When I first spoke to the Daily Echo last December about the devastation of discovering my husband had been sexually abusing my two girls, I said it was like a bomb detonating under us.

I never dreamed a year on we would still be struggling with the immense damage the abuse had caused.

I had considered myself to have a happy family and marriage. I had a teenager with some eating and self harm issues, but talking to other parents, this sadly wasn't unusual.

I put this down to problems at school and sought help through CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services).

My daughter then aged 13 was asked if anyone was abusing her and said no. It is common that abused children repeatedly deny it.

Her sister disclosed a month later to family friends.

As a mother, you expect to be able to protect your children, so when you discover abuse, you feel a failure.

After the disclosure, we didn't know what to expect from the authorities, but after a day giving evidence to Bournemouth’s excellent Child Protection Team, we were left to cope alone.

For four days, I received no calls or support. No-one checked to see if we were coping, no-one gave me details of specialist helplines which I eventually found myself on the internet.

Notwithstanding I had family around (who were also in shock), I felt bewildered, isolated and helpless.

I was also surprised that I was not deemed a “victim” and therefore there was no support for me. Instead my parents financed private counselling, crucial to my holding things together.

The social worker assigned to our case had also heard about a course at Dorset Action on Abuse which was a lifeline! To sit with mothers who just “got” how devastating this is, was such a relief, yet courses like this are hard to find or non-existent in many areas.

In terms of support for my children, I was shocked to find the system has many shortcomings.

My eldest was suicidal several times, yet we waited eight weeks for CAMHS to find her a support worker despite the school, GP and me regularly begging for help.

I kept telling CAMHS: “I am her mother, not a mental health professional. I don't know how to deal with this.”

I was, and still am, suffering from the effects of this too. In desperation, I paid for her to see a Young Persons counsellor at Relate while we waited.

When we were eventually assigned a CAMHS worker, we were told this was only temporary until a regular slot became available.

My daughter took months to form a trusting relationship with this worker, to then find she was being moved to someone else. Thankfully, she formed a quick bond with the new worker, who fortunately works in a hands-on, artistic type approach which she has responded to.

Sexually abused children often cannot articulate the evils of their experiences, but instead can draw it, paint it or express it through other art therapies. It astounds me that despite proof that art and play therapy is hugely beneficial, there is almost no NHS provision for this.

My youngest daughter was deemed not as “urgent” a case, so waited months to get only six one hour sessions with CAMHS. How can a subject as toxic and life changing as sexual abuse be unpacked and dealt with that quickly?

Her school also kindly financed some support with the charity Listening Ear but she still suffers badly emotionally.

In August my eldest daughter attempted to take her life, while I was downstairs ironing.

“I wanted my dying to be his fault” she said.

Ambulance and hospital staff were amazing and could see our pain and that we were not getting proper specialist support. I asked if I was “missing” something, a service that I hadn't heard of perhaps, but I was told there was nothing else and the main burden is on the family to cope.

For any parent to live with the constant worry that you may not be able to keep your child wanting to live is horrific. I told CAMHS months ago “hand on heart, I don't know if I am going to be able to keep this child alive” yet 24 hours after her suicide attempt, we were discharged with me holding the family together again. Any mother knows that watching a teen 24/7 is going to do no-one any favours and is frankly impossible, yet this was more or less what I was tasked with despite begging the medical profession for more help.

We've all been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and in a way this has been helpful as it has a recognition that depression sadly doesn't.

‘Sarah’ was talking to Andy Martin.

'More support needed to help families rebuild their lives'

Post-Saville, we increasingly encourage children to speak out and disclose and tell them they will be heard and supported. 

Yet in our experience the support isn't there. To protect the anonymity of the children you barely tell friends or family which compounds your isolation, and means people don't realise that sexual abuse can happen on their back doorstep by people who appear to be friendly and trustworthy.

If I could change our experiences post-disclosure, what would I do? Ensure there was support in those crucial initial days and weeks; arm families with details of helplines and resources; provide specialist play therapists and sexual abuse counsellors; support wider family and friends as they also struggle, such is the toxicity of abuse.

Yes we need children to disclose abuse and to put the perpetrators behind bars, but just as important is to ensure victims and families receive specialist help to rebuild their lives and find ways to recover from the devastating explosion that is abuse.

CAMHS: 'we encourage children and their families to share their concerns'

Mike Kelly, specialist manager for mental health at Dorset HealthCare, said: “Within Children’s and Young People’s Services, we know that getting the right specialist care for children at the right time is vital to their wellbeing. In recent times, our service has seen a really significant rise in demand for our specialist treatment, support and advice. As a result we’re working closely with our NHS and social services partners to improve not only the speed of response but also the quality of the care we are able to offer.

“Our teams are made up of professional staff ranging from consultant psychiatrists and clinical psychologists, to family therapists, occupational therapists, social workers and primary mental health workers. Everyone working with our young service users is a qualified individual with a wealth of expertise and perhaps more importantly, they genuinely care about their patients’ wellbeing and recovery.

“It’s because we care about the young people using our services that we want to hear from them and their families and carers about where we can make improvements - we really do welcome feedback about people’s experiences. We prefer to not comment in detail on specific individual patient experiences in the media because we want to respect patient confidentiality and not add to any distress.  We can and do discuss these experiences directly with families.  We have asked the Echo to pass on a senior clinician’s contact details to the family that is featuring in the paper this week so that we can talk with them personally.

“We would encourage children and their families or carers to share any concerns they have by contacting our customer services team on 01202 277024 or by emailing customerservices@dhuft.nhs.uk. Their concerns will always be taken seriously and they will be contacted by a senior member of our team.”

  • A SUPPORT group for the parents of victims of sex abuse is being launched in Dorset.

ACTS FAST is a new organisation offering help and support to non-abusive parents and carers. See tomorrow’s paper to find out more about the group.


  • NSPCC 0808 800 5000 nspcc.org.uk
  • Childline 0800 1111 childline.org.uk
  • MOSAC (Mothers of Sexually Abused Children) 0800 980 1958 mosac.org.uk
  • Dorset Action on Abuse 01202 732424 Dorsetactiononabuse.org.uk
  • ACTS FAST 01202 309 930 actsfast.org.uk


  • 1 in 20 children have been sexually abused
  • Over 90% of those children were abused by someone they know