CULTURE: Why We Need To Talk About Child Abuse

Child abuse has been in rife in the media over recent years. But what of the victims? Public dialogue can be one great witch hunt but often fails to address the impact on society. Feeling helpless, and to find out what could be done, I approached local counselling charity Mankind to talk action.

Operation Yewtree began its investigations in 2012. Three years later with an inquiry not yet complete, where is the change? Westminster is slow to respond while the media focus is on celebrity and scandal. As a society we all know that child abuse is wrong, so why isn’t there any action? Where is the positive change in society?

The taboo may have been broken but there is little value if we don’t discuss how we can help survivors and start the prevention of abuse.

It’s not that sexual abuse isn’t discussed; it’s just discussed in sensationalist dialogue. Media hype and scandal make the issue seem surreal and distant. This can make the matter seem dislocated from society. What we need is real human discussion: to realise that this does happen; to help survivors of abuse; to create safe environments that allow people to disclose their trauma; and to start talking prevention. It’s imperative that the silence is broken, and it will be our generation that does so.

Since the revelation of cases such as Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris there has been a 40% rise in people seeking help from abuse and rape charities. Figures show 1 in 9 men will have suffered sexual abuse or violation at some time in their lives. That’s 3 million men in the UK, and 18,000 in Brighton & Hove alone.

“The average age of our clients is between 38 and 42” says Martyn Sullivan CEO of Mankind. This means that those survivors of childhood sexual abuse will have carried the burden of their abuse for years. “They will have developed a number of coping mechanisms, which may or may not be working for him.” These copying mechanisms may result in destructive behaviours such as alcohol and substance abuse, which in turn can lead to crime, homelessness and even suicide.

“We want to be able to get to people younger and talk about this at a younger age.” Years of silence results in complicating trauma and ingraining issues much deeper. The earlier men address their issues the less likely the subsequent behaviours are going to build up over a lifetime.

Speaking with Martyn one thing becomes very clear, now is a pivotal time politically and culturally in the discussion of sexual abuse. “There has never so much attention on abuse from multiple angles so there is a real opportunity to do something here. The problem is we can’t decide whose responsibility it is. The reality is we are all responsible, and we need to keep talking about this to feel confident in speaking out when we think something is wrong.” We cannot rely on the press to deal with this. Their agenda is to sell papers, not to create positive change in society. Westminster has a role in policy and law, but it is us as a society who must deal with this. Our generation will get the ball rolling for change.

When we read the press about sexual abuse it’s all too easy to turn the page feeling helpless. However, change is a lot easier than we think.

University is a time for reflection, and for some of us big changes in life. Away from home and in new surroundings it may be the first time a person who has experienced sexual abuse chooses to disclose their experiences. It may be that someone discloses to you that they have survived abuse. Would you know what to do? It’s an uncomfortable topic, but we must look out for each other. I asked Martyn what advice he would give to someone finding out about abuse. “What we have to do is take that risk, and ask those questions. Be prepared to get it wrong. The best thing you can do if someone discloses to you is to acknowledge that you’ve heard it and believed it. We all just want to be understood, validated and accepted.”

It doesn’t just stop there. Question what it is that you’re expecting of the men around you? “There’s a real struggle between this masculinity myth and being a human being, and where do we meet in the middle?” Compassion is all that’s really needed. Talk to the men around you and allow them to confide in you. Now is a time of great change in perceptions of masculinity, and we are the generation that needs to step forward. We need to be compassionate and take steps to allow us all to be human. Men who show aggression, drinking problems, addiction; don’t be too hasty to judge. Could they be the 1 in 9 men? It is closer to home than you imagine.

If talking doesn’t feel like enough you can also take part in research. Mankind have launched their C2 survey which looks on public opinion surrounding child abuse. Your contributions could start fundamental changes in where we go from here.

To participate visit

If you have been affected by anything in this article there is help is available from the resources below.

Male support:

Female support:

The Verse Staff

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