One in Four gives survivors of child sexual abuse their voice.
Through personal accounts, artwork and poetry we support survivors to express the impact of their experiences and share these to educate and inform others about how a history of child sexual abuse can shape adult lives.
Child Sexual Abuse and its impact remains a poorly understood area. One in Four’s new Survivors’ Voices report illustrates the impact of child sexual abuse.
Survivors’ Voices: Breaking the silence on living with the impact of child sexual abuse in the family environment
This report reveals the devastating long-term impact of child sexual abuse on individuals and society, and calls for greater awareness by health-related professionals and better access to specialist treatment services for survivors.
These accounts expose a problem that has a far-reaching impact not just on individuals, on families, but also on society as a whole. And describe the long-term pain and trauma suffered after being abused by the people they should have been able to trust the most. This report provides a deeper understanding of what helped survivors, and what is needed for the future.
Despite high profile cases involving celebrities and criminal gangs, evidence suggests around 70% of child sexual abuse takes place within the family. Such is the level of shame and fear that of those who contributed, nearly 90% never informed the police, preferring to stay silent and mask their internal feelings of chaos, not knowing what help they need.
Survivors’ Voices gives a powerful insight into a problem that remains poorly understood. Through writing these accounts survivors have further come to terms with their past.
The report contains an analysis by child sexual abuse expert Christiane Sanderson of the key themes impacting survivors. Download the expert summary analysis here.
Download Survivors' Voices report here
Download Survivors' Voices supplement here
“Because of the stigma, shame and fear most survivors remain silent about their experiences.”
“Feeling able to come forward and speak out safely has never been more vital for those who, like me, have had the trauma of child rape thrown onto them, and by proxy by those who love them.” James Rhodes, Musician
“The Voices in this excellent report tell us what needs to be done today. It is the least that survivors deserve – that their stories are heard, the lessons are learnt and their brave accounts are not in vain.” Sue Berelowitz, Visiting Professor Bedfordshire University.
“As a child, I didn’t understand I was being sexually abused. I just knew I didn’t like it, didn’t want it, that it was a secret and it was wrong.” Survivor
These brave accounts illustrate the cruel reality of child sexual abuse – and the loneliness, betrayal, terror, isolation and destruction of childhood and adult lives as a result. It takes courage to speak out. These accounts give an insight into the lived experiences of survivors but are challenging to read. If you are a survivor these accounts may be triggering and we advise you getting support.
Raped and abused by an uncle, four episodes between approximate age of five to ten. The nature of the abuse was forceful, violent, terrifying, occasionally life-threatening, marked by sudden changes of behaviour and anger. I had no memories of it at all until the age of 46.
The dissociated years were marked by depression, anxiety, withdrawal, distrust, paranoia, jealousy, cynicism, under-achievement (school, college, career, earnings), a strong tendency to avoid all-male company leading to difficulty bonding with bosses and allies. I suffered poor health from hyper-immunity and anxiety disorders, asthma, eczema, allergies, and the effects of sleep loss, exacerbated by the physical conditions and the drugs given to treat them.
My adolescence was lost to withdrawal and depression, the belief that good things happened to other people, and to feeling as attractive as ‘sheep sh**’. Late compared to peers, I had a few girlfriends, but was sexually naive and passive and too gentle to give climax. In terms of emotion there was a hard limit on how deep in love I would or could go. I was horrified by the risk of fatherhood, firmly believing the world needed no more like me, and I would not wish that on a child.
Later, I pursued dangerous activities: rock and ice climbing, winter mountaineering, sports motorbikes. Several hospital visits and many near-misses were part death-wish, part seeking a feeling of aliveness to pierce the fug of depression. Throughout, I had tendencies to self-sabotage, sending away most of the good stuff that came my way.
The abuse happened for three years of my life but its impact has shaped every day of my existence, and will continue to do so until the day I die.
I was abused by my uncle from when I was six until about nine years old, without even knowing that it was abuse. This has had many consequences, physical, emotional, psychological, and behavioural and it took me over 20 years to make sense of the abuse and to heal my wounds. The abuse was disguised by love, affection and secrecy. It took many therapists, personal development workshops and finally a friend to help me realise that what happened to me was not right and that it never should have happened. It took courage to tell my family, to disclose, to name the abuse and take ownership of my life, my sexuality, my body, my emotions. I felt used, abused, confused, and finally I became free. Free to be myself, without shame, guilt or secrets; secrets that I had been carrying all my life. Physical illnesses I had to suffer (at age 30, I was diagnosed with an unexplained chronic genital illness), emotional turmoil, identity loss, always pleasing others and only getting love and acceptance from giving. Giving while feeling empty within.
