As with young children there are several different ways that teenagers can become involved in ritual abuse. Young people tend not to be as easily taken in to an abusive group situation as younger children are. With young people, unless they have been born into a group, getting them involved in the group activities is done in different and much more subtle ways.
It is much less likely that, with teenagers who have never experienced ritual abuse before, they will end up involved in it at home. Even in the case of their parent marrying into it, it is a great deal harder for the abuser to get older children, who already have the notion of right and wrong firmly set in their minds, to cooperate enough to involve them in an abusive group. Though, in the case of a parent bringing an abusive partner into the home, they almost certainly will experience some form of abuse and domestic violence, it is very unlikely that they will be used in rituals and group events. There is far too much chance that an older child will talk to someone and expose the abusers.
Young people who have led lives relatively free from abuse are not quite as easily silenced and controlled as much younger children are. They usually know too much about the real world to be tricked in the way that younger children are. Teenagers are also not as dependent on the adults in their lives as younger children are and are therefore much more likely to have outside interests and a circles of friends. This sometimes saves them from any approach by members of groups. It is much more likely with young people that they first approach ritual abuse willingly and completely unwittingly, through not knowing exactly what it is they are really getting into at the time.
Young People Born into Ritual AbuseYoung people may already be involved in an abusive group because they were involved as children by their carers or family and have never been rescued from it. For them it may be all they know and to them it is very much a normal way of life. They may never have questioned the lives that they live and they may have very little to compare their life with. From their own perspective, their lives are completely normal. Some of these young people are very controlled by their families and have no easy way of finding out about how other people live.
Those who have been born into it by the time they become teenagers are already well conditioned not to talk and though some may be beginning to act out and rebel outside the home, this is usually put down to typical teenage behaviour. Though many of the signs of abuse are already present in their behaviours, it is rare for anyone to pick up on these signs in a positive way. Young people are a very diverse group and a too quiet and obedient teenager is all but invisible in school while a disruptive and troublesome teenager is often rendered invisible by being excluded from the school. Neither will usually be noticed as a survivor. Even constant running away from home, which to many with some awareness would indicate a problem at home, is usually put down to the young person being seen as the problem rather than being seen as a young person who has a problem.
By the time young people who have been born into ritual abuse reach their teens, they will have been involved fully in most of the group rituals. Many will be so indoctrinated in the faith and beliefs of the group that there can be no question of betrayal of the family and the group. Most will be completely unable to trust anyone else, especially adults, and they will have learned that they are totally powerless to resist against those who are stronger than them.
Young DabblersYoung people are, by nature, curious and as part of the process of growing up and becoming adults, they can sometimes be rebellious and look to do completely the opposite to their parents. When they discover through other young people, adults they admire or, more and more these days, via the Internet, that there are such interesting things as secret societies, the occult and pornography, some of them begin to express an interest in it.
Young people drawn toward the occult, paganism, secret societies and religious cults are already moving in a general direction, which can lead them into trouble. While a great deal of this type of thing is completely harmless to anyone, abusive groups are really well disguised and may appear to be completely harmless at first. Unwittingly, a young person may end up close to the fringes of a group looking to recruit young fresh blood. The young person will be carefully cultivated by members of the group, taught some of the principles of the group and initially pampered and made to feel important. Abusers will begin a brainwashing process, which, as they begin to be able to control the young person more, will increase in intensity. Often there is also heavy use made of drugs to make the young person more dependent and complacent. Gradually the young person becomes drawn in and involved in the fringe activities.
Many young people who get close to the fringe of a group and begin to become involved in criminal activities find this very exciting at first. They feel important and daring and are usually provided with money for the illegal tasks they carry out. Fringe members of the group encouraged them in these activities and begin to test them out to see how far they will go. In this way, the group begins to get an idea of the young person’s moral code. At the same time, the young person will get getting some teaching in some of the areas they were first interested in.
One of the first things that a group will do once they have a bit control is to ensure that the young person is quickly involved in a more serious crime so as to implicate them and thus silence them. The group will make sure that they hold the proof of what the young person did and this can be a useful lever. At first these young people will not be abused by the group but will soon begin to be involved in the abuse of others. They may also be encouraged into other crimes such as trafficking in drugs, stealing vehicles, and distribution of counterfeit money or pornography.
