Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry #childabuse #survivors #NorthernIreland

A major statutory inquiry into historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland has issued an appeal for victims and survivors now living in Great Britain, AustraliaCanada and the United States to come forward.

The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry was set up earlier this year by the Northern Ireland Executive. It has a remit to investigate child abuse which occurred in residential institutions in Northern Ireland over a 74-year period up to 1995. 
The inquiry was established after calls from campaigners in Northern Ireland for an inquiry similar to the Ryan Commission on institutional child abuse in the Republic of Ireland.[1]

To date, 271 potential witnesses have made formal applications to participate in the Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry. 43 individuals have already come forward from Great Britain, but most of those who have approached the Inquiry still live in Northern Ireland.

However, the Inquiry is anxious to encourage any further survivors who suffered childhood abuse in Northern Ireland institutions but who now live in Great Britain to get in touch.

The Inquiry’s Chairman, Sir Anthony Hart, said he appreciated that the decision to contact the Inquiry could be a very difficult one for survivors, particularly if they now live outside Northern Ireland.

“We recognise that, for many potential witnesses, reliving their experiences will be very painful and traumatic,” he said. “Indeed, some will not have told their closest relatives or friends about the abuse they suffered. If they now live outside Northern Ireland, the thought of contacting the Inquiry may seem especially daunting.
“But we want to emphasise that we’re doing everything we can to make the process as easy as possible for those living in Great Britain.”

The Inquiry’s appeal is being backed by the London Irish Centre, which offers a range of services for the Irish community, including a special support service for survivors of abuse. The Centre’s Chief Executive, David Barlow, said:

“We welcome the fact that the Inquiry is encouraging survivors who now live in Great Britain to come forward.
“We are actively getting the message out there among our service users and we hope that there will be a positive local response to the Inquiry’s appeal.”

The Inquiry is offering to meet the travel expenses of those who need to give their testimony in person. If a sufficient number of witnesses come forward from any region in Great Britain, the Inquiry will consider travelling there to hear their evidence.

Potential witnesses are also offered the option of providing private testimony to the Inquiry’s Acknowledgement Forum if they don’t wish to participate in the public inquiry process.

The Inquiry is scheduled to complete its work by 2015, and to submit its report to the Northern Ireland Executive by January 2016, and Sir Anthony has urged potential witnesses not to delay if they want to come forward.
The inquiry needs to hear soon from anyone keen to tell their story publicly or anonymously if it's to consider their case properly” he said.

In addition to making findings of fact on the scale, nature and impact of abuse, the Inquiry is also tasked with making recommendations on the steps which might be taken to help meet the needs and wishes of survivors.
To date, the Inquiry has identified more than 170 residential homes and other locations in Northern Ireland which could potentially form part of its investigation.

Survivors of childhood abuse in Northern Ireland institutions and any other potential witnesses who wish to contact the Inquiry should visit the Inquiry’s website at:  or contact the Inquiry by telephone on 0800 068 4935.

[1] The Ryan Commission, which carried out its work over a nine-year period, heard testimony from nearly 2,000 survivors of abuse. It published its report in 2009. 

1.       Following an inter-departmental task force report, the Northern Ireland Executive, on 29th September 2011, announced there would be an Investigation and Inquiry into historical institutional abuse.
2.       On 31st May 2012, the First Minister and deputy First Minister announced the Terms of Reference for the Inquiry, and advised the Assembly of the Chair of the Inquiry and of the Panel Members for the Acknowledgement Forum.
1.       An amended terms of reference to widen the scope of the Inquiry from 1922 - 1995 was announced by the First Minister and deputy First Minister on 18th October 2012. See
2.       For the purposes of this Inquiry “child” means any person under 18 years of age; “institution” means anybody, society or organisation with responsibility for the care, health or welfare of children in Northern Ireland, other than a school (but including a training school or borstal) which, during the relevant period, provided residential accommodation and took decisions about and made provision for the day to day care of children; “relevant period” means the period between 1922 and 1995 (both years inclusive).
3.       The Inquiry will be chaired by Sir Anthony Hart, assisted by Panel members Geraldine Doherty and David Lane.  Acknowledgement Forum Panel members are: Beverley Clarke, Norah Gibbons, Dave Marshall QPM and Tom Shaw CBE. Biographical details are available on the Inquiry website:
4.       The Inquiry is formally established under The Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse Act (Northern Ireland) 2013 which became law on 19th January 2013.
5.       The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry is an independent inquiry. The Inquiry welcomes the fact that its appeal for potential witnesses has been supported by many external organisations. However, where any external organisation is quoted as supporting this appeal in any press release issued by the Inquiry, the inclusion of such a quote should not be interpreted as indicating any link between the Inquiry and that organisation. The Inquiry remains fully autonomous of any external organisation.