The abuse forced me to lie, to lie to others but most importantly to lie to myself. To pretend nothing wrong was happening. To pretend it was all part of being a good girl. It was all part of being loved and accepted. How many years have I been carrying this burden and sometimes I still am? I need to keep reminding myself of my patterns of self-harm and destruction, of self-sabotage.
The inner struggle of not being understood, of not understanding myself, of having to suffer more sexual abuse as a teenager because that was all I knew. That was how I got love and affection, so I ended up repeating the patterns unconsciously.
I felt weird for many years; I felt like I was a bad person because I wasn’t like anyone else. I started stealing to align myself with the feeling of being bad. Trying anything possible to not be a good girl because being a good girl meant giving in to the disgusting desires of this messed up man. He would love me, kiss me, touch me and tell me how wonderful I was as long as I met his sick sexual needs. I started stealing from sweet shops and moved onto stealing money from my parents to be able to buy sweets and later drugs.
I am writing this in the hope of reaching others who have been affected by the horrifying damage of sexual abuse, to know that you are not alone and there are people who love you and feel your pain. And that as hard as it is, speaking out, when ready, in the right place, can be the most liberating thing on your journey of healing.
I am also writing to those in the caring and medical services, schools, along with friends and families of survivors, to maybe understand the depth of the impact of sexual abuse, and maybe become more aware of spotting it in children.
I was sexually abused by my mother. Every part of me felt ruined by this all the way through me right to my soul. I thought I was the only one. It was something I was certain I would never and could never speak about. I didn’t even see it as sexual abuse when I was a child as I only heard of uncles abusing or perverts in parks, not of a female, let alone a mother, so I saw myself as having the most vile terrifying and disgusting things happen to me. But it must have been my fault because it never happened to anyone else in the world ever, and that’s why I thought I was the most disgusting thing on the planet. Even though I tried to stop it in any way I could think of, I was also dependant on this person for my life, food and shelter.
My first memories of it were as a five-year-old and I still can’t get the contaminated feelings and taste out of my mouth from what she made me do, and I feel sick writing about it.
I feel I didn’t have a childhood. I have felt so horribly isolated and alone in a world that was unsafe especially at home in any room, at any time. I tried to speak out when I was five, but nothing was done and it just made it worse, as I was told by my mother that no one wanted to know and no one would believe me.
In my anxiety I still sleep with my hand positioned in a protective hold in an attempt to keep my privates safe for fear of an intruder, scared someone will enter uninvited: my subconscious still attempts to protect my modesty.
What he did to me affected my whole life, every relationship, my personal identity and the general trajectory of my life’s path. Childhood sexual abuse manifested in all aspects of my life. The first two relationships it besmirched were the most important ones: the relationship to and perception of myself; and my relationship with my mother. I hated myself; I felt a level of shame that I could only be in the world if I wore a mask. I pretended to be confident and became a people pleaser. I despised myself for allowing, tolerating and colluding in the lies and deceit to protect this family member who sexually abused my body and betrayed my trust.
I wasn’t able to concentrate at school. Teachers said: “She gets distracted easily” but I was disassociating in order to manage my thoughts and the images of the abuse. I used to think of a bowl of sick. This might sound weird but it was my way of putting it all into one; it was easier that way. Distancing was my only defence, in the moment and thereafter. The teachers who suggested that I go sit in the library and read were helpful as I was able to escape my reality in books and enhance my reading and knowledge of the world. My behaviour as a child was considered as being ‘bad’, so I was told I was bad, which was easy for me to accept because I had all this other evidence in my mind to support the claim; essentially I knew I was bad. I was trapped on the inside of my life, I was helpless and nobody knew my suffering.
From a young age to my early teens, I was sexually abused within the family home by my dad and grandad.
For some reason I became the family scapegoat. Perhaps because I was the youngest, less able to stand up for myself, or because my abusers had complete control and power within the family home to behave how they liked. It was not in their interest to empower me. I was there to be used by them. As an adult, I now know that an abused child is always singled out and groomed with equal measures of kindness and then cruelty. They took any sense of stability I may have felt, replacing it with fear and anxiety. I was totally at their mercy. Every photograph of me during this period of time shows an unsmiling, sad-looking little girl. Once I told my mum something my abuser had said to me. She was giving me a bath at the time, I was probably around four or five. She responded with such anger, slapping my legs uncontrollably! Shouting: “Don’t you ever say anything like that ever again!” My legs were red and sore but what hurt the most was her reaction. Whatever her reasons were, I knew from that point on I really was on my own, so in order to survive I split off from my reality.