Vulnerable Young PeopleYoung runaways are very much at risk from all abusers. These young people are already missing from home with no one knowing where they are at any one time. Runaways most often rely on theft, prostitution and handouts from others to survive on the streets. It therefore becomes very easy for an adult to pretend to be sympathetic, build up a relationship with the young person and persuade them to go somewhere with them. As they are already reported missing, these young people can easily be taken by an abusive group and can quite simply disappear from the world. As there is rarely any intention of ever releasing these young people, the abusers can do as they please to them from the start.
Young people in care are also vulnerable to abusive groups. Authority of any kind often disillusions these young people and many feel aggrieved by the very system that was supposed to care from them. As such, they are often socially excluded, may have been already been abused and many begin to drift towards crime, drugs and prostitution. Abusers when they get near them, carefully cultivate some of these vulnerable young people and through a pretence of caring about them, can begin to pull the young person into the fringes of the group. Many young people in care, in Scotland at least, are thrust abruptly out of care and left to fend for themselves at the age of sixteen. These young people are extremely vulnerable and become easy prey for those abusers who want to recruit young people for their own uses.
If you think that your child may have been abused, it is important not to keep this to yourself. Talking to other people can help you to work out the reason you are beginning to think the way you are and may help steer you in the right direction to get some help. It is important not to jump to any conclusions about abuse based on limited knowledge as children vary so much in how they present and they all react differently to different things in their lives. Sometimes their reactions are nothing to do with having been abused but are to do with something else entirely. It is always better to be as clear as possible about what you are dealing with before you take action.
If it turns out that your child has been abused get help sooner rather than later. Try not to quiz your child based on something you have read or jump to conclusions about what type of abuse your child has suffered. Children get very mixed up and confused quite easily and if you have made too many assumptions you can easily put the idea into your child’s head that what they suffered was more complex than it really was. Try instead to love and care for your child in a way that is not seeking information, but rather, helping them to recover from the trauma. The child will begin to talk in its own time and in its own way. Even if what your child says sounds a bit off the planet, remember that sometimes children use fantasy as a means of coping and expressing what they are feeling.
If your child has been apart from you for quite long periods of several days or a few weeks, or you have recently taken on to look after a child who has lived elsewhere, and you find the child to be very traumatised, something major may have happened to the child. They may have been bullied, frightened or abused in any number of ways and investigative agencies such as the police and social services can help you to get to the bottom of it. Ritual abuse is certainly not the most common form of abuse carried out on children and it takes many different forms. Be open to hearing about anything but keep a firm hold on reality and common sense with anything you hear.
The sorts of things that may alert you to the possibility of ritual abuse of your child are:
For some parents and carers it is even more difficult as, over time, the child begins to disclose the almost unbelievable fact that they were ritually abused. Often this comes out many years after the abuse has stopped and the parent is sometimes able to think back to strange behaviour exhibited by their child at the time or soon afterwards. This can lead to a great deal of self-blaming as the parent struggles with not having noticed the signs of abuse or with their own lack of basic awareness. The main thing that every parent and carer must keep clearly in mind is that the abusers are the only ones to blame in any abuse situation.
It is not essential to get a child to talk about the details of what happened to help them to heal. Unless the child wants to talk about it in such a way, or if they need to talk to an investigator, it is better to leave them alone. What most children need is to be comforted, reassured and continually told that they are now safe from harm. Essentially, the only people who really need to know the finer details of what actually happened are the child protection practitioners who may work with the child during an investigation. These people are the ones with the skills to find out what the child is trying to say. Parents trying to get information out of the child can sometimes get in the way of investigative agencies. Telling about abuse is never easy and just because a parent may want to know the detail of something, is no reason to put a child through it.
