Loose Women's Saira Khan broke down live on air last week, courageously revealing the childhood sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her Uncle as a 13 year old girl. It was heartbreaking to watch, yet clearly her story inspired lots of women watching, because it prompted hundreds of women to get in touch with the show to share their stories, women who could relate to her experiences and who as a result, now felt brave enough to speak out too.
Childhood sexual abuse is more common than you think. According to the NSPCC, 1 in 20 children in the UK have been sexually abused, but the statistics don't tell the whole truth. Most sexual abuse isn't reported, detected or prosecuted and most children don't tell anyone that they are being sexually abused. However, what we do know is that 9 out of 10 children who do report sexual abuse were abused by someone they knew. Furthermore, the NSPCC reports that the vast majority (90%) of children who have been sexually abused, will go on to experience mental health issues as an adult.
I see women in the Bringing Sparkle Back clinic who are living with the horrible and debilitating after effects of childhood sexual abuse. The women I see have carried this haunting secret with them throughout their life for fear of shame, for fear of letting down the people they love, for fear they won't be believed, for fear it was their fault and for fear of repercussions.
They have harrowing memories and experiences that they have tried so hard to bury deep in their sub-conscious, yet the reality is, these memories and experiences have become a daily living nightmare for them. All of the awful stories about childhood sexual abuse I've listened to, have been carried out by a family member or someone they knew.
The women I see in the clinic, who are victims of childhood sexual abuse, often present with issues they have been struggling with all of their adult lives including:
feelings of guilt, shame and blame
emotional difficulties such as anger, anxiety, sadness or low self-esteem
mental health problems such as depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), self harm, suicidal thoughts
problems with drugs or alcohol, often to self-medicate
disturbing thoughts, emotions and memories that cause distress or confusion
Intimacy, relationships, sex and personal boundaries
nightmares and OCD type behaviour
If you have experienced childhood sexual abuse, please know that you are not alone. Recognising and acknowledging what has happened to you and talking about your experience is one of the most vital components in the healing process - this alone is a huge step.
Whilst talking is a huge first step, therapy can offer you a safe place where together, we can re-process your experience. We undermine those feelings of guilt, shame and blame and we address the underlying cause of the emotional and psychological harm you have been struggling with.
Whilst therapy can't ever take away what has happened to you, it could help you overcome the pain you are living with, and it could help you move forward without carrying the huge weight and burden of your past.
Catherine Asta Labbett, is the founder and owner of Yorkshire based 'Bringing Sparkle Back' delivering Psychotherapy, Relationship and Life Coaching exclusively for women.