Adult survivors of child sexual abuse have many barriers to overcome on their journey to recovery and perhaps to seeking justice.

The very first and most difficult barrier for most people is the deep feeling of shame that they have internalised as a result of the sexual abuse.  Of course the shame is not theirs but has been imposed by the person who abused them, often by creating a belief in the child that it is something about him or her that has provoked the actions of the abuser.  That sense of shame is a powerful factor in silencing the child and can cause the adult survivor to hesitate, often for years, before disclosing their experience.

A second common barrier is the fear of not being believed.  Children often try to tell at the time of the abuse or soon after, but their story may be minimised or ignored.  The abuser may be a powerful and respected person in their family or community and commonly persuades the child that their account will be disbelieved.  The child carries this belief into adulthood and fears that the person they choose to tell will also disbelieve them.  If the abuse is in the family they may be afraid that they will be ostracised by other family members for breaking the secrecy.

The impact of sexual abuse does not stop in childhood but can pervade the survivor’s life long after the abuse has ceased.  The grief, sadness, terror and anger may be well contained and suppressed but it seeps into every aspect of the person’s life.  Survivors often hesitate to seek help because they fear opening the floodgates.  They often wonder if they will ever recover or if they will be lost forever in a maelstrom of distress and panic.

And then there are the barriers that survivors face when they engage with the criminal justice and child protection systems.  The survivor and their experience is not situated at the centre of these processes.  Very often there is little understanding of the impact that the trauma of sexual abuse continues to exert on the adult survivor.  Making a complaint to the Gardaí, appearing as a complainant witness in a criminal trial and facing cross examination, meeting a child protection social worker in an effort to protect other children from their abuser means an encounter with professionals in a position of power and authority, recreating the dynamic that existed with their abuser. This can re-trigger traumatic memories and emotions and leave the survivor feeling very vulnerable and alone.

One in Four exists to support survivors to overcome all the barriers they face on their road to recovery.  That is why we provide a safe place where people are met with compassion and understanding.  Our reception staff aim to answer every phone call with warmth and kindness to encourage people to engage in our services.  Our experienced and highly trained psychotherapists strive to create a relationship where all the pain and distress can be uncovered and explored, and where shame can dissipate.  Our skilled advocacy case managers provide the information and support so that people can make informed choices about engaging with statutory processes, and will be with the client every painful step of the way.  We also engage with policy makers and legislators so that statutory procedures become more victim focused and trauma informed.  This is what we do every day and it is difficult work.  But our compensation comes when our clients overcome all the barriers and move on into lives that are free from the contamination of sexual abuse.  That is why we are here.

Maeve Lewis


February 24th 2021