By Jenny Irvine, Chief Executive of Arc Healthy Living Centre, Irvinestown 

For many months now survivors of abuse have been sharing their experience of harm with Rodney, for many they have finally found someone that will listen and the Impartial Reporter has become a place where they can unburden themselves of their terrible secrets, of the shattering, shaming and isolating experiences of sexual abuse. Their accounts tell us that too often they have been disappointed by agencies they sought help from. For too long some institutions and indeed communities have remained silent about these emerging testimonies, ignored the complaints and minimized the experiences through fear, ignorance, and lack of knowledge of what “to do for best”, or at worst self-protective denial.

Abuse is endemic within our society. Statistics clearly indicate that child sexual abuse was and remains prevalent, along with the sexual abuse and exploitation of both women and men, including those who are particularly vulnerable. The shameful truth is the majority of victims find little or no redress within the criminal justice system, and few resources to meet their needs within the wider community.

It is important to acknowledge that abuse in Fermanagh was perpetrated by some in positions of power or responsibility, and important to recognize that survivors have often found an inadequate response to appeals for justice. In acknowledging this, we seek to pave the way for creating communities that are safe enough for all to belong, and where survivors can relate their experiences, confident that they will be heard and receive care and support. While significant improvements have been made to make our children safer today, accounts of sexual abuse from the past are coming to the surface every week. Responding to such accounts is not easy, however it is necessary.

Fermanagh owes much to those who have survived sexual abuse and have had the courage to tell their story. Their wisdom, courage, tenacity and sensitivity, as well as the insights into the lessons we need to learn, are an invaluable and an integral part of safeguarding children now and into the future. However, survivors are also people with particular needs, and we want to ensure they do not suffer further harm as a result of a poor response from agencies they now seek help from.

Sexual abuse impacts on many people: the individual who has suffered the abuse; partners, friends and family; the person hearing a disclosure; and the community, particularly when the process of disclosure leads to conflict between groups or individuals within the community. We need to be sensitive also to the impact of disclosures on innocent relatives of abusers, they also may be feeling shattered, shamed and isolated. Now we need to aim to help everyone in identifying and beginning to work through the dilemmas that need to be addressed: the need for self-awareness; for support; for sufficient time to enable the process to unfold; for informed sensitivity and compassion; and for assertive action to provide justice or to ensure safety where this is necessary.  Given the harrowing nature of the accounts printed I have for some time now requested a health and social care trauma informed response to support survivors, specialist services that support the recovery and wellbeing of our community. I am confident that this will be put in place as a matter of urgency.