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Speaking Out After Abuse

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Since people spoke out about being abused by Jimmy Saville, others have come forward to report being abused by other ‘celebrities’. The delay in disclosing such abusive events is not surprising to me, having worked for over 10 years with people who have been abused by health and social care professionals.

hlw Keeble Hawson LogoSince people spoke out about being abused by Jimmy Saville, others have come forward to report being abused by other ‘celebrities’. The delay in disclosing such abusive events is not surprising to me, having worked for over 10 years with people who have been abused by health and social care professionals.

Complex psychological feelings surround such events and people who have been abused often feel (or are made to feel) that they are somehow at fault for what happened, and they often feel unable to speak out until a long time after the abuse ended. Imbalances of power between an abuser and the person abused can also make a part of that person feel for a long time afterwards that they need to ‘protect’ the abuser – a complex feeling which can also prevent the person from speaking out. The sheer trauma of the events and the thought of re-living these can also delay disclosure for long periods of time. 

In some cases, even if the abusive events in fact ended many years ago, the person may only feel ‘safe’ once they hear of the death of the abuser and only then speak out. Until that moment the abuser may retain a ‘hold’ over the person even if they are no longer in contact with them. The avalanche of allegations which came out after Jimmy Saville’s death illustrates this so well. 

Sometimes people need to hear that others have gone through something similar before they can contemplate disclosure, as they may feel that they will not be believed.

My clients often express concern that they will not be believed as the person who abused them was treating  them in respect of their mental health needs, for example as their counsellor, psychotherapist, psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker or GP (to name but a few) and they were the patient. I have found that this is a particular concern to clients if the abusive practitioner was well known in their field or in a senior or management position. This is an understandable concern but the history of the abusive events tell their own story and patterns of behaviour and ‘grooming’ often run though such events, clearly recognisable to experts on abuse. 

It is also not unusual for an abuser to deny the allegations but then to later admit the abuse. For example, former BBC presenter Stuart Hall denied allegations of abuse when they were first put to him, but in Court in April 2013 he admitted the charges put to him. He is now awaiting sentence by the Preston Crown Court on 17 June 2013.

There has also been much publicity surround abuse by the Clergy and similar themes run through such abuse.  Canon Gordon Rideout, a retired Church of England Priest, was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in May 2013 at Lewes Crown Court after being found guilty of 36 counts of historic sexual abuse.

Abuse can be reported to the police. However, the police are not always able to prosecute due to legal tests and hurdles.

A complaint can also be submitted to the professional's membership or professional organisation and their employer if they have one, such as the NHS. This can result in professional conduct or disciplinary proceedings. The NHS can also instigate Safeguarding or Serious Untoward Incident proceedings.

Many understandably go on to take civil legal action against the abuser or their employers. This is rarely driven by a desire for money (although compensation is fully deserved), but to have their voice properly heard and the events properly acknowledged, combined with a wish to prevent the same happening to others. A civil claim, properly handled by a specialist lawyer, can be a step on the road of recovery.  

The Clinic for Boundary Studies (“CfBS”) is the only organisation in the UK working around all aspects of professional boundaries and the prevention of boundary violations. CfBS’ work includes the provision of specialist client support services which are aimed at supporting members of the public who may have suffered boundary violations. More information about the CfBS can be found on their website:

http://www.professionalboundaries.org.uk/Home.aspx

Alternatively their telephone number is: 020 3468 4194, and their e-mail address is: info@professionalboundaries.org.uk.

If you have any questions on the legal aspects of Professional Abuse, please contact Victoria Thackstone, who has acted for over 10 years for many who have suffered abuse by professionals.

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