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Articles

18
The crimes of family violence and child abuse first hit the headlines in the 1970s and 1980s when political feminist waves exposed the issues within Australian society. For the first time, sexual and other forms of abuse and violence were publicly named, personal stories were told and power imbalance and control were identified as key factors in the perpetration of such violence.

Australia's first royal commission into family violence will wrap up public hearings after four weeks of evidence from victims, advocates and support services. We’ve learnt that the impacts of early experiences of family violence and child abuse are often both significant and long-term.

However, until recently, society has continued to ignore and stigmatise the daily challenges often experienced by the five million Australian adults living with the effects of childhood trauma and abuse.

Childhood trauma results from various forms of abuse, including but not limited to, sexual, physical or emotional abuse. Different forms of violence and trauma regularly co-occur. For example, 55% of Australian children who have experienced physical abuse are also exposed to domestic violence, while an estimated 40% who have experienced sexual abuse are also exposed to domestic violence.

Further to this, from more than 4000 calls to the Adults Surviving Child Abuse (ASCA) Professional Support Line in 2014, a staggering 65% of callers reported that their childhood trauma, including abuse, had occurred within the home. Such statistics demonstrate that this is a national emergency and more so because the effects last long after the violence stops.
Both childhood abuse and family violence are an exploitation and imbalance of power, predicated on an inherent lack of respect and a betrayal of trust within an intimate and primary relationship of care. Such trauma violates the victim’s right to safety and wellbeing through fear, threat, dominance, control and repeated physical and psychological harm.

These scourges thrive on secrecy, silence and the complicit hands-off bystander response, which has characterised our society until now. Compounding these factors is the appalling lack of accessible affordable specialist services. Lack of such services means that victims are not provided with the opportunities they need to rebuild their lives.

Violence, trauma and abuse – especially within the home – are rarely isolated events; they are often repeated, prolonged and extreme. In a recent report commissioned by ASCA, an individual who has been abused or otherwise traumatised in childhood is at significantly higher risk of impaired social, emotional and cognitive wellbeing as an adult. They are also at a higher risk of adopting coping behaviours, such as alcohol and substance abuse, overeating and smoking, the harmful repercussions of which compound the propensity to mental illness, attempted suicide and suicide.

However, our growing understanding of brain plasticity has established that possibilities for recovery are real. Critical to recovery are the positive relational experiences, which are central to a person’s wellbeing and vital in building on people’s inherent strengths towards a better future. Survivors seeking to recover from childhood trauma need to be and feel safe, with opportunities to discuss, process and make sense of their experiences so they can find a path to recovery. Such support needs to come from the community, including from family and friends but also professionally.

With the Royal Commission into family violence coming to a close, we can only commend the support from the Victorian Government and in particular Premier Daniel Andrews who made it his election promise to review what he called as the states most urgent law and order emergency. However now, we must ensure there is a continued response to family violence and childhood trauma and abuse in Australia.

By addressing childhood trauma and abuse in adults, Australia can save an estimated $9.1 billion annually. It is therefore critical that governments of all persuasions build on their good work in establishing and supporting such Commissions. They need to demonstrate the way they value their citizens by providing much-needed resources and specialist services to enable our fellow Australians to recover.

 

ASCA President, Dr. Cathy Kezelman's opinion piece has been published and can be found at: 
http://www.womensagenda.com.au/talking-about/opinions/item/6151-the-lasting-impact-of-childhood-family-violence

Comments

Sam
# Sam
Tuesday, 18 August 2015 11:00 AM
I am a survivor. Thank you for this post.

