LAST WEEK research from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse revealed that nine per cent of child sexual abuse survivors who have participated in its Truth Project, which works with survivors to provide them with a space to share their experiences, are from an ethnic minority background.
To date, more than 4,000 survivors have come forward to take part in the initiative.
Marcia, is one of a team of facilitators who work with survivors of childhood sexual abuse, giving them a safe space to share their experiences. She spoke to The Voice about the impact the project is having, the stigma survivors face and how she helps them overcome it.
Tell us about your work as a facilitator with The Truth Project
My role is to ensure that the victim survivor who comes in to see us is able to share their experience, that we support them to share their experience. It’s not an investigation of any kind, it’s about just us supporting them to facilitate the process for them to share something that they may never have shared with anyone else. At the end of it we also do what we call a debrief with the team to ensure that we haven’t missed anything, that we have done the best for that person that we could do.
“The guilt and the shame is not theirs”
How do survivors of sexual abuse share what they’ve been through with you?
For the survivors, they have three options about how they share their experience. They can either write in, so just put it in writing if that’s what they feel comfortable doing. They can have a telephone session where they will speak to me, having had a support worker that’s supported them all the way through, or we can have a face to face session in a room.
Survivors of child sexual abuse often face stigma. How has that impacted the people you help?
Some people come that have never told anyone, they’ve held a secret for many, many, many years. People say they thought they were just taking it to their grave because they were so ashamed they didn’t want to tell anyone and felt responsible. Others come because they did tell someone at the time it was happening but they were not believed, so they want to be heard, they want to be believed, and they just want to make a difference some of them. Some of them just want it not to happen to other children. So they’re hoping in sharing their experiences and their recommendations that it will help protect children going forward.
“It’s an absolute honour to do this work”
What we say to people is they share as much or as little as they choose to share. We’re not there to delve or to dig. Also because there’s so much stigma still associated with childhood sexual abuse, people feel embarrassed, people feel ashamed, people feel guilty. My thing is to say to them the guilt and the shame is not theirs. They didn’t do this to themselves, it was done to them. So talk to somebody about, sometimes maybe the first step to be able to start doing something with that to process that and maybe get some relief from the burden that they’ve been carrying for so long.
Less than a third of those who have engaged with the Truth Project are male. Has toxic masculinity and stereotypes around what it means to be masculine prevented men from coming forward and speaking out about childhood sexual abuse?
I think it has because a lot of the guys that I’ve spoken to, for them, it’s embarrassing and then they feel that there’s an automatic assumption that they will end up being perpetrators themselves or as a man that they’re gay, all things that stop people from speaking.
I would say when some of the survivors may be family members who are still alive and there’s pressures within a family, and they don’t want to upset their family. They don’t want to hurt anybody, but what they say to us is confidential.
What else can stop survivors from speaking out? And what reassurances do you offer them?
The only time we go beyond confidential boundaries is in the usual cases – safeguarding issues. So it’s about them having that space, that time in a trusted pair of hands that will not hurt them, that will not share and spread their business so to speak as it is in our community, they’re afraid of them knowing their business, that will not happen in this case.
What’s most rewarding about the work you do?
I think for me, to see somebody come into a room where they’re physically shaking, don’t know what to do how to sit, just fidgeting, really anxious to at the end of a session, watch them walk away, relaxed, grateful and just thanking you for hearing them.
It’s the most privileged thing you could do, a privilege because people trust you; they trust you with the most hurtful, secretive part of their life that most of them have never shared with anybody else. To me, to be able to be part of somebody’s journey, which although painful is maybe the start of something or putting something to bed.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it is difficult, but for me, what I say to people when they come, don’t feel that they have to protect me from anything as [awful] as it may be, share it. If you find it hard to say the word, you don’t have to say the word, it’s about being present and basically allowing somebody to feel safe to be able to do that. So it’s an absolute honour to do this work.
The inquiry has published a further 80 accounts of survivors from its Truth Project. To read them, click here.
If you are a survivor of child sexual abuse and you would like to share your experiences in writing, over the phone or in person, you can get in touch with the Inquiry’s Truth Project by visiting www.truthproject.org.uk or emailing email@example.com.
If you’d like to find out how to get involved with the Truth Project, visit www.truthproject.org.uk