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Suffolk survivors of childhood abuse speak out for Sexual Violence Awareness Week

PUBLISHED: 13:40 08 February 2018

Fiona Ellis, founder of Survivors in Transition.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Fiona Ellis, founder of Survivors in Transition. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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Suicidal thoughts, self-harm, flashbacks, alcoholism and panic attacks – the impact of childhood sexual abuse is devastating and long lasting.

But thanks to the support of charities like Ipswich-based Survivors in Transition (SiT), people who fall victim to such atrocities are rebuilding their lives, and fighting back.

Three survivors from Suffolk who have received counselling from SiT have told their stories to mark Sexual Violence Awareness Week, and to enforce the message of this year’s campaign: #itsnotok.

Doug was sexually assaulted when he was just 13 by a man in a position of power.

He turned to alcohol to “blank out” what had happened to him, and ended up suffering in silence for 17 years.

It wasn’t until he put down the bottle that he felt able to disclose to a GP, but Doug said he was simply given time off work and offered no further support.

Doug retreated back into his shell, started getting into rows with his partner and stopped going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

He said: “The concoction of my unresolved alcoholism and this in my head turned me into a raging bull.”

On his 30th birthday Doug was given an eviction notice to leave his home and shortly after he tried to take his own life.

Doug, now in his mid 30s, later moved to Ipswich to be with family and that’s when he discovered SiT.

He said: “It was the first time since I came out with it that I opened my mouth and when I was looking at someone they knew what I was saying, they got it.

“The biggest thing this place does is the first thing they said to me is there is no magic wand, it won’t go, we won’t fix you, but we will give you the tools to get on with the rest of your life.

“I have lost everything since I came out with it but the real benefit is that freedom, I haven’t got that nagging guilt or shame or anger.”

After almost two decades of hiding in the shadows, Doug said he now felt able to wear his past like a “badge of honour” and use his experiences to help others.

A woman who is also supported by SiT but wanted to remain anonymous has told how she was abused from early childhood until her 20s.

The survivor, now in her mid 20s, said she tried to disclose to professionals on numerous occasions, but it fell on deaf ears.

She said: “I was one of those children who covertly tried to say things in primary school.

“I purposely didn’t talk because I didn’t want to interact with other people and when I got to high school I started to cut and reduce my food intake.

“Teachers said they would listen but they didn’t really want to listen when I told them.”

The woman, who has attempted suicide on several occasions, spent three months in an adolescent mental health hospital but she said not once was she asked by staff if she had been sexually assaulted.

She called for health and education professionals to be offered better training in child sexual abuse and how to spot the signs.

Margaret, aged in her 60s, suffered sexual abuse from the age of six from a family member and while she was in foster care.

She said: “There was continued trauma throughout my childhood so I suppose I grew up to just accept that was normal.”

Margaret stayed quiet for years, had a family and a career, but all the time suffering with problems such as panic attacks, nightmares, depression and a fear of the dark.

She spoke out at 50 and had a short bout of counselling on the NHS but said the support available was limited so she paid for nine years of private therapy.

But the real transformation happened when Margaret contacted SiT and took part in its Butterfly Programme.

“I certainly don’t feel any guilt or any shame anymore,” she said. “I feel as though I fit in with society.”

Margaret is now an active campaigner on social media, standing up for other survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

Fiona Ellis, founder of SiT, said: “We want to generate conversations around sexual violence across Suffolk, raising awareness of specialist support that’s available so that survivors know they are not alone.

“We also want perpetrators to know it’s not OK and that all forms of sexual violence are totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated in Suffolk.”

This year’s Sexual Violence Awareness Week has also been backed by Suffolk Constabulary, Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore, Suffolk Rape Crisis, Fresh Start - new beginnings, University of Suffolk and Healthwatch Suffolk.

For support, adult survivors of childhood sexual violence can contact SiT via 07765052282 or email support@survivorsintransition.co.uk

Anyone who would like to speak to someone in confidence about sexual abuse or violence can contact Suffolk Constabulary on 101, or staff at The Ferns Sexual Assault Referral Centre on 0300 1235058 and contact@theferns-suffolk.org.uk

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