Some children do not remember the abuse for a long time and when they do begin to remember, it is very frightening and confusing for them. It is also difficult for parents to begin to understand how the child could possibly have forgotten what happened to them. Yet, it is quite common for severely traumatise children to put their terrible memories so far away from themselves that they become buried very deeply inside. Only with time, care and sometimes a memory trigger to remind the child of what happened, the memories may begin to surface. Sometimes the memories come back slowly over a long period of time and they are almost always very distressing and painful to the child.
Other children never forget but are unable and/or unwilling to talk about what they experienced. The enforced silence and the fear can be too great an obstacle for them to overcome for a long time. Also, as the child gets older and leads a more normal life free from abuse, they realise that what they experienced was wrong and in many ways unbelievable. Sometimes they feel to blame for what happened to them and their perceived part in it and sometimes they find it hard to believe their own memory and begin to take refuge in denial themselves.
If you suspect that your child has been ritually abused don’t try to force them to talk about it. Try to keep an open mind, as you may be wrong in your suspicion of abuse or ritual abuse. Instead, work at building up trust with your child and let them know that you are there to listen to them if they ever want to talk to you about anything. Make time available for your child and encourage them to share their feelings with you when they want to. Try talking through your fears with another adult and write down the reasons that you are beginning to suspect abuse of any kind. You can call the police or social services for advice and information or, if this is too big a step to take, you can call a helpline.
If your suspicions are realised and your child begins to talk unprompted about being abused by one or more people, being taken to strange places, people dressing up, animals hurting them, people chanting, torture and child murder and things that sound a bit like rituals being carried out (they will not use the words abuse or ritual), they are possibly talking about ritual abuse and you should contact outside help as quickly as possible. In the case where the child suggests that these things are still happening to them, remove them immediately from the people they are naming or indicating are responsible. It is better to believe the child in the first instance than to take any risks. Investigative agencies will hopefully soon work out if any of the allegations might be true.
You can help the child by:
Letting your child know that it is safe to talk to you about how they are feeling. Keep telling them that they are now allowed to talk and tell about what happened and that if they want to, they can even tell the police about it.
Letting them stay in control of the process as much as possible by talking when they want, about what they want and to the person they choose to talk to.
Try not to rush to the police or other investigative agencies. Your child may not be ready to do this yet and the process of investigation may frighten them and make them retract what they are saying. Be aware though that the best agency to investigate allegations of abuse is the police and you should avoid too much questioning of your child. By questioning your child you may make the work of the police much harder. Focus instead on making certain that your child is now safe from harm and letting them say the things they want to in their own way and time. Encourage them to talk about how they feel and reassure them that they are doing nothing wrong by telling about things that happened to them. Leave the getting of the details and facts to the child protection professionals.
Obviously if your child or other children are still at risk, you may need to inform someone in authority quite quickly. Give yourself time to calm down first though so that you will be able to support your child effectively through the investigative process. Waiting an hour or two to give yourself and your child time to think will not generally make any big difference to a child or the investigation. If you must go to the police, if you can, hold back on the less believable aspects of the abuse at first. Try to keep the things you say in terms of, ‘I think my child may have been abused’, give the reasons you think this and let the police find out the details of it from your child. In most cases the abuse happened many years before and there would be no real proof other than what your child says.
Find out as much as you can about the subject of abuse rather than jumping to conclusions about it. Find out all you can about trauma and posttraumatic stress and how to help traumatised children. Remember that much of what you read will be theories and the ‘one-size fits all’ approach may not suit your particular child. Children, just like adults, are unique individuals with different needs and you may need to shop around to get the most appropriate help for your child.
Don’t assume that your doctor will have all the answers for you. Most doctors know nothing about the subject of ritual abuse and therefore nothing about the effects of ritual abuse on individuals. If you are lucky enough to have a doctor who is prepared to learn about it and admit what they don’t know, you may be able to get a referral to someone who really can help.
Find out what extra support is out there for your child and let your child know about it and how to access it.
Avoid if you can any programme offering to help survivors recover memories. Your child can decide whether or not they want this, as they get older. Memories are often suppressed in survivors for very good reason and to protect the survivor, they will be recovered quite naturally when, and if, the survivor is able to cope better with them. There is no need to force the process of remembering and it can be dangerous for the survivor as they may not be able to handle knowing it all. There is also the danger that later on there will be an accusation of a therapist implanting false memories in the child.
