These are just some of the things I hear from Survivors on a daily basis…..
‘Going through what happened to me to the police was mentally exhausting’
‘I have flashbacks. I have nightmares. I can’t sleep. Some days I don’t get out of bed’
‘I feel threatened all the time. Even at home. I always feel like someone’s watching me’
‘The memory is always there, no matter what I do. I just try to keep busy. I keep it in a box at the back of my head’
‘I think I’m broken’
‘I get drunk just to forget’
‘I blame myself for everything…Like if I was stronger, it wouldn’t have happened.’
‘My relationships with my partner and my children are difficult. I get angry over the slightest things’
‘Why was there no support?’
‘I don’t go out unless I have to. It’s hard to form friendships. I feel confused a lot around other people. I feel like I can’t trust anyone’
‘I feel angry – with my parents, the police, the people that were meant to protect me’
As a lawyer who currently specialises in representing survivors of abuse, I find that my clients have often been let down a number of times by the very systems that were put in place to protect them. When the authorities fail to respond appropriately to allegations of abuse, the effects can be devastating. Not only are abusers able to continue causing harm, with impunity, but victims are often left at greater risk of harm, or self-harm, than they were before reporting. As a result of being turned away, blamed, or disbelieved by those who should have offered support, many survivors report worsening post-traumatic symptoms, feelings of self-blame, an inability to trust in others, and a profound lack of belief in themselves.
While at the Centre for Women’s Justice we seek to advocate for survivors – calling out systemic failings where we see them, and using the law where we can to fight for victims’ rights – we hear all too often that our client-base feel they have nowhere to turn for longer-term advice, counselling and support. We know that a very large proportion of survivors – especially those, perhaps, who have been sexually abused in childhood – will not even have felt able to report the abuse they have suffered, and consequently may have lived with the abuse, or the consequences of it, for many years, without having talked about it to someone they trust. Some may still not want to talk about it, but need better support networks in place before they can start to put what has happened behind them.
A survey carried out by the End Violence against Women Coalition in 2018 found that 60% of people interviewed believed free counselling services are guaranteed to anyone who reports that they have been raped. Yet the reality is that specialist support services, including counselling services, for survivors of sexual abuse are in desperately short supply. Survivors who suffer from complex post-traumatic symptoms, which is common, very rarely get specialist support of the type, and duration, that they need.
It has been heart-breaking, in my work as a lawyer, to hear from some of the survivors that I work with that in seeking legal advice they feel for the first time as if they are being believed by someone to whom they have disclosed their abuse; that someone shares with them their sense of anger; that they’re in the right. I regularly find myself feeling helpless and disheartened that, at best, I can only offer my clients legal options, when what they almost invariably need is a better support network that will be there for the long term, and not let them down.
I was delighted therefore when I learned that Maggie Oliver was launching her Foundation, to provide a safe haven for survivors of childhood sexual abuse in Rochdale, and to advocate for the needs of survivors nationwide. There is no question that there is an urgent need for this Foundation, and more services like it. Simply having somewhere to turn to is so crucial for men and women who are struggling to process the after-effects of neglect and abuse.
Maggie and I have already worked together closely in supporting three survivors of child sexual exploitation in Rochdale, represented by the Centre for Women’s Justice, to bring an unprecedented legal challenge against Greater Manchester Police and the Crown Prosecution Service to hold them to account for their failure to investigate and prosecute grooming gang offenders in connection with their crimes. With her years of experience on the frontline, supporting survivors in coming forward, I know there is no-one better to lead this initiative, and I feel honoured to be a part of it.
Kate Eillis – Lawyer & Trustee of The Maggie Oliver Foundation
Centre for Woman’s Justice