I am 25 and I have spent my entire youth accessing mental health services for "Depression and Anxiety". All I want is to be free of it and be a functioning working professional contributing to Australian Society, but its hard. It's hard to identify as a victim and talk about complex trauma, explain the reason so they understand. I still feel uncomfortable saying 'child abuse' because I don't want to 'seem dramatic' as has been levelled at me by my abuser or others- family, etc, in the past.. I've failed hospital placement because of it. I used to have difficulty with my emotional regulation at times I am put under duress or feel distressed. I couldn't help being emotional labile, even when I didn't want to in those situations. I have been told 'Just stop crying' countless times without any real understanding that this are complex trauma manesfestations from years (a lifetime) of ongoing episodes of childhood abuse. The people you encounter in day to day life don't want to know, so you keep it secret, for as long as you can. But it is part of my history, I can't help it-I never asked for this. I've never know where I fit, so I didn't know how to be a part of the Royal Commission. High School knew some and supported me as best as they knew how, one manager work was receptive and understanding, one was not and removed me from the roster for 3 months after disclosing. University knew everything but didn't do enough to understand. I need a mentor to get out of this, to better myself financially and stop taking casual jobs because I feel different from my friends who have graduated. My mind is conditioned to tell me I am somehow less worthy. The mentally ill perpetrator of my abuse scoffs and tells me 'When will (I) ever succeed?' He undermines my confidence, because he is afraid I won't be dependent on him. There's an air of resignation, as if like 'this is what happens in society unfortunately, there is nothing we can do, it's too common." Even the police. It's only recently I've even identified memorys of sexual inappropriateness. Part of me is still in denial -'no, extreme violence happens to the person next door, not me. At least I'm not dead. There are worse things out there.' and I forget the years of crisis. I minimise it. Because that's what I've been conditioned to do. I've repressed to cope-it's a survival mechanism. You're very right.

"Violence, trauma and abuse – especially within the home – are rarely isolated events; they are often repeated, prolonged and extreme. In a recent report commissioned by ASCA, an individual who has been abused or otherwise traumatised in childhood is at significantly higher risk of impaired social, emotional and cognitive wellbeing as an adult."

Any tips on how to make it out? I need a professional mentor/ survivor to help me pull myself out of poverty and silence. I want to be free of fear and empowered to tell my story and leave an impacting legacy-I want my work to mean something.



Anonymous User
# Anonymous User
Tuesday, 18 August 2015 11:00 AM
Hi Sam,

Thank you for your post and sharing a bit of your story. We are very sorry to read of the abuse you have experienced and we would be very happy to support you.

We provide short-term telephone counselling support and information to survivors of child abuse. It would be easier to make more relevant suggestions if we could speak on the phone, as we could get a better idea of your current situation.

If you would like to give us a call, our 1300 657 380 support line is open 7 days a week between 9am and 5pm AEST and is staffed by trained and experienced counsellors. If you would like us to give you a call, please email across your contact details to counsellors@asca.org.au and let us know if you would be happy for us to leave a message if we are unable to reach you.

Best,
The ASCA Team
Ingrid van der Horst
# Ingrid van der Horst
Tuesday, 18 August 2015 11:00 AM
I would like to relate my recent visit to my parental home, where in spite of my age, I am re-traumatised each time, due to comments made by my mother. Her reference to my 'loss of memory' invokes a response of anger which amazes me. On reflection I feel sorry for her that in spite of her age she has learned nothing. She does not know me as a person and my siblings view me as a 'nutter'. Again I am choosing not to phone my mother as I cannot feel any emotional connection with her or my siblings. I understand my reactions as these are based on the 'silencing of the child' and the ongoing emotional abuse. I obtained court transcripts of the offender where it is stated that my mother accepted my father's apology for my abuse, and this was presented to the court. My mother refuses any discussion by stating she must remain calm, due to her own traumatic history. To the rest of the world she presents as this sweet old lady and I am the aggressor. Again I feel sadness for her that in spite of her own history she fails to understand me.
Ingrid
Meg
# Meg
Tuesday, 18 August 2015 11:00 AM
I'm so sorry to hear about your situation. So many of us survivors not only feel alone but misunderstood or even demonised which makes things worse.
Ingrid van der Horst
# Ingrid van der Horst
Tuesday, 18 August 2015 11:00 AM
1.I would like to apologise to Sam for going directly into my own story and not honouring hers. I understand you and validate you as
a fellow survivor, thank you for being so strong and stating your feelings so well.
2. I would like to thank Meg for her comments and understanding.
Warmest hugs to both
Ingrid
Cathy
# Cathy
Tuesday, 18 August 2015 11:00 AM
Hi Sam,
Wow, you expressed the feelings of so many survivors in your eloquent and moving post,
As a survivor of repeated sexual, physical and emotional abuse, I can relate so well to the complexities of disclosure and the negative consequences. While it seems to be OK for victims of institutional abuse, as an individual, disclosure about either the abuse or about the impact of complex trauma has inevitably resulted in a slow steady fading of the relationship. But it is part of who I am, so if people don't know about it they can never really know ME, which makes me very sad.

