A powerful new exhibition of portraits focusing on how people have coped with the impact of childhood sexual abuse opens at The Forum in Norwich next week. Here, a few of those featured share their stories and explain why there will be No More Silence on the subject
Laura’s story (pictured above):
I’m Laura, I’m 32, and suffered childhood sexual abuse. Recovery has further been hampered when I was abused by a nurse at a residential psychiatric hospital I was placed in for 12 months, in my mid-twenties. I was spiritually abused, groomed, and abducted within a religious cult to Ireland. When I did finally return to Suffolk, I was so acutely traumatised, I was given bilateral electro convulsive ‘therapy’. I was naïve, and under the illusion it would solve my pain. For that’s what I wanted. The pain to just stop. Unfortunately, after ECT been given twice a week over the course of 16 months, I have mild brain damage and have clinical amnesia spanning over 11 years, and suffer from crippling fatigue ever since. I didn’t even know or recognise my own mother.
This event for me, is about shouting from the rooftops, that child sexual abuse is not rare, nor only perpetrated by devils. Perpetrators are normal, ordinary people, family members, teachers, care workers, doctors, nurses. People struggle with the shame of the topic and shy away from it, but that only reinforces the shame that us survivors have to live with and fight, day in, day out. I hope the event draws more survivors to our No More community, that we can offer the safe, nurturing support we never had. I know that it is survivors who are the most knowledgeable and have the most insight around this type of trauma. And it is in fact us who have more resources that could help others, than other statutory services.
One afternoon whilst sitting in a counselling session, I would find the answer to the question I had asked myself for so long. Why was I so consumed with the fear of death?
In one given moment, a moment of utter shock and realisation, my body and mind finally allowed me to remember. I had been sexually abused as a child by my parents’ friend; I was threatened to comply by being told that if I tried to tell anyone my parents would die, I would die.
There it was starring me right in the face, the answer that I had longed for, and it turned out to be my worst nightmare. I went through all the emotions possible, felt all there was to feel about being a victim of abuse, realising I had taken on the responsibility of keeping my parents safe all these years, I had tried to protect them all my life, became my mum’s mum instead of being her daughter. I was constantly in a freeze or flight state, playing out the same existence over and over again, the same behaviours and patterns; yet I could also see how at long last, my entire life made sense.
As crazy as it seems, the clouds seemed to pass, and all the pieces of the puzzle came together, yet as they did, I began to realise I didn’t have a clue who I was, I had been so disconnected from my body, my heart, and my soul that my head had controlled my life. I had lived a life in death.
That was back then and as I sit here today, I am now truly blessed with the knowledge and wisdom of who I am. I am a woman who faced her biggest fear, who stared death right in the face and found life.
I am a woman who has shown great strength and courage, who has bared her soul so bravely and vulnerably, cracked open her heart and discovered the love she has for herself, who faced the shadow parts of herself, who healed the core wounds of her existence to discover her magic and gain the confidence to share her art with the world.
I am the woman who no longer feels afraid to speak her truth or share her wisdom, who has re-written her story, collapsed her timelines from abuse, embodied her sovereignty, and found her divine feminine, the woman who is living a life led by her soul.
I am the woman who rose like a Phoenix from the darkest depths of abuse to her divinity. I am the woman who is here to lead others along the same incredible transformational journey and help them to create their very own heaven on earth, to show them that “anything is possible”
If you would like to hear how I became who I am today please come up and have a chat with me, I’m here to help you, I’m here to listen and I’m here to say “No more Silence.”
Let’s rise together and shine our lights for the world, it needs us.
I was often described as a tiny, small shy little girl. I was intelligent and could read and write a bit before I went to school at the tender age of four. I was the youngest in a small village school. I first experienced and saw terrible abuse of children there! I wasn’t shy, I was traumatised! I saw peer on peer and sexualised behaviour and an abusive cruel head teacher! That much I knew then. School was a scary and unsafe place to be. I understood what that head teacher was doing was wrong.
Aged six, I moved to a new school in a larger town. Same problem. Cruel heads, bullying and inappropriate “Sex Ed”. Some things about my childhood were brilliant and happy memories. We (my sisters and I) had each other, unusual pets and outdoor space that brought joy and connection. We had a goat (Jenny), a one-legged chicken (Hoppy) and other numerous animals. I used to go milking with my dairy farmer uncle. We had large gardens and plenty of places to explore, make dens, be free and use our imagination – helping us grow and develop. I am one of four girls. I passed my 11+ and went to an all-girls school. I wanted to be an architect. I was told it wasn’t the right career for a girl! But I can remember making floor plans of houses, age four, by brushing leaves into lines in the school playground. I think it was the right career for me. I had a natural talent for visualising 3D in 2D – squashed!
No one else wanted to play with me because they couldn’t understand what I was doing. Not surprisingly. Too many little children being abused in that school!
I was in my 50s before I started to have flashbacks to that CSA I had suffered at that time. What I did remember, I remember as “just bullying”, but there was stuff missing I had blocked out.
