on how to respond in a trauma-informed way, developed in collaboration with specialist sexual violence and abuse voluntary sector umbrella agencies.
  5. The Government should fund a nationwide public health campaign to raise awareness of the issues around childhood sexual abuse, highlight the potential impact on survivors, tackle social myths and stereotypes about sexual abuse and direct survivors and professionals to sources of support and information.

Whilst this is all welcome data and impactful advocacy – the question remains, what will the government do about this?  If there is a benefit to society, this may garner more support for change and funding. Whilst an unpalatable thought, it is likely to be the best shot we have to ensure survivors of childhood sexual abuse can access appropriate service and get on the road to recovery.

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.

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