I also relate to your difficulty in believing that you are a victim of violence, and your "at least I'm not dead" comment (a favourite of mine!). It takes so much effort to keep putting on a brave face that I feel tired all the time, and rarely socialise because it takes so much out of me.

I am fortunate to be working, but I'm a lot older than 25!! Keep at it, and remember that you have many advantages as well as disadvantages resulting from your experiences - empathy, tolerance, strength and determination to name a few.

As a victim of intra-familial abuse, I too have the feeling that I don't really fit in to any group, and that in terms of police reporting, this group of victims is often put into the "too hard basket". But I can't see how it is possible for this to change when victims are all so scattered...

I wrote a poem (I find poetry very therapeutic - whatever floats your boat, hey!) about victims of intra-familial abuse that I think you will relate to called "An Ode to the Unacknowledged Majority" which I have included at the end of this post.

Wishing you all the very best for the future, and thank-you for expressing so well what so many of us feel :)

AN ODE TO THE UNACKNOWLEDGED MAJORITY:
With the current focus quite appropriately
On the issue of institutional abuse
Please spare a thought for those excluded
The unacknowledged majority of the sexually abused

The Unacknowledged Majority of the sexually abused
Are those for whom the abuse that occurred
Was not institutional but intra-familial
Their ordeals took place in family homes

So they don’t belong to any kind of group
This unacknowledged majority
Left to bear their burden alone
Scattered throughout the community

Disclosure is a solo process
Pitting victims against family members
With often no way to positively prove
That anything ever happened

So the veil of secrecy remains firmly in place
And unspeakable deeds remain uncorroborated
Perpetrators remain unpunished
And their victims alone in their struggle

With no chance of apologies or retribution
No promise of recognition for their suffering
Nothing in place for future prevention
No pathways for compensation

But if they are the majority then it doesn’t make sense
Making me feel we are missing the whole point
Because surely we should be empowering all children
And teaching all of us to reach out to a child in distress

So this is my ode to the Unacknowledged Majority
Those whose abuse occurred within the family
No matter how alone you might feel
There are many of you, albeit spread widely

Itpg.com.aungrid
# Itpg.com.aungrid
Tuesday, 18 August 2015 11:00 AM
Hi Cathy
Your response to Sam was really moving and the poem most profound as I had been struggling with the issue of the Royal Commission and the exclusion of familial abuse survivors. I realise ASCA is working on this issue however the silence remains. Please give us a voice to be heard. We have lived in silence to long.
Cathy
# Cathy
Tuesday, 18 August 2015 11:00 AM
Hi Ingrid,
Thank-you for your kind words, and I couldn't agree more that the silence about victims of intra-familial sexual abuse remains - it's like the elephant in the room (about which I've written a poem, but I won't overdo the poetry for now!!).
I also agree with your concern about being excluded from the terms of reference of the Royal Commission - especially when the headlines proclaim that "All victims have been heard"! But at the same time, I feel guilty for doing so, because I would never want to minimise the experiences of victims of institutional abuse....
I would dearly love to give victims of intra-familial CSA a voice, but I'm not sure anyone wants to hear it, which is really sad. I actually wrote an article on exactly this topic, but didn't have anywhere to send it. I hope the ASCA team don't mind, but I have taken the liberty of including it below. Hope you are travelling OK at the moment Ingrid :)

THE UNACKNOWLEDGED MAJORITY:
Hidden amongst the many victims of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) there exists a group of victims so fragmented that it seems to fall through all the cracks. As a victim of intra-familial child sexual abuse (or, perhaps more accurately, “non-institutional child sexual abuse”), I am part of this group.

