Recently I stood before full council elected members at Lambeth council to give a deputation to raise awareness of the challenges faced by adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. As a constituent of this borough, a survivor that has successfully overcome many challenges in the aftermath of sexual abuse, and Founder and Leader of Daughter Arise, I decided to put myself forward to be a voice for the voiceless on this issue.
The journey to giving a deputation (a process where an appointed person speaks/acts on behalf of others on a specific issue) took nine months. Besides various meetings and email exchanges with council officers, I had to write a statement about what the issues were and why I believed Lambeth council should take an interest. With only two weeks notice before the council meeting, I was told I would need twenty signatures from Lambeth residents supporting me on this issue. I could not have done this without the support of Pauline, a volunteer for Daughter Arise who rushed around to get some of the signatures needed. Because of our busy lives and time constraints we did not meet the deadline and had to wait another three months for the next meeting.
I was very nervous leading up to the deputation, but as I stood before the sixty-three elected Councillors, Leader and CEO of Lambeth council and the Mayor of Lambeth I focused on ensuring that I made an impactful presentation. I was also allowed to put forward suggestions on how I believed Lambeth could support us in addressing these issues. I was given five minutes to get my point across and the elected member for the service area had three minutes to reply. I was then told I would get a written response to my deputation in14 days.
It was clear from the email response that I received, the message I was trying to communicate about the challenges faced by adult survivors was not understood. The elected member in his response email talked about the work Lambeth children services are doing to help child victims of sexual abuse; I am glad children in their care are getting the help they need. It was reiterated to me as it was at the full council meeting, and another meeting I had previously with a council officer at Lambeth, that the Gaia centre is the place where sexual abuse survivors can find help. Gaia centre do fantastic work but their services, neither in the wording or listing suggests they have specific services for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. On doing my own research of what services are available in my borough, I found services for sexual violence and other forms of crimes against women, but according to Lambeth domestic services resource pack, nothing specifically caters for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
Sexual abuse is a form of sexual violence, but because of the complexity surrounding it (incest, family dynamics, guilt, shame and other challenges faced by the adult survivor) it needs a specialist approach and organisations like Daughter Arise have the experience, knowledge and insight to support people through their journey; all we wanted was Lambeth’s guidance and help in making our services more accessible and visible to residents. I asked if Daughter Arise could be added to their database as an organisation in the borough that specifically supports survivors of adult sexual abuse; this was not granted. I also put myself forward to be a community champion to raise awareness of sexual abuse in the borough after a meeting I had with a council officer. She mentioned Lambeth had one for female genital mutilation, so I followed this up with her in an email to ask information on how I would go about this but I received no response.
It is clear that Daughter Arise will not receive support to develop. Even though the outcome was not what we hoped for, I am glad I had a chance to go through a deputation, if only to highlight to the elected members’ issues faced by a percentage of their constituents. I am thankful that Pauline and I were able to meet with Cllr Anyanwu, Mandy and Grace, who were most supportive to us in our efforts. It is proven by statistics from various organisations and the government that survivors find it difficult to speak out and that sexual abuse can leave long-term challenges. It is a shame that survivors in Lambeth cannot have a niche service that specifically acknowledges and recognises their needs as a group; it does not even have to be Daughter Arise that provides the service.
We will continue as an organisation to support all adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, including those who don’t live in Lambeth. Nothing is ever in vain and this experience has taught me that being a voice for the voiceless comes with great challenges. Those challenges remain seen and unseen and it is bigger than any one borough; worldwide collectively as survivors, our voice will be heard.