By Katarina Felicia Lundgren
I think long term support and rehabilitation and social inclusion are key components for survivors, and of course functioning legal systems and proper education for “helpers” (meaning all people who work with people). As a child, teenager and young woman trying to get out of a severely abusive environment, no one ever came up with asking if something had happened to me, still it was very easy to see that I struggled. All fault of how I behaved was placed on me. Growing older – I kept on getting diagnoses, being locked up in hospitals etc. Nowadays I think at least mental health care professionals are a bit more trauma informed, but they still lack knowledge and interest – I dare say – to educate themselves on the consequences of severe sexual exploitation and abuse. When I have been talking to mental health care professionals in recent years, in the region I live in, they think I am an anomaly. Statistics says something else, but I see it as yet another way to not take responsibility for providing long term sustainable help and support.
I do agree with Malaika and what she said on the online seminar, telling your story is not enough. It only makes you feel more alone – as it will make people turn away. Once you have started to tell it – you see how they start to divert their eye contact. They can’t bear to look at you. It is very easy to take such behaviors personal. It strengthens the feeling of being bad, not good enough, dirty etc. So if you want to belong, you cannot tell about your past, but neither about your daily struggles. Then the idea of asking for help – seems far away. I have asked for help, repeatedly, and been turned away. Recently I have been told at a university hospital in Sweden that there is no evidence-based treatment or support to give to me (and I did ask for very little…). It would have been easier to speak up with someone having my back.
So the pattern of not “fitting in” gets strengthened and confirmed. The feeling of getting rejected gets strengthened and confirmed – you are on your own. Which makes many bells ring in you…
I have looked for trauma therapists, peer support groups, advocacy platforms, organizations, places where I can be included – but not found any. I have also offered to help out – to help with education, advocacy, support to other survivors of sexual exploitation – but nobody wants my help. Which for sure has strengthened my view on myself as “broken”.
Still – I am highly functional in society. I am well-adapted… but I lack the feeling of inclusion and of long-term support – I have always envied – which seems strange – the soldiers with their comradery and peer-based support groups, in US – and in other countries – they have strong organizations behind them, which supports research, help organize veterans helping veterans etc. – these organizations have money, and a voice. But survivors of sexual exploitation, especially children – they do not have these organizations that has their backs (to some extent at least – I know that many veterans struggle to get the right help as well and suicide rates are high among soldiers with PTSD too). Victims of sexual exploitation are made invisible – and since much of what we have gone through – at least if I speak for myself – has made me fear being seen – so how do you break your own invisibility? How do you find the courage to use your voice? To speak up? – if you keep on getting rejected when you try to do that?
It made me happy to listen to today’s seminar [on the 11th of June]. I think joint efforts between survivors and other professionals are vital to raise awareness, to reach new levels of the government taking responsibility, to help survivors get access to good treatment and support – and make their voices heard – if they want to do that.
I am a strong believer in collaborations, sharing knowledge and information, in supporting each other’s goals and in walking together. There is great strength in “togetherness”.
I am old enough now to be able to speak up, most of my abusers are dead or very old by now – the residual fear I live with does belong to the past. I want to speak up, I want to take part in educating people meeting possible victims of sexual exploitation, I do want to be part in – and offer peer support. I am already taking part in educating and informing about how people can be helped by the help of nature and horses (animals) – and I do educate about the consequences early and prolonged abuse can have on people, I do educate in how to be trauma informed and work trauma sensitive. I want to do more. And I still seek my own peer support. To this day – I have never met another person, in real life, talked to that person, who has similar experiences as I have. I have been told such groups exists e.g. in Germany. I have contacted organizations in Sweden, e.g. Ecpat, Save the Children, the Red Cross, and a couple of smaller organizations – so far – no one has been able to tell me if such groups exist in Sweden, if they can help organize it… So just before I signed up at this website and got contacted by Ninna – I had decided to set up such a support “organization” myself… I did set up one in the 90s – met with a police officer, Monica Dahlström-Lannes. I educated teachers on signs of sexual abuse in children, I organized a travel to a Save the Children even on CSA I Stockholm, but I was still the only one with my experiences in that group, and I had no one to mentor me, or support me, so I closed it down, a contributing factor to do so was also the extremely hard environment created by the “false memory syndrome” discussion that went on during the 90s – it felt safer to be quiet.
It is very tiresome to have to constantly invent what you yourself need – at the same time as your driving force to participate in society – is to contribute with sustainable change for others.
Following what happens globally in trafficking of children, of the amount of child abuse material on the internet etc – sometimes drives me nuts. And then to not be let in or included anywhere – to be able to contribute with sustainable change – that is SUPER HARD. I hope this initiative with find its wing – and that I can be part of it.
Katarina – whom after the seminar today experience new feelings of gratitude, hope, and an eagerness to help, and explore ways forward.
Katarina is the Chair of Boards in MiMer and the Director of MiMer Centre. She is heading the development of the organization and functions as a support person to all the other members, at the board and in MiMer’s extended network. Together with Emily Kieson, she is responsible for all the educational content as well for creating and developing it.