This page is intended to provide support to those who have been subjected to childhood sexual abuse in institutional, familial and community settings, for partners, families, friends and community members, including those who are employees of organisations under investigation. Its focus is on staying engaged and prioritising self care at times when there are media discussions of child sexual abuse.
Childhood sexual abuse, thanks in part to the recent Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, has recently been receiving unprecedented media attention. The often intense media focus has provided a sense of relief that the truth is finally being told and the extent of the crime exposed. It is important that the significant personal impact is being acknowledged, that steps are being taken to bring those responsible to account and that failures of institutions to protect and care for children is being addressed.
At the same time, the detailed media discussion of childhood sexual abuse has resulted in some people feeling personally overwhelmed, outraged, betrayed, intensely angry, sad and distressed. For some people the response is mixed, where they both welcome the national focus and media attention, yet feel personally overwhelmed and frustrated, where the public discussion is so distressing that they just want to switch off and get away from it. For some people who have survived abuse, wanting to know details can be about increasing awareness, and understanding, and sense of safety. For some people who have survived abuse there is a push – pull of wanting to know, but feeling so overwhelmed by personal accounts and reminders that they actively avoid the news media as it can produce confusion, a sense of inadequacy, guilt, and feeling out of control.
Emphasising your sense of choice
It is can be useful to centre yourself, to acknowledge and emphasise personal choice in relation to how much you engage with media discussions of childhood sexual abuse. You have a choice about how much you want to know and hear. A decision to prioritise your self care and to engage in activities that contribute to your well-being might mean choosing not to listen to some media and public discussions. This does not mean that you do not support people speaking out, or the work of the Royal Commission, or that you are not concerned for the well-being of those who have been abused. By being aware of the choice you have in deciding whether or not to engage with the media discussions, the focus is on you and your choices and sense of personal control in the present.
Some questions you might reflect on
Whether you have experienced sexual abuse directly in your own life, are the partner/family member/friend of someone who has, or are a concerned member of the community, it can be helpful to think through ‘your’ responses to the following questions:
- Why is it important for you to inform yourself about sexual abuse in the media? What values, beliefs, commitments are important to you when you choose to read/hear/watch the media coverage?
- What does it mean to you that these stories are being told, and that they are being witnessed by the wider community?
- How are you affected/moved when you hear/read/see a media story related to child sexual abuse? What can you notice about how your body responds? Your thoughts or emotions?
- How do you know when these effects are tolerable and manageable, and when they might become overwhelming?
- How do you take care of yourself in regards to balancing being informed, and not being flooded with overwhelming information? What supports you when you might feel overwhelmed? Is it other people, pets, exercise, spiritual practices, turning off the TV, avoiding the internet?
- When you notice how you respond to these stories (e.g. distress, feelings of sadness, thoughts of compassion for those who were abused), what might your response say about what you stand for as a person? Do your responses suggest you are ‘going along’ with what happened to people and the silencing practices of institutions, or that you are ‘standing against’ the abuses?
- What does it mean to you when you notice that other people in the community might share some of your responses, values and beliefs regarding the sexual abuse of children in institutions?
- In what other ways do you put your ‘stand against’ abuse into practice in your life? Are there other things you plan on doing, or have thought about doing?
Looking after yourself
Taking intentional action that is ‘against’ abuse and its effects can be empowering, enlivening and enriching. These actions might be private (like listening to media stories of people who were abused in institutions), or shared with others (attending public hearings, making your own submission to the commission, taking part in collective lobbying).
Whatever form of action you are taking, there may be times when you need to ‘step back’ and take care of your own well-being in the here and now. Below are some links to other Living Well pages that provide suggestions for responding to some of the difficulties that can come up for people when they are engaging with the issue of child sexual abuse in society. Some of these may be to do with your own personal experiences of abuse, whereas others are relevant for anyone who is concerned about the issue.