The realities for child sex abuse survivors are rarely considered, why is this?
Gareth Davis pleaded guilty to the rape of a child under 13 and sexually assaulting a baby. (Image Credit: ITV.com)
Child Sex Abuse (CSA) continues to be at the forefront of the news, recently (May 2022) we heard about one of Britain’s worst paedophiles who could be freed from jail in August, Colin Blanchard. Blanchard ( a father of 2) was handed an indeterminate term for sex abuse charges in 2011 after admitting a string of child sex offences he had to serve a minimum of 9 years. Also sentenced for these horrific crimes with Blanchard, were Tracy Lyons, Tracy Dawber, Angela Allen and Vanessa George. The case was horrific – a sick paedophile ring that got exposed because someone found images on Blanchard’s computer.
Then we read of a recent case which can be found here: https://www.itv.com/news/granada/2022-05-11/life-sentence-for-man-who-raped-baby-and-shared-images-online
On Wednesday 10th May 2022 it was reported that a paedophile raped and sexually abused a baby before sharing the images online. Gareth Davis, from Runcorn, pleaded guilty to the rape of a child under 13, sexual assault by penetration of a child under 13 and three counts of making indecent images of children. The 43-year-old was found to have uploaded a number of images of children to the internet in October 2021. Some of the pictures showed Davis raping and sexually assaulting a baby, alongside naked photos he had taken of another young child. Davis shared the collection of images with an online contact who has now also been arrested by the National Crime Agency. A further 512 indecent images of children were discovered on his mobile phone, as well as screenshots of google image searches for ‘baby models’ and ‘underground child modelling photos’. He received a life sentence of 27 years for his “horrendous” crimes (ITV.com).
Reading about these two cases makes me feel utterly sick, but sadly these stories don’t surprise me. Survivors contact me daily. The stories are devastating but the reality is the same – long-term support for survivors of child sex abuse is rarely considered. There’s a general sense of “you’ll get over it” much sooner than the reality, and indeed, if ever.
In 2021 Priti Patel stated in her strategy for tackling child abuse, that “the UK are world leaders in tackling child abuse & that we place victims at the heart of our approach”. I have been watching this space carefully, and from what I see, hear, and read this just simply isn’t the case. When thinking of the Gareth Davis example, the baby he raped will only be 27 years old when he’s potentially released from prison. The traumatic consequences of just that will have a huge and negative impact on the survivor’s life. It’s a ticking time bomb.
When I read articles such as the Blanchard and Davis cases, my thoughts turn instantly to the children who were sexually abused, stripped of their childhoods, and who will have to understand what a trauma-led life brings. I think of those violated by selfish disgusting paedophiles, after cheap thrills. And I continue to be upset and frustrated by the news and media coverage that remains, as usual, focused on the perpetrator. I rarely see reports or empathy being shared for the young lives that have been broken, and the difficult years they face. Perhaps that’s not the kind of news that sells?
I urge society to turn its attention to the harsh realities that survivors of child sexual abuse face. Therapist Dawn Walton has previously spoken to me about a child’s brain development. She says, “as we are growing up our brains aren’t developed enough to understand meaning, but we understand emotions from the moment we are born. The part of the brain which makes sense of these emotions is the hippocampus. The hippocampus is critical in deciding what you need to learn from and what you can let go of. The catch is that this part of the brain only starts really developing around 7 years old as grey matter starts forming. It is not fully developed until you are between 19-25 years old. If you experience an event during childhood that is emotionally charged, you may not have a brain that is developed enough to make sense of it. This is especially a problem with child sexual abuse because of the nature of what is happening. For example, the perpetrator of the abuse is usually someone you know and often someone that is supposed to love and care for you. One part of the brain is saying ‘this must be okay because they are doing this, and they love me’, and the other part of your brain is saying ‘this is horrible and I don’t want this to happen’. This incongruence is what can cause a huge problem with learning from the event(s)”.
Given the reality of how our brain develops, it is no wonder that young adults face new fear and devastation in their 20s when they try to comprehend the realities of what has happened.
In my world, I see a lot of devastation, confusion and despair. My focus will always be on the victim of these horrendous crimes and the pain and darkness they will endure because of the trauma they have experienced. I continue to share, flag up, and research these conversations, understanding the difficulties that so many people face each day.