Find out what support is out there for you and the others in your family and reach out for it. The more support you are able to get for yourself and your family, the better able you will be to continue to provide support for your child through this.
Beware self-proclaimed experts! Some people do have expertise in dealing with trauma and abuse. Some even have expertise in working with ritual abuse survivors. On the other hand, you know your own child better than anyone else and it is your child who has lived through the trauma and needs to develop their own expertise in directing their own healing. No one else can do this for them and people will often help best by providing practical support and being there for the child and the family. On occasions quality psychiatric help can assist with more specific problems such as problems with flashbacks, panic attacks, depression, mental health, eating or self-injury. Often though, you will find that your child and yourself gain a great deal of expertise yourself and will end up teaching the practitioners rather than learning very much from them.
There are occasions that adult survivors talk about, when, if only the people they met had had awareness, it might have been possible for safe adults to notice them as children and perhaps have found a way to help. Although it is difficult for children to tell about abuse, children can easily slip up and reveal a little of their lives. Adults having a raised awareness of the possibilities of what might happen to a child and keeping an open mind, might just spot some of these children. Adults who take the time to build a strong relationship with a child stand a better chance of gaining the child’s trust.
Children and young people living with ritual abuse do not have many of the choices that most adults have. They do not have access to information except through adults. As they have no money, or access to money, except through adults, even making a telephone call to get help can be impossible. Few young people would even know who they could phone for help.
Children are totally dependant on the adults in their lives for all of their basic human needs. They usually love their parents, even if those parents are hurting and abusing them. They have, and are taught to have, great loyalty to their families. They also know beyond any doubt, and it will have been proven to them, what will happen to them if they betray their family by talking to outsiders. Unlike some abuse situations, in which the abuser threatens the child, children living with ritual abuse know that threats are very real and will be carried out.
Children are not as good as adults at covering up and the younger they are, the more likely it is that adults with awareness can notice them. The main problem at the moment is that safe adults completely fail to notice the signs that are there. In fairness to these adults, if ritual abuse is not considered a reality in our society, then no one can ever notice these children.
Most people, if they were really honest – they would rather we were all dead. Because if we were dead:
You could pretend it never happened.
You wouldn’t have to face us or hear of our experiences and our pain.
You wouldn’t have to struggle to believe something you know could be true, but don’t really want to accept as a reality.
You wouldn’t need to challenge it.
You could distance yourself emotionally by never knowing or accepting us as people, like you.
You could mourn our tragic deaths, move on and then forget we ever existed.
You wouldn’t need to deal with the effects on yourself of hearing about our abuses.
You wouldn’t have to accept responsibility for your part in maintaining the systems that permit ritualised abuse.
If we were all dead you could all stop struggling with your own fears, disbelief, denial and the effects of our pain on you. You could perhaps find some of our remains and dig a large pit to fill with lime. You could swiftly throw our broken bodies in the pit and cover us with earth. Then you would be free to release your emotions. You could cry for us, especially for those of us who were children. You could get angry and rage at the terrible fate that was ours. You could be quietly relieved that it was not your fate. You could shout for vengeance and retribution and swear that this kind of horror will never be permitted to happen again. Not ever!
You could mourn our passing… then you could forget and get on with your lives. If we were all dead you would be able to sleep more comfortably each night in your beds. Will we apologise for making life difficult for you by surviving? I think not…
Only two sets of people know the truth about ritual abuse; the survivors of the abuse and the abusers. Only one set of people will try and tell you. Only one set of people will tell you the truth. You need to listen. If we were all dead the abusers would still be here amongst you and who would be their next victims? Maybe you! Maybe your children!
We are survivors. We are the living evidence of the existence of this type of abuse. Deny the abuse exists and you deny us the reality of our experiences. We would like to deny it all too. We would like to switch off the memories. We would like to sleep at night without nightmares. We would like to feel as safe as you do while walking down the street. We would like to have family we could turn to and people to trust.