These are the adults who, as children, were sexually abused within their own homes or family units, behind closed doors, by people to whom their care was entrusted. These are the children who are currently suffering sexual abuse at the hands of those who should love and care for them, and they are suffering in silence. It is the largest group of victims of child sexual abuse, but the least talked about - and every member’s journey is a very lonely one.

Unlike victims of institutional abuse and family violence, it seems that nothing specific is being put into place to improve the early detection of intra-familial CSA, to protect those individuals who are currently being abused within the home/family setting, or to support adult victims of such abuse. Intra-familial CSA was specifically excluded from the terms of reference for The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Childhood Sexual Abuse. It also appears to have been largely overlooked in the terms of reference for The Royal Commission into Family Violence.

Why have these victims been so wholeheartedly overlooked? The only answer that makes sense – in my opinion - is that this scattered group has been put into the “too hard basket”. There are a number of features unique to intra-familial CSA that contribute to this situation:

• The very nature of intra-familial abuse does not lend itself well to early intervention because it is extremely well hidden, with victims completely isolated. The crime is so insidious, and the perpetrator exercises such complete control over their victims, that no questions are asked or wrongdoing suspected. Intra-familial CSA does not lend itself well to disclosure by victims, since their abusers are also their caregivers in many instances. And it does not lend itself well to detection by outsiders, because there is often no obvious physical evidence of the abuse.

• Many children who suffer from intra-familial CSA are part of a dysfunctional family unit, since this provides the perfect conditions for opportunistic perpetrators to thrive. More often than not, in the setting of this family dysfunction, the child’s support networks are weak to non-existent - effectively rendering them mute. Thus if reporting of intra-familial CSA does occur, it is almost always delayed - at least until the victim is safely out of the family home. By this stage, the damage is already done.

• The reporting of historical offences for this group of victims is fraught with difficulties, not the least of which is that it potentially involves perpetrators with whom the victim still has contact. It is also made more difficult by police procedures currently in place for the reporting of historical child sexual abuse, which do not recognise the unique issues facing this group (a topic for another day!)

• The likelihood of proving that a crime has occurred is significantly reduced for victims of intra-familial CSA, where often the only witnesses are the victim (who was a child at the time) and their abuser(s). The perpetrator is not someone famous, or associated with an institution where multiple crimes occurred, but just your average person who easily blends into the background. Thus for victims of intra-familial CSA, making a police report will not be likely to elicit complaints from other victims - how would they know that someone else has complained if it’s not in the papers?.

The knowledge that there are other victims - which is extraordinarily validating both from a legal and a psychological perspective - is very elusive for this group. The scattered and private nature of Intra-familial CSA greatly reduces opportunities for adult victims to access peer support, receive external validation or obtain compensation, because they have no collective voice. I fear that it also means that there is a reduced likelihood of identifying children who are currently being abused within the family environment.

It is a long and difficult journey through life for all victims of child sexual abuse. This journey is no harder or easier for victims of intra-familial CSA, but it is a hell of a lot lonelier. Although I feel guilty for doing so, I can’t help but be envious of those belonging to a more cohesive group of victims. I also despair that current and future victims will continue to endure the lonely and isolated journey that so many victims of intra-familial CSA travel.
gerry
Tuesday, 18 August 2015 11:00 AM
very moving

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“Blue Knot Foundation has a key role to play in the building of community capacity in care provision to those who have experienced childhood abuse and trauma in any environment.”

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