"There was a lot of anger towards me. My daughters felt I had failed in my duty to protect them"
THE safety instructions on an aircraft tell you to fit your own oxygen mask before putting one on your child.
It’s a very powerful analogy when it comes to the subject of child sexual abuse and specifically the lack of support for parents.
Of course the child or young adult is the primary victim.
But society still doesn’t see the big picture of the collateral damage caused when the bomb of abuse goes off and fragments fly everywhere causing injury and trauma to everyone in its way.
That is the view of Mandy Gulliver, who runs a unique, lifesaver of a charity, Acts Fast.
The acronym stands for Abused Children’s Trauma Support, Family Advice and Strategy Team.
It’s a team of dedicated people committed to addressing the injustice from the lack of support shown to the protective parent or carer of sexually abused children.
The charity’s powerful slogan is ‘we stop and listen while the world carries on.’
It is a very strong message and being there to listen is the starting point.
Mandy says that all too often parents of abuse victims are not considered victims.
And they very much are.
“I have never understood why people take that view. They seem to feel that you are not the victim, so what’s the problem?
“Anyone who takes that view needs to look at the big picture. Society still has its collective head buried in the sand.”
The effect on all members of a family can be devastating, not least because 60-70 per cent of all abuse disclosures are in the family.
One of the parents for who Mandy and her team have been a lifeline is Natasha.
She discovered in 2015 her partner had abused their 19-year-old daughter over many years and her youngster sister too.
Natasha said: “I was just shellshocked. I could not process it. There was a lot of anger towards me. My daughters felt I had failed in my duty to protect them and other people in the family asked how it was that I did not know what was going on.
“As is so often the case they simply do not believe that you didn’t know. But I did not have a clue.
“I felt very guilty over what the girls had suffered and at my inability to take care of them. The one job you have has as a parent is to take care of your children and I didn’t do that. But they are amazing. They have been absolute warriors.”
Natasha had a breakdown but felt mental health services were not equipped to give her and her daughters adequate help and support.
She said: “The only people who were really there for me and still are there for me were Mandy and her team. I have been coming here for quite a while and the first thing I wanted to know was when my life would get back to normal. Now I realise it won’t but ActsFast has helped me move forward.
“They listen and they don’t judge, whereas pretty much everyone else does. It takes time, expertise, knowledge and patience to move forward and rebuild. They are absolute lifesavers. I don’t know what I would have done without them. They gave me lots of answers.
“There are a lot of people out there who don’t get the support they need and probably never will.”
Mandy says Natasha and the 200 or so others who have been to charity in Poole since it launched in 2014 are just the tip of the iceberg.
“We do our best to let enough people know of the charity and it’s always a struggle to fundraise and put things on a longer term, sustainable footing. If we could not continue it would be devastating.”
Natasha agrees: “One day you wake up and realise you can’t do this alone. Sometimes you just need someone to hold your hand.”
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