Abuse: we must find the hidden victims

Featured article - 10 January 2018
By Steph Palmerone, Managing Director of Waymarks, a learning disability charity

Head-shot of the author, Steph Palmerone, Managing Director of Waymarks, a learning disability charity

The NSPCC forecasts that over 1000 footballers will contact its helpline to say they were abused, usually by a coach, as a child. Hearing some of the victims relive their memories, feelings and anxiety in the media spotlight is a challenging experience and reflects the difficulties other victims face.

Unfortunately in some cases, a child’s vulnerability is compounded by having a learning disability; you struggle to express feelings, you communicate in unique ways, and you may not understand that what has happened is abusive.

The impact of your abuse on you is probably even worse because for you it is even harder to create the trusting relationships that help others to heal. You struggle to develop coping skills and adaptability.

As we know from the Bradley Report and the evidence which backs up Transforming Care, you are now likely to go on to develop risky behaviours. You may not understand that it’s not ok to abuse others, and you may end up imprisoned, confused and vulnerable.

I am no apologist. Crime is crime and people must be held to account. But if we truly want to improve things, we must first accept that most abusers were themselves victims of abuse (this is not the same as saying most victims are abusers, which they are emphatically not.) To make a real difference we must find the hidden victims, particularly those least likely to come forward voluntarily, and we must accept a responsibility to offer them intensive and often long term support. If we do not, if we focus on the visible tip and not the invisible bulk of the iceberg, the pattern of abuse will pass to the next generation.

To overcome this, we need to provide reasons to care and help victims to understand - to judge intent, to recognise and display empathy, and to discuss difficult topics. Everyone should help create a culture change that says it’s ok to talk. So hats off to Andy Woodward and the other abused footballers for openly speaking.

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