Some of us are badly damaged. Some of us are mentally scarred. Some of us will never heal. But, we have survived our abuse. We have survived alone. We have survived without you. We will continue to survive, with your help, or without it. We are not dead… so you can’t bury us yet, even though it might be easier for you if you could.
How can we get justice when there are no laws that name it?
How can we exist when the world says we don’t?
How can we talk if no one will listen?
We are dismissed as mad because of our suffering. You would be too. We are accused of making it up. Why would we do this only to be dismissed as mad? We are told we have false memories given us by therapists yet most of us have never gone near a therapist or anyone else to try and talk. It would be pointless.
You are playing into the hands of the abusers by silencing us, just as they do. They want you not to listen or believe us. Talking is nearly impossible for survivors like us. So why do we even bother trying?
The way I see it, you only have two choices; either you stand beside us and help us survive and fight back against them, help us make them stop; or you stand against us and if you do that, you are, in my eyes, one of them – the abusers. There are no fence sitters in this war. There are only the abusers and their allies, and the survivors and theirs.
Which are you?
If you were ritually abused you may be afraid that no one will believe you; that no one will be able to help and support you. You may believe that the group will always find you; that there is no safety anywhere. Other survivors like you have felt the same way but many have managed to find support for themselves. The following are some ideas of places you can try for support.
Rape Crisis Centres – Are run by women for women only. They offer a free and confidential support service. Some are experienced in working with ritual abuse survivors and all are open to learning more. Most will be able to advise male survivors of other agencies for them.
Women’s Aid – Run by women for women. They are a free and confidential service. They offer safe accommodation and support to any woman experiencing violence in the home.
Help-lines – There are many telephone help-lines for survivors of sexual abuse. Some of these are specifically for women only, some for men and some are for both.
Survivors groups – Most rape crisis centres will have a list of groups that meet in their area.
Samaritans – Offer free, confidential, support. They may not have a high awareness of ritual abuse but are usually good listeners and can help you find out what other services exist.
Psychologists – Through a GP you can be referred to a psychologist. Though he or she may not have a very high awareness, some are very open to learning and can be very helpful.
Therapists – You can usually access one free through a GP or you can go private. Some have very good awareness of the issues of ritual abuse; some don’t but are open to learning.
Friends – Don’t underestimate friends. They can be very helpful and supportive of you. Though they may never have heard of ritual abuse before, they may be willing to learn about it and help you find resources and other support.
Internet – There is a great deal of support and information available now on the Internet. This is a fairly safe way of accessing support and information without anyone knowing who you are or where you come from. Internet access is now available in libraries and cafés in most towns.
If you are still being abused and you want the abuse to stop, that is the most important first step. To want something to stop means you do not accept it and are looking for change. Change however will not happen by itself and is something you will have to think about, plan and fight for. Freedom from abuse is worth fighting for though it may be difficult. Getting out of any abuse situation is a process, not a single event.
TipsRemember, other survivors have managed to get out, stay out and get the abuse to stop. If these survivors can do it, that means it is possible. If it is possible for some, then it is possible for you too.
Don’t give up even if you fail at first. You can lose many battles and still win the war in the end, so keep going.
Try to get the support of someone you can trust. Two heads are better than one. Other people may think of things you haven’t.
Try to make plans rather than reacting to crisis. i.e. if you intend to run, try to prepare in advance with money stashed, clothes, phone numbers and an idea of where to go. Running blind makes you easier to find.
Know your enemy. Study them and learn all you can about them. The more you know, the easier it is to beat them.
Remember, if you are running, hiding or evading, the more public you are able to be, the less likely they will be to get you. The abusers are the ones who must hide what they are doing and will avoid doing anything to you in front of witnesses. Stay as visible as you can.
Silence can be your enemy. They use this to control you. The real truth is that adult survivors come to have more power than abusers. By telling someone, you expose them to the judgement of the world and they fear exposure. Otherwise why do they hide? If you speak out and are accounted for, you will have some degree of safety.
Safety is a state of mind as much as it is a place. Use whatever means you have available to increase your peace of mind and sense of safety. Find a safe place inside yourself as well as on the outside.