I originally thought I’d only come across CSA in my early 20s when my mum was fostering. I was also a trainee teacher at the time so started questioning what teachers could do to help protect children. I was really unusual in asking that question at the time! This is pre-Childline days. I’ve never stop questioning why this is happening to young children and why we can’t stop or adequately prevent it. I came across it again as a youth worker.
I only knew why, much later, I was claustrophobic. Much later in life. Why I had nightmares that my quilts were crushing me! I was shut in the schools outside toilet and an old chicken shed when CSA (peer to peer) happened. I was 56ish!
I thought that was it but then I recently had a confused flashback to something from about when I was 18 months old at a neighbour’s house! It is still very disjointed and hazy! Before I understood trauma, I would have thought it is me going mad! Now I know that is the nature of trauma. Your body protects you until you are strong enough to remember and pre 18 months it is likely you will not remember because of how the brain developed (implicit memory).
I have only discussed this with Jean. She gets it and I feel safe talking to her. It’s about having time, talking, tears and trust. Speaking of this, that is why I founded 4Transform, run by and for people with lived experience of abuse.
We offer trauma informed peer support for people that have suffered abuse. We campaign for a society and individuals to really understand what we’d been through and what our non-offending families have been through, too .
We are influencers and change makers passionate about making a difference; creative menders doing creative mending for ourselves and others. We invite people to talk to us in this a safe space here at The Forum. Your voices matter.
Organiser Jean Rochford explains the thinking behind the exhibition:
This started in 2019 when Laura and I met with Mary [Doggett] at a women’s business networking event in Lynford Hall. I think it was in July/August, it was a very sunny day anyway. I was coming up to my 70th birthday and I said many things at the event about what I was doing to raise the awareness of childhood sex abuse and Laura and I were just networking hoping to gain people on our side.
I was telling the businesswomen I had applied to go on Gok Wan’s show to have a makeover and to promote I was more than my childhood trauma.
We spoke to Mary at the meeting, and I asked her if I was able to get Marilyn Hawes down to do a conference would she come and take some pictures. She said she would like to take pictures of myself and Laura. That’s where is all started.
We went 100 miles an hour to get this up and running and choose April 2020 to do it. I contacted all the survivors I had met over previous years and asked if they would like to be involved/have their photos taken which some did and some didn’t. Mary invested a lot of time meeting us and arranging various people we needed to meet to move the project on and get words.
Mary was there for me to lean on. It was very scary at the time as I had to raise money and all sorts of things to get this off the ground. I did what was asked of me and we had managed to get most of it together but by March was cancelled because of Covid. This meant paying all the money back we had collected.
Since then, we couldn’t do much, but I did manage to raise some money. A donation by one of the survivors was still in my house, a member of my family gave me some, I sold things and did a yard sale. We were still short, and my borough councillor underwrote what was left to pay for The Forum.
Mary introduced me to Gerard who designed our logo, he listened to how I had felt my childhood sex abuse had left me – and one of my phone buddies. It was my buddy’s vision he pulled on and he has supported us in doing our flyers and posters. Our aim never changed. The aim was to do pretty much what I was going to do if Gok had picked me; to show we were more than our abuse. It was time to start speaking out about childhood sex abuse. We are all aware how important it is not to feel you are on your own. We want the conversations to start.
As a survivor of abuse as a child, I actually thought my life had no meaning moving forward. Losing my wife, house and job due to excessive drinking, I did not know where to turn. My friend Barry saw the Victoria Derbyshire show and the forming of the Offside Trust after the show and he urged me to contact them. I did with much trepidation but am glad I did as without them I would have left this world. I am now an ambassador for the Offside Trust and run awareness days and workshops to help people access help and just have a person to speak to if they have suffered any form of abuse. In East Anglia this has resulted in us helping over 50 people to be access the correct service to assist them.
And finally, a message from Charlie Hodson:
In our darkest times our safe havens are very personal to each and every one of us.
In the past two years I’m able to talk of those things I never thought possible.
I’ve learnt to share and more importantly that I’m not alone, with each of us having a different story.
As an adult my safe havens are now very different places.
They are where I take myself off to, to think.
Sometimes in peace and quiet but mostly with laughter.
Simply because laughter makes me feel safe.
It’s my safety blanket and part of “My Saving Grace”.
No More Silence takes place at The Forum in Norwich from April 12 to 15, between 10am and 4.30pm. The exhibition has been created by No More, a peer support group of people who have experienced childhood sexual abuse. The group formed to offer a friendly, empathetic ear and provide a safe space to talk. Members of the group share their stories in this exhibition, through photo portraits illustrating the different ways they have coped with the impact of abuse. Some of the people featured in the portraits will be at the event to share and talk, debunking the stigma surrounding this subject. The aim of this event is to give people a voice and encourage others to take the first steps towards speaking out and finding help. If you would like to take those first steps, please contact Steveng Tizzard – email@example.com; Hazel Cresswell-King – firstname.lastname@example.org; Jean Rochford – email@example.com
Featured image of Laura, by Mary Doggett of Ett Photography