A large-scale national disaster is being unveiled by the media across the UK, following the launch of the Rotherham Abuse Inquiry report released on 26th August 2014. No one knows the true scale of child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Rotherham, but the current conservative estimate is approximately 1400 children sexually exploited over the full Inquiry period from 1997 to 2013.
What is noticeable in the media is that once again the primary focus is not on the children, or on the emotional impact to them. The focus doesn’t seem to be acknowledging that each individual who was raped, assaulted or coerced into behaviour that terrified them has faced, or now faces, years of recovery from trauma. The focus in the media is not on the need for the victims to easily access trauma therapy that can help them process the horror, shock, shame, torment and pain over the coming years. We need to fight for a child centred focus.
Trauma recovery takes time. You cannot rush a person into psychological recovery. Each child has to listen to their own voice recounting the horror that they hope to forget, and explore the shock and deep sadness of what could have been. Every person has a right to emotional support as they face interviews, questions, their own memories, flashbacks and nightmares. But where is this support? How do people find it? Who will finance it?
As the child and their families wrestle with the shame, shock and horror of what has been experienced, there needs to be support in place; offering a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on as they process the trauma. But most victims will not be able to find appropriate professional support or – worse – won’t be able to afford it.
‘Trauma is perhaps the most avoided, ignored, belittled, denied, misunderstood, and untreated cause of human suffering.’ (Levine and Kline 2007;3)
Central and vital questions need to be raised about the response to this national tragedy. Who is going to finance the trauma recovery for these victims? Who is going to ensure that it becomes a priority for the police and other frontline practitioners to understand how to identify the signs of abuse and the complexities of CSE? Who will finance the recovery from trauma for the families, teachers and friends of those who have had to listen to and support the victims?
Despite being British, we need to acknowledge that human kind is not in-built to ‘just get over it’ or ‘forget it now and move on’. Neuroscience has shown that our minds and response to trauma is complex. Unprocessed trauma can lead to a host of physical complications, depression and anxiety, difficulties with concentration, learning and working, and long term relational challenges amongst many other symptoms.
We believe that we need to communicate clearly that justice is not just the perpetrators being arrested and prosecuted; it is also the facilitation of the right to recover from the traumatic experiences.