Thursday, 20 June 2013

Childhood Abuse, Depression and Suicide

Making the Connection Between Childhood Abuse, Depression and Suicide

It is naive of us to believe that all children enjoy a happy childhood and family life; abuse remains the unspoken family secret and scientists are actively involved in research to help understand the long-term effects, and to prevent child abuse. The fact is that physical, emotional and sexual abuse, and to some degree neglect, in childhood leaves victims vulnerable to all manner of psychiatric disorders and a propensity toward committing suicide, usually in their young adulthood. Scientists and psychiatrists have made a firm connection between childhood abuse, depression and suicide.
Of course, not all victims of abuse in childhood attempt suicide. In a 2008 report published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, Dr. Gustavo Turecki and his colleagues at McGill University in Montréal, Canada, found that the incidence of suicide attempts bears a correlation to the type of abuse and the identity of the abuser; generally, a first-line relative, such as a father or brother, will have far greater impact on an individual. Neglect appears to be the least traumatic of the forms of abuse in terms of predicting the likelihood of depression and/or suicide later in life. Sexual abuse appears to carry the highest risk, and then emotional and physical abuse; the combination of two or more can be especially lethal.
The purpose of these studies is to identify adults who might be at greater risk for depression (and other psychiatric problems) and, ultimately, suicide by opening up conversation and recognizing the propensity of abused children to have mental illness leading to self-inflicted death as adults. There is also a factor that plays a role in the odds of a childhood abuse victim suffering from depression: memory.

What You Don’t Remember Can’t Hurt You, Right?

There is a school of thought among psychiatric professionals that the brain of a child who suffers abuse finds a default mechanism to either switch off their ability to remember, and therefore dwell upon, abusive incidents, or to repress memories sufficiently that they are able to function in the aftermath of abuse. In both cases, the result is almost invariably depression. It is worthy to note that, statistically, 83.3% of childhood abuse occurs in the family home and between family members, not strangers. In a home where there is spousal abuse (more than just a typical argument between a couple), odds are close to 60% that there is also child abuse going on. In-home child abuse is seldom reported; the children involved usually live in fear and do not understand that they have options for recourse. As a result, episodes of depression frequently begin at a very young age, and are too often written off as childhood “moodiness”.
Dr. Thomas Verny, a practicing psychiatrist and author with a specialty in pre-natal psychology, knows that abuse can and sometimes does start before a child is even born, but the burden of it occurs once a child is functioning within the family unit. He has studied and counseled many childhood abuse victims, and says, “Repressed memories are a defense mechanism; it is an automatic process, not one that the victim thinks through.” He also believes that there is a distinct correlation between childhood abuse and depression, among other disorders, the worst of which, in his opinion, is borderline personality disorder, an incredibly complex mental illness. “Schizophrenia is actually easier to treat,” he says.

A Case Study

Joan is an only child, and now, in mid-life, an orphan; this is a fact in which she finds relief. Joan’s father was a patriarch with an iron fist, a bully. She was the couple’s only child and when her father’s day went poorly, Joan’s evening was hell. Her mother, also abused emotionally and physically, was paralyzed and did nothing to stop her husband’s tirades exacted upon their daughter. Joan could do no right by her father. If she brought home a near-perfect report card, he would pick holes in it until there was an excuse for battery. If she dressed in blue, she looked ugly; if she dressed in red she looked like a tart. Joan quit school at 17 and moved out; it probably saved her life, but the damage was done.
Joan has suffered from episodes of depression all her life, and there is nothing to suggest that because her father is dead now that these bouts will stop; they haven’t and he has been gone five years. Fortunately, when Joan attempted suicide for the second time when she was 21, she received excellent psychiatric care and knows how to cope with depression when it hits, to recognize the triggers and to nurture herself when the “darkness descends”, as she puts it. But Joan’s depression has a distinguishing feature to it: she instantly defaults to thoughts of suicide when the wall of depression consumes her. Because Joan knows this, she also understands that she is not truly suicidal any more, but this is how her brain copes, just as it chose repression of memory to withstand her childhood abuse.
Part of Joan’s strategy is to let the people who love her know as soon as she finds herself sliding into depression; that way, they do not bear the burden of guilt, and they know it’s nothing they have done. Thanks to this openness, Joan’s family does not have to fear she will take her own life. There is no way for Joan to make the abuse go away; it is part of her past and cannot be changed, so coping with its legacy is all she can do. Joan is able to rationalize her depression and three attempts at suicide, now that she is a mature adult and has received proper care, but she is 100% certain that the abuse she suffered as a child resulted in her depression and was the causative factor in her desire to end her life.