If they are getting you back into abusive situations by using triggers, try to find out what the trigger is and find a way of blocking it. If need be, get someone you trust to help you stay safe and accounted for during difficult times.
If they are frightening you or making threats, remember that these are designed to control you. Check out the reality, i.e. have they actually harmed you or are they using your own fears against you. Threats can be frightening but they alone cannot hurt you.
If they are threatening to hurt a child or loved one if you do not return, know that they will do this anyway if they choose to. You going back will safeguard no one and will only give them more of a hold over you.
Know that you can do it. Believe in yourself and in your ability to survive. You’ve made it this far against all the odds so you do have skills and coping mechanisms to continue to survive and heal.
If the person using self-injury is currently in an abusive situation and would like it to end, provide some practical help such as information that might help them get out of that situation. The kind of practical help that is usually most useful is information on where to get accommodation, benefits and health care, Lists of phone numbers and offers to accompany the survivor to get help from agencies might may the difference.
It is important that you listen to the survivor and believe what they tell you. Even if you hear things that you find difficult to believe, keep an open mind.
Survivors need to be able to trust other people. This means that you have to be trustworthy and not betray the survivor.
Acceptance of self-injury as a coping mechanism is important for the survivor. While you may not understand the reasons for the self-injury, you can learn to accept that the survivor may need self-injury at the present time.
Let the survivor know that he or she is worthwhile and treat the person with respect. See the person as a person first rather that a survivor and a self-harmer.
Help empower the survivor to be able to make their own decisions about their own life. This may include accepting that the person has a right to injure self if he or she needs to. The main thing is ensuring that the person does so in as safe a way as possible.
Do not keep passing the person on to someone else who “knows more about these things.” There is nothing worse that being passed on from pillar to post. Why can’t you find out more from other agencies and then help the survivor decide and deal with it.
Help the survivor find creative outlets for self-expression i.e. painting, writing, singing, etc.
Safety and Self-InjuryNo matter what form the self-injury takes, try to ensure that the survivor knows about basic hygiene and the need for it in prevention of infection. If need be, offer to help sterilise blades or whatever else is used to cause the injury. Suggest keeping antiseptic wipes handy and using them.
Suggest that the survivor try to stay in control of what he or she is doing. Suggest not using alcohol or drugs while self-harming.
You may need to offer to help clean injuries or show the survivor how to do so. Talk about it openly with the survivor. They will not be encouraged to harm self just because you are open to talking about what they do to themselves.
For burns, run cold water over them until they cool. For cuts clean using antiseptic wipes and cover with a clean dressing.
Medical attention will usually be needed…
They have the same rights as other patients to be given pain relief.
They have the same right as other patients to have treatment and to refuse to have a student observing or treating them.
Treatment should not be dependent on agreeing to psychiatric intervention.
Staff can be asked to explain clearly all treatment being provided.
Language is a basic and fundamental medium of communication amongst people. It is cultural and reflects tradition and beliefs. In our experience, most survivors of ritual abuse have been taught or know other languages besides the usual language of the country they grow up in. In many groups, Latin is a commonly used language. It is sometimes taught to some of the children and is usually picked up to some extent even by those not taught it. Many survivors have problems when they hear Latin spoken or chanted.
Many survivors, depending on the group they belong to, know other more widely used languages such as German, French, Greek, etc. These languages may be taught to facilitate international networking, for business purposes or for other reasons of benefit to the group.
In addition to these languages, there are commonly used runic languages used by groups. Some of these are fairly well known as ancient written languages, others may be particular to a group. Because few people know these languages, they can add to the mystic and secrecy of a group. Some survivors appreciate their supporters learning these languages as it can sometimes make communication easier.
Never forget that this person has survived till now without your help.
There are many different things that survivors of ritual abuse may try to talk about. Although talking is usually very difficult and painful, as it is designed by the abusers to be, with the right sort of support, they can do it. There are a few common elements that many survivors talk about and though all can’t be covered here, the most common in our experience are the following.
