Be Informed Survivor Stories A Plea from the Heart: Survivors Speak out and Seek Support This is Ian's story. I am 48 years of age and live in London with my partner and four children. When I was a child I was sexually abused by my football coach over a three and a half year period between the ages of 11 and 14. I did not disclose the abuse until I was approx. 26 years old when approached by the police who asked if I might have any information regarding my abuser. Following this disclosure I chose to waive my anonymity and took part in a documentary on channel 4 – the ‘Dispatches’ programme ‘Soccer’s Foul Play’ which was produced by Clarke Television and the wonderful Deborah Davies who investigated abuse in football. It looked at the notion that this was not an isolated incident and that there were adults who knew or suspected the abuse but chose not to report it. It also looked at the failings of organisations and the individuals within them. It was an extremely difficult decision to make the documentary as it meant my immediate family, wider relations, friends and work colleagues would all know about my past and I knew there was a realistic chance that some people may judge me and make aspersions about my childhood. The wider general public would also be aware of my past and I risked being judged by those who didn’t even know me. Under advice I prepared myself for the ‘media storm’ to follow but for reasons unknown it did not happen. The suggestion that this could be a much wider issue in football was deemed as unhelpfully scaremongering!! The impact this had on me was profound. My father tried in vain to write to politicians, the FA,PFA and journalists in an attempt to express his concern at the failings to protect me and others. He wanted to ensure that this could not possibly be allowed to happen to anyone else. NO ONE LISTENED. NO ONE. I then lived with not only the trauma of my abuse but also the realisation that nobody thought that more could be done or was needed. A darkness followed me over 20 years and has had an indescribable effect on my life. It wasn’t until recently when others chose to waive their anonymity that there was any interest or concern that children might be exposed to the risk of abuse in football. So here we are today! A PLEA FROM THE HEART – SURVIVORS: SPEAK OUT, SEEK SUPPORT – SOCIETY: MAKE SURE SUPPORT IS THERE Speaking from my own perspective and experiences I can understand the hesitancy and difficulties faced by those who want to disclose their abuse but are reluctant to do so due to the social stigma associated with child abuse, which is often reinforced by institutional failings. The idea by the general public that this is something that wouldn’t or couldn’t happen to them or their children is the comfort blanket that people wrap around themselves to reinforce the social stereotypes and perpetuate the ignorance and misconceptions that continue to fail children, vulnerable adults and adult victims and survivors. The injuries and scars abuse leaves are not visible or obvious, they aren’t readily identifiable and nor are they easily explained. They lurk beneath the surface, festering away, unseen, untreated and malignant, and eventually they have considerable effect and often cause significant damage over an entire lifetime. Society’s unseen boil of puss. Too horrible to look at, straight in the face, for fear of being infected ones’ self. All contributing to the feelings of shame and isolation, creating a degree of separation from society that only the victims of abuse can understand. This cannot continue! It is 33 years since the abuse that I suffered took place and even today I am far from any form of resolution or closure. In fact I doubt I will ever achieve this end and not even sure if it possible. However, I have found it within myself to disclose my abuse and openly discuss my experiences in an attempt to at least go some way to staying well so I can contribute to life and attempt to add value in whatever I do. I would not say that it has been an easy journey and I’m not even sure how far along the road I am. But I AM on that journey and I AM on the road. I continue to put one foot in front of the other and I try to listen, learn and grow as I take each small step which invariably keeps me away from the edges of my path and prevents me from slipping into the ditch where I fear I could end up scratching around for a very long time, somewhere arguably I have spent much time. By sharing my experiences and acknowledging that even though my life in parts has been derailed and that there has been collateral damage along the way, I have found that speaking out is a far better option than being trapped inside myself and feeling that the world just doesn’t understand. It is true that I often feel like ‘the elephant in the room’ and doing the ‘normal’ things like going to work or shopping can cause significant anxiety and distress but those things made me feel that way before. Now I can at least discuss these feelings with people who understand and help me through the difficulties I face. I can find strategies to deal with issues which in turn helps take away that feeling of confusion and isolation, self loathing, worthlessness and keep me a safe enough distance from depression’s door. ‘The strength to go on’. It is for the reasons above as well as many more that I would urge anyone who has suffered any form of abuse either as a child or otherwise to take that ‘leap of faith’ and choose to speak about your experience. It is possible to begin to address any issues that arise from your experiences and you do not have to live in silence any more. Having said this I urge all individuals and organizations to push government to make the changes in law to help protect children, vulnerable adults and reporters of suspected or known abuse so that when people do disclose there is the most robust framework to protect, support and understand the landscape before us. Which in turn should prevent an organization covering up abuse if it wishes to do so. It is of paramount importance that if I/we are to encourage people to disclose that there are adequate resources to offer appropriate support of the highest standards ensuring that best practice is always achieved. It is unacceptable to encourage disclosure only to fail a person again!! Therefore it is essential that there is a coordinated and collaborative effort to ensure that funding and resources reach the places they need to be as quickly as possible and that assistance is given to those organisations who seek to expand their services whilst maintaining the highest of standards. Considering that it was 33 years ago that my abuse finally ended we would be naïve to think there wasn’t going to be a significant increase in demand for support services and that there is going to be a need to sustain that demand for the foreseeable future. I believe that in order to reduce the impact on individuals and society there is a critical need to address all aspects of child abuse and through education, training and awareness we can significantly improve the landscape for the benefit of those affected by it. I personally continue to deal with the impact my experiences have had and am currently battling with the effects not just on me but also on my family, my social life and my work life and see on a daily basis how a lack of understanding, awareness and education impact upon me. The awkwardness associated with child abuse needs to be eradicated and only education and awareness can achieve this. Speaking out about abuse can only help in that process. No matter how hard you believe it will be to speak out I know it is much harder to remain hidden and silent. The road to recovery may be long, it may be difficult and there may even need to be changes made to the sometimes destructive behaviour we can display and enforce upon ourselves but its a far better place to be than locked away imprisoned in our own minds, with the horrors of our pasts haunting us from within. Seek support, seek help, speak out and be heard. Help others become aware and informed so individually and collectively there can be growth, empowerment and that momentum can gather so as to reach such a pace that it cannot be stopped. My father once said ‘If you are going to do something then you should do it properly, and that means doing it until no more can be done!’ This to me is a worthy philosophy and one by which I stand and hope that I can contribute to or have influence in changing the landscape for victims and survivors of child abuse for the better. Refuse to be the ‘elephant in the room’. Embrace who you are, speak out, speak up and walk tall as others will follow your lead and find their own light.