Saving Lives is the Goal of Research

Scientists like Dr. Turecki and his team are engaged in their studies with the intention of predicting those at risk for suicide and preventing them from taking their own lives. In some instances, that’s harder than it sounds because a physical, biological shift occurs, not just mental trauma, in many cases of childhood abuse. Dr. Turecki, in examining 60 brains of mostly adult males who committed suicide, 40% of whom had been abused in some form during their childhoods, saw something startling: “There was a change to certain critical genes that then lead to the development of certain behaviors, that in turn increased the risk of suicide.” What Dr. Turecki witnessed was the result of a change in DNA; this is very different from depression as an outcome of childhood abuse. Like Joan’s experience with her brain taking what is tantamount to “separate” action to protect her from the abuse and its terrible memories, Dr. Turecki has found that traumas suffered due to abuse in childhood may actually cause the brain to undergo physical alterations, some of which may lead to suicide.
Some may argue that the sheer embarrassment, terror and shame brought on by childhood abuse is sufficient to warrant suicidal thoughts, and they’d be correct. But there is an established link between childhood abuse, depression and ensuing suicide. The rate of clinical depression and major depressive disorder in people who were abused as children is significantly higher than the general population.
Initially, Dr. Turecki’s team was searching for one specific gene that formed the connection, but much to their surprise, they have, thus far, uncovered more than 100 such genes. “It is more complex than we thought at the beginning,” says Benoit Labonte, a member of the McGill Group for Suicide Studies and part of Dr. Turecki’s research crew. With the aim of developing a test that will single out those at risk for suicide, and to find treatments (not just for the mental aspects, but for the physical alterations in the brain) -Dr. Turecki adds, “We know already that we can modify these changes in cell models.” There is hope for what victims would see as hopeless.
Another study conducted at the Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University in New York City, took a slightly different approach to the same problem and revealed similar results. The 34,653 subjects of the study were a mixture of males and females all with a history of childhood abuse, to varying degrees. The study, reported in the February 20102 issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry, and entitled, “Childhood maltreatment and the structure of common psychiatric disorders”, looked more at the link between childhood abuse and depression as opposed to, ultimately, suicide. It found that men showed “externalizing liability”, where women experienced “internalizing liability”. In simple terms, this is how they burdened the guilt from their youthful experiences.
The Columbia study concluded: “The association between childhood maltreatment and common psychiatric disorders operates through latent liabilities to experience internalising and externalising psychopathology, indicating that the prevention of maltreatment may have a wide range of benefits in reducing the prevalence of many common mental disorders. Different forms of abuse have gender-specific consequences…”
What both of these studies, among many others, suggest is that by identifying childhood abuse, even if we are failing to prevent it (which we, as a society, are), we can take action to grapple with the psycho-social outcome, to help victims manage the ensuing depression, and prevent a vital person from ending his or her life.
Find the original HERE

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Male Survivors of Sexual Violence - Myths and Misconceptions

There are various stereotypes and myths that surround the adult male survivors' ability to face the sexual abuse or rape. These include:-

•Males don't feel emotions as readily as women so are less likely to be hurt by the abuse.
•Males are supposed to be big and strong therefore able to deal with and fight off abuse.
•Males cannot be raped by women.
•Males enjoy all sex, so they must have enjoyed the abuse or rape.
•Males should not cry or express their pain.
•Male victims are more likely to become abusers or rapists.