Teaching: Many survivors talk about being taught in the ways of the ‘group’ from a very early age – usually pre-school. They talk about things such as being taught to endure pain, how to obey without question, learning how not to cry, to more fundamental lessons in languages (both written and oral), history and tradition, beliefs and position in life. The lessons learned early in life can be instrumental in forming the survivors belief systems and that can last for a lifetime. A lesson they are taught very young is not to talk about the group or family or tell anyone.
Helping: Keep telling survivors that they are allowed to talk and tell. Keep giving permission and reassuring the survivor that it is okay. If talking is a problem, survivors can sometimes be encouraged to write or draw at first until it gets easier for them to talk. Thinking of simple ways of enabling people to communicate can be effective.
Beliefs: Survivors often have a different belief system from what is generally considered normal in this society. They are taught from an early age about the beliefs of the group and are taught in such a way that it is almost impossible not to believe what is taught. Most survivors believe that they are worthless and have no rights whatsoever.
They may believe that they are evil and the cause of everything that happened. They may believe that abusers are all powerful. They may not believe that want happened to them was even abuse. Some survivors may believe in lay lines or astral planes. They may have been taught to believe that they can be controlled or attacked on the astral plane during sleep for example.
Helping: Try to encourage the survivor towards believing that s/he does have rights and is a worthwhile person. Ask about beliefs as the survivor may be aware of ways of protecting self from within the belief system.
Supporters may find the belief system that the survivors hold difficult to comprehend or understand. The survivor may feel the same way about the supporters beliefs. Do not expect survivors to be able to reject their own beliefs just because you think them to be wrong or are shocked by them. Beliefs held by survivors are usually taught and formed through a lifetime of experience and cannot just be ditched.
Religion: Sometimes the survivor is brought up in a very religious manner. The parents, extended family and others may have very firm and clear beliefs that what they are doing is right. The religion may be couched in terms of a church-like system with all the trappings. The belief system may be in a god or the devil. It may be a belief in an spirit, unseen force or an astronomical body. While it may be okay for adults to hold whatever beliefs they wish, the line must be drawn when children, adults and animals are abused and forced to do things that are morally and legally condemned by most.
Helping: Some survivors do, even when they have left the abuse situation, continue to believe in part in the religion they grew up with. This is their right. The bottom line to hold with a survivor is that they were abused, they were forced, and they were given no choices. This can never be right, regardless of any religious teachings. People can and do have a right to make choices for themselves, but have no right to take away another persons right to choose for themselves.
Pornography: Many survivors, with difficulty, talk about the use of pornography. They talk about being photographed and/or filmed and most will talk about the events as being ‘hard core’ pornography.
Helping: Believing survivors when they try to talk is vital. It costs a great deal to tell you about these experiences. Honour this and stay open to hearing. Many survivors who have endured this are afraid of cameras, videos and filming equipment. They also worry about the fact that pictures and videos of them are out there in the world.
Deprivation: Abusers use various kinds of deprivation to force survivors to behave the way they want. Depriving of food, drink and sleep are all common experiences. Sleep deprivation, even after a few days, can cause anyone extreme disorientation. Sensory deprivation, through ensuring survivors can see, hear, touch and smell nothing at all, is used to mould survivors to the abusers wishes.
Helping: Remind the survivor that the abusers had no right to do these things and that they are losing their power as more is talked about. The fact that the person is talking to you is proof of this fact.
Power: Survivors often believe that they have no power and for most while in the group setting, this would have been true. They may believe there is an all-powerful force, which they cannot prevail against, and that the power of the group is absolute.
Helping: It can be a long slow process, but the survivor can be helped to realise that he or she has some power. In the first instance, there is the power of speech, which can be encouraged to continue to break silence. Encourage the survivor to make decisions for self and begin to take back control.
Symbolism: Survivors often talk about the use of various symbols, which convey meanings that only those associated with the group would know. Some of these symbols are common to different groups across this country and indeed, the world. Symbols are used to add mysticism and a ‘religious’ flavour to the proceedings. They are also used to cause fear, pass messages and convey a sense of importance, pomp and ceremony.
Helping: Check with the survivor that there is nothing you are wearing or in the room you are using that causes upset. If the survivor is willing, get them to teach you about the symbolism.