Having no voice or power gave me an overwhelming sense of anger as I could not protect myself or expect care from an emotionally absent mother. Therefore splitting off or disassociating from my reality became a coping mechanism in a situation too awful to comprehend. Another way of coping was trying to forget.
I have spent most of my life trying to forget what happened to me. Even when flashbacks arrived, I pushed them down so far that they were in the tips of my toes. I wanted to be normal, to be normal like my abusers pretended to be normal. Like nothing had happened, like they had never done those awful things to me; to pretend that they were really loving, kind, respectful, religious family men like they pretended to be to the outside world. Unfortunately their hypocrisy and lies were never judged by another adult, just silent, watchful me – with no power or words to make it stop or to make it fair – so I pretended too. But unfortunately, if you don’t deal with these issues they find a way of seeping out, without you even being aware. For me this happened in the way I felt about myself and in relation to the people around me.
Incest: Unblocking our family drains.
I am an unrecorded statistic of incest from a so-called ‘normal’, ‘respectable’, ‘professional’ family.
As I write this behind my closed door only a handful of people know. None of my friends or neighbours know. Finally after over 40 years I’ve found the courage to speak up. I’ve found out how to unblock the family drains. With expert help I’ve finally found the only way out of the darkness. I am now surfacing for the first time.
People think I’m so lucky. If only they knew. Not even all the workmen renovating my house would guess that every waking moment I bear the pressure of concealing a complex double life. Every day I’ve been protecting our family name; protecting my elderly mother, my successful adult siblings and all our kids.
Born much younger in the hierarchy, I was so proud to be part of our huge extended family. I was in awe of my older brothers and sisters, excited when the last baby came along in our busy, rambling household. I wanted to believe that I’d had the perfect happy childhood, cradled in the safety of our ‘watchful’ neighbourhood. I was thankful for my respected parents and relatives, who were all pillars of the community; involved with charities, church and schools.
There is no easy way to say this, but as I was growing up in the 60s and 70s I was sexually abused many times. I didn’t have the vocabulary or opportunity to explain. I didn’t understand the severity or long-term impact of the emotional roller-coaster ride, which I’ve always masked with my laughter, compassion and smiles.
‘A New Dawn’
Once there was darkness and fear inside
No self-worth and a lack of pride
I was always running away from me
Determined to escape who I might be
One day the running just had to end
And my troubled mind began to mend
I faced the truth and braved the storm
Then re-emerged to a new dawn
I’m still insecure in a number of ways
Though I have many more positive days
I don’t feel ashamed of who I am
I don’t feel bitterness towards the man
I accept my fate was an ugly act
But I’m still beautiful, that’s a fact
Remember the innocence taken away
Is a terrible loss no-one can repay
I wish you luck in all you do
And send you prayers to see you through
May a new day dawn and bring you peace
May your troubles end and your love increase
This is a poem for all of you
Who suffered abuse in childhood too
‘A Language Without Words’
I told you I was filled with terror, my whole childhood ripped from my heart and thrown to the woves, my head was crowded with the echoes of voices scratching the raw under-side of my skull in a frenzy to escape
I told you that yesterday held only fear for me, drowning in the ulcerated wound of my dreams.
You told me to grow up.
I told you I was possessed by anger, a blind, white tide, barely held down, whipping at the vessel of my brain, threatening to capsize me, a fury that burned through every nerve and fibre, wanting to maim, murder and devour everyone who had ever made a victim of me.
I told you that today was a pillar of salt to rub into the blisters.
You told me to get over it.
I told you I was fallen to apathy, robbed of my illusions I felt along among us, the world could show me nothing that I wanted to see, cause no event of any consequence.
I told you that tomorrow promised only tedium, trapped in the cell of my room.
You told me to get a life.
I spoke with my eyes.
Not for the me in the ‘here and now’…
But for that beautiful, innocent little girl who was used and abused…
Used to satisfy the lust of a dirty old man with a very sick mind…
Abused, and no-one heard her silent cries for help…
Angry at the world for being such a horrible, dangerous place in which to live…
Angry at my so-called mother for not protecting me…
Angry because I don’t believe there’s any such thing as justice in this country…
But most of all I’m angry at him…
For all the heartache that he caused…
The never-ending heartache…
And the pain that never goes away…
The lost opportunities…
The shattered dreams…
The good times that should’ve been but never were…
The broken family…
The unshed tears…
Is there really no end to the pain that he’s caused?
Knowing that I have to deal with this pain when it hurts so much…
Scared of what the future holds…
Hoping beyond hope that I can get through this ok…
But no longer truly believing that I can…