These common misconceptions and myths frequently lead to the following:-

•Loss of self-asteem and self worth.
•Doubts over their masculinity
•Self-blame and guilt
•Feelings of shame, disgust, anger, loss,
•Feelings of powerlessness, apprehension, withdrawal, and embarrassment
•Fears that they won't be able to protect and support their families
•Sexual difficulties and insecurities
•Self harming (drinking, drug use, aggression, attempted suicide)
•Intimacy issues
•Questioning of sexual identity
•Fear of losing friends or family
•Fear that they will be judged, not helped.

Myth #1 - Boys and men can't be victims.

This myth, instilled through masculine gender socialization and sometimes referred to as the "macho image," declares that males, even young boys, are not supposed to be victims or even vulnerable. We learn very early that males should be able to protect themselves. In truth, boys are children - weaker and more vulnerable than their perpetrators - who cannot really fight back. Why? The perpetrator has greater size, strength, and knowledge. This power is exercised from a position of authority, using resources such as money or other bribes, or outright threats - whatever advantage can be taken to use a child for sexual purposes.

Myth #2 - Most sexual abuse of boys is perpetrated by homosexual males.

Pedophiles who molest boys are not expressing a homosexual orientation any more than pedophiles who molest girls are practicing heterosexual behaviors. While many child molesters have gender and/or age preferences, of those who seek out boys, the vast majority are not homosexual. They are pedophiles.

Myth #3 - If a boy experiences sexual arousal or orgasm from abuse, this means he was a willing participant or enjoyed it

In reality, males can respond physically to stimulation (get an erection) even in traumatic or painful sexual situations. Therapists who work with sexual offenders know that one way a perpetrator can maintain secrecy is to label the child's sexual response as an indication of his willingness to participate. "You liked it, you wanted it," they'll say. Many survivors feel guilt and shame because they experienced physical arousal while being abused. Physical (and visual or auditory) stimulation is likely to happen in a sexual situation. It does not mean that the child wanted the experience or understood what it meant at the time.

Myth #4 - Boys are less traumatized by the abuse experience than girls.

While some studies have found males to be less negatively affected, more studies show that long term effects are quite damaging for either sex. Males may be more damaged by society's refusal or reluctance to accept their victimization, and by their resultant belief that they must "tough it out" in silence.

Myth #5 - Boys abused by males are or will become homosexual.

While there are different theories about how the sexual orientation develops, experts in the human sexuality field do not believe that premature sexual experiences play a significant role in late adolescent or adult sexual orientation. It is unlikely that someone can make another person a homosexual or heterosexual. Sexual orientation is a complex issue and there is no single answer or theory that explains why someone identifies himself as homosexual, heterosexual or bi-sexual. Whether perpetrated by older males or females, boys' or girls' premature sexual experiences are damaging in many ways, including confusion about one's sexual identity and orientation.Many boys who have been abused by males erroneously believe that something about them sexually attracts males, and that this may mean they are homosexual or effeminate. Again, not true. Pedophiles who are attracted to boys will admit that the lack of body hair and adult sexual features turns them on. The pedophile's inability to develop and maintain a healthy adult sexual relationship is the problem - not the physical features of a sexually immature boy.

Myth #6 - The "Vampire Syndrome" that is, boys who are sexually abused, like the victims of Count Dracula, go on to "bite" or sexually abuse others.

This myth is especially dangerous because it can create a terrible stigma for the child, that he is destined to become an offender. Boys might be treated as potential perpetrators rather than victims who need help. While it is true that most perpetrators have histories of sexual abuse, it is NOT true that most victims go on to become perpetrators. Research by Jane Gilgun, Judith Becker and John Hunter found a primary difference between perpetrators who were sexually abused and sexually abused males who never perpetrated: non-perpetrators told about the abuse, and were believed and supported by significant people in their lives. Again, the majority of victims do not go on to become adolescent or adult perpetrators; and those who do perpetrate in adolescence usually don't perpetrate as adults if they get help when they are young.

Myth #7 - If the perpetrator is female, the boy or adolescent should consider himself fortunate to have been initiated into heterosexual activity.

In reality, premature or coerced sex, whether by a mother, aunt, older sister, baby-sitter or other female in a position of power over a boy, causes confusion at best, and rage,depression or other problems in more negative circumstances. To be used as a sexual object by a more powerful person, male or female, is always abusive and often damaging supposed to be the strong ones, it often means that they do not accept, cover up or "forget" what happened to them. If they do recall they are more likely NOT to seek help and therapy. Men are supposed to be able to cope with anything.


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