Sexual violence simply shouldn’t exist but sadly it does and has done for decades, which has been borne out recently by the National Child Sexual Abuse Inquiry and the Irish Government’s apology to victims of abuse over the last seventy years.
We quite rightly expect better of those in positions of trust whose job it is to care for us when it is needed but that isn’t always the case.
Sadly, I know that it is still happening to children and adults alike and for many, COVID lockdowns were their worst nightmare; locked away with their perpetrator with no access to outside support for long periods of time. Whilst I was still working as CEO at SV2 – Supporting Victims of Sexual Violence – the charity saw a steep increase in declining mental health and suicidal thoughts in both adults and children over the course of the pandemic.
We must ensure that there are quality professional services to support victims & survivors to process the trauma they have suffered as a result of their experience. Any kind of sexual assault or abuse can be a traumatic experience and many live with the trauma, which can manifest itself in poor physical and mental health. Victims and survivors live with guilt, shame, stigma, fear and anxiety, which can affect their relationships, education or work and their ability to function well in their community.
Access to services that can provide specialist trauma-informed support, such as counselling, advice from an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor, helpline support and access to crisis support and medical examination in a Sexual Assault Referral Centre is crucial to helping victims cope and recover from their experience.
In addition, our own response to a disclosure of sexual assault and abuse can be hugely important. Listen but don’t challenge or judge. Our response to trauma is complex, as our brain takes over our response to the traumatic event (fight, flight, flop, friend, etc) and goes into ‘survival mode’. This means that asking logical questions about what happened may feel like a challenge or judgement to a victim, further ingraining their feelings of guilt and shame. It is therefore important to simply show empathy and suggest that they access support as soon as possible.
One in six of us will experience some form of sexual assault or abuse in our lifetime, so it is quite possible that a member of your family or one of your friends will be affected at some point in their lives.
Retired CEO SV2 – Supporting Victims of Sexual Violence Ltd