As an inspirational speaker, I have been sharing with audiences since June 2010 my experience of being sexually abused as a child and how it has affected my life. I have had the honour of being a part of some amazing discussions, and also heard heartbreaking stories of pain and survival. It is not unusual for me to meet people who are unaware of the truth regarding sexual abuse. Some people think it only goes on in ‘poor’ households, others think it is a white peoples problem. The other day I met a wonderful lady who told me that she was not aware sexual abuse went on in the black community!
As shocking as this statement is, it is not surprising. Some people believe the act of sexual abuse is just penetration, and I have even heard people say in some cases that- somehow an action or behaviour by the victim must have instigated the actions of the perpetrator. The truth is sexual abuse is not about the act of sex; it is about power and control, and it involves other behaviour and actions as well. These misconceptions can easily be rectified through education and raising awareness; teaching what sexual abuse is, its effects, and talking about the facts and myths surrounding it would help people to gain a different understanding.
Whilst there is no proven research that these strategy’s could prevent sexual abuse altogether, preventive work can reduce risk the incidence of sexual abuse, giving our future generations of children the knowledge and tools to communicate if something is wrong is giving them power to protect themselves.
I never had that opportunity. I grew up in the eighties, the decade that seemed so innocent in many people’s eyes. Sex was something that was kept among adults, and children, well, never had to worry about that, because it was all about having fun. How wrong we were, for it seemed this was not only going on, but was hidden in plain sight. Only in last five years have we seen the exposure of Jimmy Saville, and other well known faces from the 80’s, including Fred “the weatherman” Talbot, as well as revelations from celebrities such as Todd Bridges (Different Strokes) and Corey Feldman, a well known 80’s film star who has been revealing the depths of pedophilia in Hollywood. Secrecy is what kept it from being exposed back then, but now is the time to bring this problem fully into light. We are in the age of the internet, social media and other forms of communication where it is much easier to have these discussions and share information about what is really going on.
Back in the 80’s, no information was shared on sexual abuse in primary school. It was only when I went to secondary school in 1989, through a visit from Childline I learned the name for what was happening to me. I use to wonder if it would have made any difference to my life if I had this information sooner. Would I have been able to escape my five years of suffering earlier? Only God knows. Whilst I can do nothing about my past, I can help to make a difference to the future of children experiencing this now and support those who are still suffering by using my experience and knowledge to empower others.
For those of us that are in a position where we can use our voice, one of the biggest weapons we have as survivor thrivers, is the power of using our experience to help others. I believe my experience, as painful as it is, was never about me. Even though I lived through the pain, rejection and consequences of speaking out, it prepared me for my purpose; to help those around me who are suffering in silence. The epidemic of sexual abuse is too important to ignore. We must highlight this issue because it is dangerous to keep silent about it; many lives are at stake, and for far too long the shame and the of comfort silence has allowed this menace to grow, allowing perpetrators to grow from strength to strength; secrecy is their power and it needs to be taken away.
Over the last 7 years in my work supporting survivors, I can tell you more often than not the perpetrator of the abuse has not only abused that one person; they have also abused others in the same family. Sometimes it is well known that the perpetrator has form for this behaviour but it is accepted as part of a weak character trait, as statements such as “ don’t sit on Uncle’s lap’” are quite telling. It is hard to believe that an adult would ever approach a child in this manner, to engage in this abhorrent behaviour, but they do and it has been long going on. Sexual abuse may not have physical injuries but the psychological and emotional damage it causes to the person is life changing. The only way we can make a change is by speaking out, sharing our message and educating the people around us that do not know its destructiveness. The power of communication is a wonderful gift and used effectively can help impart valuable knowledge to others.
The journey of the message can impact and save lives. That is why even if it is only one person that finds hope from what I share, or one child that finds the courage to tell someone what he or she are going through then it is worth it. In this day and age no victim or survivor should have to walk alone through their experience; the more the message is shared the more lives can be saved, and the sooner the journey to healing can start.