Child abuse – the unseen impact on family members, partners and friends
Survivors of childhood abuse often feel that their lives were changed beyond recognition the first time their abuser started to groom and abuse them.
As the vast majority of child abuse survivors do not disclose their abuse for a number of years after the actual assaults, this causes a period of time where they often struggle to manage the emotional impact of the abuse and this then affects their relationships with family members, partners and friends. Often survivors will become disruptive in school and at home while it is also very common to see them start to drink excessively, take illegal drugs or self-harm in an effort to erase their feelings and memories of the abuse.
Below I have noted extracts from some of my current clients (their names have been anonymised for confidentiality, as have their abusers) who have had a number of different relationships affected due to childhood sexual abuse:
Peter’s family were practicising Roman Catholics and were parishioners in their local church. Their local priest, Father Steven, presented himself as a good standing member of society and therefore my client’s mother had no issue when Father Steven first asked her if Peter, who was still a child at this time, wanted to become an altar server and later on if he wanted to help out at the church. Peter was sexually abused by Father Steven at the church while he was carrying out these roles.
Peter’s mother noticed that he had started to misbehave at home and school while his school teachers had told her that he seemed unable to focus on his studies and his effort had decreased substantially. At the same time, Peter’s family continued to go to mass every Sunday and his mother even confided in Father Steven about the change in Peter’s behaviour as she was struggling to control him and she was becoming increasingly concerned.
When Peter disclosed the abuse to his mother nearly 20 years later, she was devastated and blamed herself for the abuse taking place as she had allowed her son to spend time with Father Steven and had even confided in him private details about her struggles with Peter.
Ben was physically assaulted by his mother as a child. As a result, social services chose a support worker called Kevin to protect Ben from any further abuse from his mother.
Kevin decided to sexually abuse my already vulnerable client for a number of years and the majority of the abuse took place in Ben’s family home while his siblings and parents were under the same roof.
Ben decided to run away from home aged 15 in an effort to stop the abuse he was suffering at Kevin’s hands and he vowed never to return to the local area. Some of Ben’s elder siblings had moved out of the family home by the time the abuse had stopped but they remained in the local area where the abuse took place and this proved as a constant reminder of the abuse.
Ben had nowhere to live and therefore had no option but to live rough on the streets for a number of years and he did not speak to or see his sisters for over 15 years. He only recently made contact with his sisters and the disclosure of the abuse that Ben suffered at the hands of Kevin finally explained Ben’s sudden and prolonged disappearance.
A number of my clients are adamant that their children will never be placed at the same risk of childhood sexual abuse as they were. This will often result in them not being allowed to become altar servers or to become members of Scout groups for example. This can however result in children feeling suffocated, especially as they do not know why their father or mother is acting in what appears such a controlling and unreasonable manner.
Stuart was abused by his Scout master Charles as a child. The abuse had a substantial impact on his ability to trust any male in a position of authority and this had proven to be a substantial hurdle throughout his life to date, ranging from teachers and sport coaches to managers in work. When Stuart’s son Kyle was born, he promised himself that Kyle would never have to face the same pain and suffering that he was continuing to suffer.
This has proved to be a substantial problem in Stuart and Kyle’s relationship. Kyle is unable to take part in any after-school activities such as swimming clubs, football games and most definitely, Scout groups. Kyle does not know why his father is acting in what he thinks is an unreasonable manner as Stuart has not told him about the abuse and he has vowed never to tell his son about what happened, preferring instead to take his secret to the grave.
Stuart also finds it difficult to express his emotions verbally or in terms of acts of affection such as a hug. He has therefore found it very difficult to try and bond with Kyle while Kyle finds Stuart’s frequent periods of visible depression and his reliance on alcohol very confusing and worrying.
It is common for child abuse survivors to suffer trust and anger issues as they struggle to deal with the impact of abuse. This often results in them suffering constant relationship difficulties, sometimes resulting in divorce due to their unreasonable behaviour, while sex is often a difficult area as it can trigger flashbacks of the abuse or their abuser.
David was abused by his secondary school teacher Michael between the age of 11 and 13 years old. The abuse was of a particular degrading nature and included buggery. Michael had taken a father role in David’s life as his own father had passed away when he was a baby and this aggravated the impact of the abuse. The assaults were David’s first ever sexual experiences and Michael was able to manipulate David into feeling as if they were in a relationship and were in fact in love.
As David grew up, he was very sexually confused and this contributed to him having relationship difficulties. David continues to have substantial trust issues in personal relationships to date and is constantly worried that his partners will cheat on him. He finds it difficult to express his emotions and tends to bottle up his feelings, making it very difficult for partners to get close to him. He is also very controlling in respect of sex as only he is able to start sex and he now finds no pleasure from it, finding it purely an act instead of an expression of emotion or love.
The impact of child abuse is often made a lot worse when the abuser was in fact a family member.
Kim was sexually abused by her maternal grandfather Geoff from the age of 7 to 11 years old. He abused her at every possible opportunity and the abuse mainly took place in Kim’s family home and Geoff’s home.
Kim disclosed the abuse when she was 11 years old and Geoff was convicted of sexual abuse soon after. Kim’s parents have found the disclosure of the abuse very difficult to understand and they have also struggled to control Kim’s increasingly volatile behaviour and the impact this is having on her siblings. Her siblings are confused as to why Kim has special treatment and why her temper tantrums do not result in the same punishments that they face.
Obtaining compensation for the true impact of child abuse
I am currently acting for these clients to obtain compensation for the pain and suffering that they have suffered as a result of child abuse. I am also trying to claim for family and/or couples therapy, where it is recommended by a psychiatrist, to try to repair or save these relationships. I am looking to claim this from their abusers and/or their employer on a private basis so my clients can choose their therapist and also arrange treatment at a time, date and location that is best for them.
Dino Nocivelli is a partner in the Abuse team at Bolt Burdon Kemp. If you feel you may have a claim or are enquiring on behalf of a loved one, contact Dino free of charge and in confidence on 020 7288 4887 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, complete this form and one of the solicitors in the Abuse team will contact you. Find out more about the Abuse Team.