A WOMAN who endured almost 20 years of emotional, sexual and physical abuse is raising awareness about the lack of help available for survivors of such terrible ordeals.
Pauline Sharp, 55, was abused by her parents at her childhood home in Stubbington, and now lives with a number of health issues including chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
For years Pauline would drink heavily and binge eat to cope with the trauma, and although she has now found the right therapy, said survivors face long waiting lists only to have access to time-limited therapies on the NHS because of a lack in government funding.
But change is on the horizon, as NHS England said it vows to radically improve access to services for survivors of such abuse, and support them to recover, heal and rebuild their lives, in its new lifelong care for victims and survivors plan.
Pauline, who lives in Havant, said: ‘I’m a survivor of ritual abuse which started at the age of three and carried on until I was about 22. I got told I was chosen, there to serve, and I should be thankful.
‘The impact of child sexual abuse on me and all survivors is life-long.
‘Over the years I have abused my own body, because I was violated, raped, and indoctrinated for so long, told I was evil and worth nothing, so I believed it.
‘I would inflict pain on myself, self-harm and overeat, just so I could mask the pain inflicted on me. As well as chronic PTSD I have short-term memory loss caused by the trauma, anxiety, disassociation, flashbacks and nightmares.’
Pauline is raising funds for a charity called Survivors of Abuse (SOB) by undertaking a trek with colleague of 12 years, Jo Kingsbury, along part of the Great Wall of China in October.
After also being taken elsewhere so others could inflict abuse on her, Pauline escaped her parents’ control aged 22 for a job as a nanny in Canada.
She described using her once 24-stone weight as a disguise that kept her safe.
Pauline, who was hospitalised twice in 2007, added: ‘I only got the right help after my second breakdown and it took two years, but I’m lucky I got it because some places have it, some don’t.
‘Survivors of abuse have suffered so much as children and as adults their needs deserve to be met with specialist long-term trauma-based help.
‘Only if a survivor can access the right support can they even begin to recover.
‘I am silent no more and I want to raise awareness, much-needed funds, and show other survivors there is love, laughter and life after abuse.
‘SOB’s founder Chris Tuck has made a huge difference to my life, helping with everything from nutrition to mental health. The trek will be emotional for me – I’m doing it for all survivors and I hope people will donate to this brilliant cause.’
Pauline never reported her father to the police and neither he, or her mother, were punished for what they did.
As well as helping survivors directly, SOB works to educate social workers, counsellors, specialist support services about improving their overall wellbeing.
The National Association for People Abused in Childhood said health professionals may recognise childhood abuse is the root cause of someone’s mental health problems, but there is minimal support which addresses the abuse underlying these conditions.
Kath Stipala, from the charity, said: ‘At the moment the situation survivors of sexual abuse face is poor, it’s nationally recognised – but things are changing.
‘NHS England recently published a five-year strategy which looks at a lifelong pathway of care for sexual abuse survivors and improving services.
‘We hope the plans result in frontline services changing because something needs to be done.’
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For information and advice, visit survivorsofabuse.org.uk.