Fifty Shades of Child Abuse: How a brave survivor is pioneering a fight back in Cumbria
Cumbria is amongst the first regions in England to try and tackle the poisonous chalice of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), including child sexual and physical abuse using medical science developed in the United States and extensively trialled in Southern California and now here in the UK.
The Cumbria community initiative, known as The Cumbria Resilience Project, comes from a 61-year-old survivor himself - a victim of the notorious paedophile and abuser John Allen - sentenced to life imprisonment on 33 counts of sexual abuse against 19 boys and one girl- aged between 7 and 15 - while running a children's home in North Wales. Allen like so many paedophiles denied all of this and claimed the people making the allegations all wanted to make money. But the jury at Mold Crown Court disagreed.
The anonymous survivor has just written a very readable book - available from Amazon here for £7.99p - Aces in the shadows - Understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences.
He thought he might call it 50 Shades of ACEs because of sadly the variety of adversity, including physical, sexual, and bullying abuse (some inflicted by other traumatised children as well as adults) which damages thousands of children in their homes, schools, places of safety and in war zones and among refugees.
ACEs science comes from a health questionnaire used in the CDC-Kaiser Permanente ACEs Study, which is one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and neglect and later-life health and well-being in the USA, can now be used by GP’s and trained counsellors to act as a gauge on how deeply traumatised children and adults have become following adverse childhood experiences through abuse, neglect and household challenges, often caused by members of their family, teachers, children's home staff , and priests leading to perpetual mental and physical health outcomes in later life including Cancer, Ischemic heart disease, Liver disease, Alcoholism, Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and Depression.
The science, now accepted by the World Health Organization (WHO), shows beyond any doubt that a child's growing brain can be arrested by such traumatic experiences, but the brain's plasticity and the building of resilience can help people recover in later life. The book includes views from three professionals, Al Coates MBE, a social worker; Judy James, a coach-therapist; and Laura McConnell, a teacher and ADHD campaigner, on how to tackle this. The survivor adds his own views.
With a score of 10 ACEs, the anonymous survivor has endured it all - three marriages, fathered eight children, 40 sexual partners, 34 homes, two bankruptcies, copious drink and sleeping pills and a range of health conditions. Only the unconditional love of his third wife helped pull him through after years of therapy.
His psychiatrist diagnosed that he suffers from complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – something ( which I will return in a later blog) the authorities don't wish to know about because of the expense of treating it. He concludes : " I do not believe however he is likely to make a complete or rapid recovery because of the duration of his symptoms since childhood."
The good news is that such episodes have become rarer while the work he is doing in Cumbria is growing beyond anything he could have expected.
" Cumbria might appear to be a beautiful place but behind the beauty are some of the highest numbers of sexual and domestic violence offences in the country," he told me.
The Cumbrian Resilience Project has already attracted more than 300 members belonging to its closed social media forum. It also has free viewings of a film called RESILIENCE - The Biology of stress and the science of hope which explores the damage done to the body by the toxic trauma of repeated adverse childhood experiences as a child and puts forward a scientific way of tackling it. Film showings this autumn will be in Carlisle, Penrith, Workington, Barrow, Eden Valley and Kendal to name but a few.
Interest has been shown by Cumbria Police, Cumbria NHS and across the care sector and the project founder is planning ACEs awareness training sessions for parents, social and care workers, and all frontline staff so they can understand what is needed to help children and adults affected by ACEs. Sessions this year are being held in Workington, Carlisle, Penrith and Barrow.
The project relies enormously on volunteers and survivor champions. But I hope when the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) moves on to discuss how to help survivors that projects like these (they are more widespread in Scotland) are advocated on a national level. The author is a Core Participant in the inquiry and hope to have the opportunity to raise issues of ACEs at the inquiry later in the year.
Among the supporters of the project are Graham Wilmer, who runs the Lantern Project on the Wirral :
He says: “There are people out there who are trying very hard to undermine the courageous efforts of survivors of child abuse to come forward and give their testimony. Some of these individuals claim to be survivors themselves, others include a diverse range of individuals, some professionals, others just perhaps misguided folks without much else to do, who, through the advent of social media, believe they have a right to call out and abuse anyone they want to, simply because they can.
"That will change, but, in any case, they matter not. It is the voices of those who had the courage to speak truth to power that will be remembered, not the voices of those who tried to stop them.”
Another is Dr Wendy Thorley who described the book as a " An open and unrestricted account of the impact on ACEs for not only children but adults. The bravery of the author to put this in the public arena is not unrecognised."
I would recommend it - the author does not go for intellectual sophism - but is direct, honest and tells the unvarnished truth - and it is all the better for that.