#ItsNotOK – Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week 2023
“I now understand the effect that the things which happened to me in my childhood has had on my adult life. In understanding that those things were not my fault, I have come to feel more empowered in taking control of my own destiny. Having finally acknowledged the shame and guilt I have been unwittingly carrying around for nearly thirty years, I have come to learn firstly of its presence and the devastating impact this hidden burden has had on my life chances by destroying my self-confidence and sense of personal worth, and secondly by helping me to understand that I am not to blame for what happened. This, in turn, has led to me understanding that I can overcome the unpleasant feelings I have had hidden all this time, thereby stopping them from controlling my actions and reactions. There is a long road ahead of me, but by understanding my demons better, I can tackle them properly, head on. I know now that I am not to blame for much of the hardship life has thrown my way, but I am now in control of what happens next.” – First Step Client
At First Step, many of the men we support tell us how they lived in silence with the impact of sexual abuse for many years before finding our service. Whilst the abuse itself can have a devastating impact on people’s lives, there is something about the silence surrounding abuse that is particularly toxic. It leaves boys and men alone at a time when they need someone to witness their experiences, pain, fear, confusion, grief and anger. It leaves them alone with no-one to challenge the voices of perpetrators who so often place the blame within the victim. It leaves boys and men alone in a society that still treats the sexual abuse of males as a taboo. It leaves them alone to conclude that what happened is their fault and that they are forever tainted. It’s not OK and, more than that, it’s not true.
“I’ve come to terms with my past, it’s not going away, but it doesn’t have to define me. I’m so much more than that. There’s new history being made every day.” – First Step Client
At First Step we offer counselling, emotional support and survivor groups for boys (aged 13+) and men who have experienced sexual abuse and rape at any time in their life. We also support their loved ones, providing an essential tether when things may feel overwhelming. One of the threads that weaves through all of our services is the importance of witnessing and being alongside survivors as they make sense of what has happened to them. Counselling provides people with a valuable opportunity to process their experiences in the context of a supportive relationship. It does not erase the trauma, but it can help people heal from its impact and reclaim their lives. We do not leave people alone with their experiences and this, perhaps, is one of the most important aspects of what we do.
This week, for Sexual Abuse and Sexual Assault Awareness Week, we are asking you to share some of the stories of men and boys who have used our services – stories that they have kindly shared with us in the form of videos. We are asking you to create conversations around sexual abuse and violence and to resist the urge to stay silent. This silence cannot be broken by survivors in isolation – that is a heavy burden to put on anyone’s shoulders. It needs each one of us to create a space where people can feel OK to talk and know that they will be heard and responded to with respect, compassion and understanding. That requires us to educate ourselves and refuse to look away.
Awareness weeks have a purpose – they can help us shine a light on issues that all too often exist under the radar. Yet they also come with a challenge. The impact of sexual abuse and violence does not end as this week draws to a close. As members of society we can refuse to return this issue to the shadows. We can continue to talk about it. We can demand that survivors have access to timely support, understanding and counselling. We can help survivors recognise that they are not broken, that they are not tainted and that there is hope. We have witnessed so many courageous journeys here, at First Step. Imagine how much easier those journeys might be if we lived in a society that was more able to talk about sexual abuse, rape and other forms of sexual violence.