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1 in 13 - a young man’s journey as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse

11 February 2022

FOREWORD:

This year, UpRising are making an improved effort to use our platform to amplify the important voices of young people within our community on issues that are important and relevant to them.. With over 4,000 young people having come through our programmes, we are honoured to facilitate an alumni community of passionate young people, each of whom is on their own leadership journey.

CONTENT WARNING:

Today, to mark and raise awareness of Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Week, we are grateful to be able to share a guest blog written by one of our alumni, Joe. Joe's blog is about his experiences and journey as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. This blog discusses a survivor's experiences following child sexual abuse (CSA). There are aspects of this which you may find difficult or upsetting. This includes (but is not limited to) references to violence, rape, depression, guilt and shame.

1 in 13 - a young man’s journey as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse

“7.5% of adults aged 18 to 74 years experienced sexual abuse before the age of 16 years” - this is the equivalent of 1 in 13 children, or put another way, at least 1 child in every classroom.

I learnt this statistic whilst I was waiting for my first counselling session with The Survivors Trust, back in 2015, when I was 20 years old. I’d just disclosed my childhood sexual abuse to the police. 

1 in 13 children have been sexually abused, and this is just my story. My hope in sharing this, as difficult and distressing as I’m aware it may feel to read, is that it will help you to start conversations and make changes in your life.

From the age of nine I was abused by a family friend for around two years. The abuse began infrequently and subtly – which I now understand was the beginning of grooming. Within two years, the abuse escalated from light touching, into heavy petting and rape. My abuser would cleverly engineer situations in which we were both alone, and any unplanned alone time would be taken advantage of. Even at nine years old, I knew what was happening was wrong, yet there didn’t seem to be a way of getting it to stop. I also felt ashamed that a part of me didn’t want it to stop, due to the relationship formed between me and my abuser.

Eventually, of course, it did stop, I grew older and less vulnerable, and spent less time with the abuser. For most of my teenage years I did my best to repress everything that had happened; I knew that I had been abused, but I did everything I could not to think about it. I promised myself that nobody would ever find out, especially not my mum, as I knew she would feel that she should have been able to protect me – although this was impossible. This strategy seemed to work until I was 17, when I began to struggle with my mental health, as many survivors do.

I’ve struggled with depression and social anxiety for 10 years now, which seemed to peak at university. To most people I came across as a happy, outgoing uni student, when in fact, most days, I was struggling with finding a reason to stay alive. I knew something in my life needed to change, and I realised keeping this secret was triggering my mental health problems. If I was going to move on in my life, I needed to address the childhood sexual abuse shaped elephant in the room.

After unexpectedly experiencing a mental breakdown during a trip to Europe with my best friend, I knew what had to change. Over a picturesque sunset in south Croatia, I called my step dad and disclosed my story to him.

The next few days were a complete blur. I took the next flight back to the UK and before I could process what was happening, I was sat on a sofa listening to my stepdad explain to my mum that I’d been sexually abused as a child.

I’m not sure how many people can pinpoint the worst day of their life, but that was mine.

It’s impossible to explain to somebody how it feels to hold a secret for that length of time - I’ve since realised that the physical abuse I’d suffered was negligible compared to the years of mental torment I’d experienced.

10 years after it first happened, I reported my abuse to the police. At this point I knew that my life was never going to be the same, neither were the lives of my family, or the lives of my abuser’s family; something that caused me to feel incredible levels of guilt. The police investigation lasted just over 2 years and ended with my abuser being imprisoned for 3 years. Although at the time I was unable to understand the justification for that number being so small, I have since come to accept it.

At the start of the police investigation, I was put in touch with Trust House Reading, a subsidiary of The Survivors Trust, who provided me with specialist support and counselling. At first, I didn’t think I would benefit from counselling. In reality, it helped me through situations that would have been impossible for me to tackle on my own.

 To this day I don’t know if I’d still be alive without the help of Trust House Reading, and The Survivors Trust.

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The photo above was taken in May 2016, around 6 months after I disclosed my abuse to the police, and a week before my final counselling session. I’d just completed my first Tough Mudder, with a team of 8 people whom I’d never met before and had managed to raise £430 for The Survivors Trust. It was the first time in nearly 4 years that I felt a sense of genuine, unburdened happiness.

I have since worked with The Survivors Trust as a volunteer - in 2018 I also completed the Uprising Leadership Programme, which helped me to develop my public speaking skills and improve my confidence to enable me to talk openly in forums held by The Survivors Trust. 

There shouldn't be a stigma surrounding sexual abuse, and people shouldn't have to suffer in silence due to feelings of shame, guilt, or embarrassment - which I have realised over the past few years.

As a young man you feel as though it’s expected of you to be strong and resilient, and therefore bottle up your emotions - to put on a brave face.

At first it was the hardest decision of my life to talk about my abuse, yet now I find it liberating - I hope to be an example of somebody who has not let the abuse hold me back in life.

Although this is only my experience, and my story, I hope that by sharing this it might encourage you to be more aware and open to talking about sexual abuse. I felt alone for so many years, I couldn’t think about the possibility of sharing my story – but talking to my friends and family was instrumental in my journey, and I was so lucky to have a strong support network to turn to; I know this is not the same for every person, which is why I now advocate for seeking support with services and charities like The Survivors Trust.

To mark Sexual Abuse & Sexual Assault Awareness Week, The Survivors Trust have released a new website which provides resources for anyone who wants to learn more about the impact of sexual abuse. I was honoured to be asked to create a video for the website, focussing on the feelings of guilt and shame, which are so common among sexual abuse survivors. The video can be found on YouTube

If you ever feel alone on your journey, please reach out for help.

There is always someone who will listen.

You can call The Survivor's Trust helpline for free, confidential support on 08088 010818.

Joe