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A voice for abuse survivors

Posted on 20th October 2012 in News, s:vox, Transformation

Child abuse wave on rockhas often been described as having a ripple effect like a pebble in a pond and this can certainly be seen in the ripples spreading from the Jimmy Savile revelations. Actually it feels more like a tsunami as the courage of the first few victims in speaking out gives strength and permission for many others to join them. The waves are pounding on the shores of our most hallowed institutions  the BBC and the NHS, and like the church before them, I am sure that once the waters recede, we will never think of them quite the same again. I suspect that this is one of the things that we find so disturbing about this particular predatory abuser. For my experience of recent conversations with friends, colleagues and strangers on the train, is that we are more deeply disturbed by this than the exposure of the recent Rochdale gang of sexual abusers.

In the Rochdale case, 47 victims were identified by the police, once the authorities were persuaded to take the girls revelations seriously. The report into the investigation revealed that some social workers colluded with the abusers by deciding that these vulnerable young girls were ‘making their own choices’ or even ‘engaging in consensual sexual activity.’ Now we can recognise the grooming process that may give that appearance and we have heard enough from the court case to understand the coercion and exploitation that was involved. We are horrified by the story and  righteously indignant about social services, but really if we are honest most of us don’t identify the girls with our daughters or the abusers with our husbands and brothers.

Many of the women that have spoken about Jimmy Savile though could be me or my daughter. And while Jimmy was, to be frank, a little weird (especially on the Louis Theroux programme) he was, after all, a national treasure who raised loads of money for charity and made lots of children’s dreams come true. (Ouch! The vicious irony of that phrase makes my skin crawl as I write it.) His unravelling is a betrayal, it shocks and disturbs us, thinking ‘that could have been me’ or as survivors, saying ‘that was just like me.’ In the S:Vox group, our self-help project for survivors of any kind of abuse, we have been discussing some of the questions that we have heard on the street, questions that we find easy answers to as this is  familiar ground.

Why didn’t anyone tell at the time? How did it stay uncovered for so long?

Ben Zephaniah, poet, writer, prophet, musicianSo many reasons – fear, shame, no-one will believe me, it must have been my fault somehow, no-one will do anything. We now know too that several people did try to tell, and weren’t believed, One of today’s prophets and my heroes, Benjamin Zephaniah, nailed it when he said on Question Time last week, that when we put people like JS on pedestals we make them untouchable. One of the victims confirmed this when he reported that JS warned him not to tell, threatening him and saying ”nobody would believe you anyway – I’m King Jimmy.’ Like other predatory abusers, JS was good at hiding in plain sight. One of our S:Vox members once told how she was routinely groped and sexually assaulted by a relative while she sat on his knee during family gatherings.

Why tell after all this time? What’s the point now he’s dead?

Unless you have kept the vilest, most corrosive secret for years then it is hard to comprehend the release, they unburdening, the liberation of having a voice after being silenced for so long. That’s why we call our project S:Vox, which stands for Survivors Voices, as  the most important single thing we do is provide a safe space and a platform where we can find our voices at last. So many of us never told before coming to an S:Vox group. So many silenced by fear, shame, manipulation and lies; we find it is an amazing truth that ‘the Truth shall set you free.’ It tales real courage and a good friend has shown this in her blog which shows the power of having a voice.

svox mosaic I will rise surviving abuseWe shall rise

Like the unfolding of abuse in our churches, this tale of betrayal and suffering in our treasured institutions will be long and difficult. It is so hard to speak out, to relive the worst experiences and to deal with the legacy. It is hard for anyone who might have done more at the time to see the past with the light of present understanding and take responsibility for what they failed to do. It is hard for the police officers, social workers, health workers who hear such stories, raw and distressing, every day and try to find a way to justice and healing. It is hard those of us for whom this tale triggers our own ravaged and unhealed places, to listen and weep for another damaged child.

And yet there is grace and hope. My good friend and amazing mosaic artist Concetta has written a powerful and moving blog that declares solidarity with all who are suffering. A couple of years ago, at the Greenbelt Christian Art Festival, she led an S:Vox community mosaic project that spoke into the darkness of abuse with life and light. I Will Rise, our mosaic declared.  Out of the corrosion and concealment, we will stop hiding and keeping silence. We will find a voice and we will rise!

1 response to A voice for abuse survivors

  1. Thanks for your appreciation, I’m glad you found it useful. You might also like to check our abuse survuors dedicated website

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