Confidentiality and young survivors

One of the most common questions we are asked by young people who are looking for support is….will you tell? Even when we explain our policy of confidentiality, young people are still hesitant and unsure whether it’s ok to say anything. It can take us many weeks and months to build up trust with the young people. We are tested frequently. We are given bits of information. We are slowly given more and more of a picture of what is going on for a young person. Over time, young people are able to build trust and start to talk about what is really going on for them and some of it can be harrowing and extremely sad.

One of the saddest things is that these young people have been unable to tell anyone about the extreme abuse they have been living with for many years, because they are afraid.And what is it that they are afraid of? Strangely they are afraid of the services that are there to protect them. The last people they want to find out about the abuse is the child protection services. Why?

There are many reasons for this. Lack of knowledge of the services; fear of losing control; fear of what might happen to them or the abuser; fear of not being believed; fear of breaking up the family; fear that all the abuser has said will come true. Lots of fears and most are justified. Then there is shame, embarrassment, guilt, self-blame to take account of in this. And let’s not forget protecting the abuser; protecting the family; protecting siblings; protecting pets and so on. Many young people don’t even know that it is abuse as it’s not talked about. They might believe all that the abuser has said to them. After all, young people have limited knowledge and look to those the trust to provide it. Unfortunately, most abusers are the people that are trusted.

One of the really common emotions that can allow abuse to continue is love. Young people who love their abuser, and there are many of them who do, will do anything to please that person. They fear the lose of the abusers love and attention and fear losing the person who is most important to them.

What can make a difference for these young people is being able to build trust with a safe and supportive adult who can, over time, let the young person explore their feelings, talk about what is really going on for them and help them look at options. To do this, they need to have confidentiality.Even if the abuse is happening right now, giving them the opportunity to talk, rather than shutting them down, can make all the difference. Letting young people stay in control of their own lives and helping them stop the abuse, rather than treating them as witnesses and searching for evidence to prosecute someone can really work. It’s not easy. But as the current system continues to fail survivors of sexual abuse, maybe another approach is long overdue.

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