I remember personally, how my world came crashing down in my early twenties when I began therapy. Hampering my life for years and leaving scars that will never truly heal. As a 49-year-old woman, I now understand what Dawn shares about brain development, it makes sense to me – but it didn’t 30 years ago as I battled eating disorders, alcohol, PTSD, maladaptive daydreaming, dissociation, anxiety, paranoia, sleepless nights, delayed onset of maturity…the list goes on. But for me, like so many I speak to, it is ‘life’ post child sex abuse – it is their normal.
As I began to read Priti Patel’s strategy to tackle abuse, I began to feel encouraged that someone was taking this seriously. Surely Government-led procedures would make a difference? Patel talks about learning from so many past cases, and the work that is being done, but the huge conversation on each case is wild and varied. There is no one size fits all, meaning that even Patel has her work cut out here. She has her fingers in lots of pies, but does she have the capacity for ensuring that all the factors for each child abuse case are considered?
If I look at where we are today, compared with Patel’s 2021 strategy, I would say there is currently no evidence of positive change. If the ‘victims of abuse are at the heart of the approach’ as she documented, then why aren’t there better compensations and considerations for survivors of child sex abuse? I live and breathe this space every day. I haven’t heard one encouraging conversation from survivors.
I want to see conversations in the workplace, normalised around this subject. I want healthy conversations offering support, and schemes in place for any young person struggling because of CSA. I want management to explore how the corporate world can make adequate changes to their HR procedures in this conversation, so young adults can flourish, and succeed. I recently asked some survivors if they felt they would have had mental health difficulties if they hadn’t been abused as a child. The response was almost a full majority on a resounding “NO” – they didn’t think they would have suffered like they have and continue to do so. I can relate to this.
I truly believe the Government needs to do more. Increasing airtime on this conversation so we can create more awareness is essential. Survivors of CSA are greatly impacted mentally, in the workplace. Employers need to understand and engage with effective support. Not only would this be the ‘right thing to do’, but it can also only have a positive impact on their business.
If you consider what Dawn says – the majority of survivors face stark realities in their twenties, a time when they should be flourishing in the prime of their life. Instead, they begin to drag a ball and chain of trauma realisations around with them, which holds them back from finding success in their life. Talented survivors circle a life of silence and fear because they are ashamed of what has happened to them. The Government must fund specialist schemes to provide more support for survivors than is currently available, including support for people to get into and return to work. If you would like the UK Government to have this debate in Parliament then please sign this petition link: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/614844
Sexually abused children deserve more. They deserve better chances to enjoy life in a way that is perceived as normal by the majority. Currently this normal has been ruthlessly stripped away. We need to do more, to understand, support and encourage healthy conversations.
I recently went to a comedy night where Jonny Pelham (Live at the Apollo, Mock The Week, Alan Davies As Yet Untitled, Russell Howard’s Stand-up Central, Live from the BBC and Bobby and Harriet Get Married), a survivor of child sex abuse used his story of being abused as a child, as the focus for this show, Off Limits. But when you listen to the darkness of his realities, you realise this isn’t a funny subject. It is a painful, dark trauma. Jonny is brave and frankly ground-breaking in his approach and uses his stand-up comedy as a vehicle to drive an otherwise hidden topic into the land of the non-taboo. There will be many silent survivors who will be influenced by Jonny. Influenced in a way that makes them confront their past, talk about it and help alleviate some of the pain that they’ve suffered in silence.
Of course, Jonny is not making light of it – he is shining a light. Having met Jonny, the last thing he wants to do is shock his audience. He wants to normalise conversations about child sex abuse, not because they are funny, but because they are still taboo, untouchable, and unconsidered. In the bar after his show, I engaged in a healthy conversation about child sex abuse with some of the audience members (non-survivors). I see this as a huge step forward, to be able to be in a public bar on a Thursday night at 10pm, discussing child sex abuse with non-survivors over a glass of sparkling water.
Whichever way you look at the conversation of child sex abuse, the vile stories we continue to hear and the strategy that Priti Patel has written, make you realise that we have a lot of work to do and a long, long way to go to normalise this conversation. I am going to do my utmost to make this happen.
©Emma-Jane Taylor 2022 for ManDad Magazines, all rights reserved.
Image Credit: Laurie Fletcher
Written by Emma-Jane Taylor
©Emma-Jane Taylor 2022 for ManDad Magazine. All rights reserved .
*Emma-Jane is raising awareness for Project 90/10, a charity being set up to reduce child sex abuse through education, workshops, campaigns and in-house safeguarding presentations to parents, staff and young people.