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21 February 2020 | Podcasts | Article by Alan Collins

HJ Talks About Abuse: Understanding trauma in the context of child sexual abuse

HJ Talks About Abuse: Understanding trauma in the context of child sexual abuseHJ Talks About Abuse: Understanding trauma in the context of child sexual abuse

In this podcast we discuss the topic of understanding trauma in the context of child sexual abuse (CSA), with Associate Professor of Criminology at The University of New South Wales, Michael Salter.

What do we mean by trauma?

“A mental condition caused by severe shock, especially when the harmful effects last for a long time and cause post-trauma symptoms which put stress on the body”.

We need to understand what trauma means in relation to CSA and the impact it has on the victims (survivors).

Research shows that CSA impacts on a victim’s health across the life course so that harmful impacts may manifest through increased common childhood health conditions, as well as general poorer self-rated health. Such conditions are typically not life threatening (but can be life shortening for example by smoking or taking “drugs”) but their long-term impact on physical and social development can be considerable. Thus, childhood ill health as well as anti-social behaviour could impact school attendance and consequently opportunities for educational attainment and better economic prospects throughout life etc.

We also know that CSA can adversely affect relationships, with “trust” issues being common place. This in turn can affect self-worth, mental health and physical health too.

CSA is now understood as a non-specific risk factor for a range of negative outcomes including PTSD and complex trauma, substance misuse, relationship issues, ill-health and encounters with the criminal justice system.

Some children who have been sexually abused have a pre-existing vulnerability, for example, they had been removed from their parents because of neglect, and placed in care.

The trauma can be further influenced by the sense of betrayal, the sense of being disbelieved and/or belittled and the lack of accountability. Further, if there is a lack of support following disclosure of the CSA, this too can compound the trauma that has been sustained or developed.

It is noteworthy that trauma was a key theme for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It recognised trauma as a major impact of CSA. We discuss with Dr Salter how this reflected in the Royal Commission’s work, for example, in “bearing witness” to what it was hearing from survivors. This was a feature interestingly of the United Kingdom Child Sex Abuse People’s Tribunal (UKCSAPT). It is understood from trauma research that when victims are listened to and not just heard and their experiences considered, there can be a lessening of their symptoms.

We also discuss the understanding and promotion of a trauma informed culture which we believe engenders a holistic approach to survivor needs and issues.

If you enjoyed listening to this episode of the HJ Talks About Abuse podcast, you can listen to our other episodes on your favourite streaming platforms with the buttons above.

All of our episodes are also available to listen to on our website here. To find out more about what Alan and Sam do, visit the abuse page.

Author bio

Alan Collins is one of the best known and most experienced solicitors in the field of child abuse litigation and has acted in many high profile cases, including the Jimmy Savile and Haut de la Garenne abuse scandals.  Alan has represented interested parties before public inquiries including the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry, and IICSA (Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse).

Internationally, Alan works in Australia, South East Asia, Uganda, Kenya, and California representing clients in high profile sexual abuse cases. Alan also spoke at the Third Regional Workshop on Justice for Children in East Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok hosted by Unicef and HCCH (Hague Conference on Private International Law).

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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