A film screening of Spotlight by Portsmouth Film Society on 7th March will be introduced by Kim Hosier, Centre Director for Portsmouth Abuse & Rape Counselling Service, which provides vital services and counselling for local survivors. PARCS Helpline volunteer, Tessa Foley, explains why screenings like this are important and why we all need to know more about sexual abuse.
Not long ago, I rented Spotlight, the true story of the team of investigative journalists from The Boston Globe that uncovered historic child sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests in Boston, and the subsequent efforts to conceal this abuse by the Church. I approached the film with caution, not because of the subject matter but for fear the issue would be sensationalised. I winced at the prospect of salacious plot devices carried out by a line-up of blockbuster comedy actors, congratulating themselves for daring to appear in a controversial ‘real-life-monster’ flick.
Less than two minutes into the movie, I realised I was wrong.
In particular, I was relieved because although the film’s narrative focuses on the Roman Catholic Church in Boston, the story-telling forces the audience to acknowledge the deaf ears of wider society when it comes to abuse: the invisible walls that appear in almost every institution, the turned backs of officials who will not hear the painful accounts from those whose lives have been trampled over by sex offenders. The silence.
Silence is at the heart of abuse. Perpetrators manipulate their victims into secrecy, isolating them in the knowledge that not only has their control over their physical self been taken away, but also their emotional strength. When that silence continues, perpetrators can maintain control long into the future, after the abuse itself has ended. For the survivor of abuse, silence is a weight that can make him/her feel responsible for what happened. When abuse is not discussed, the reassurance that the sole responsibility for it rests with the perpetrator cannot be offered.
I once knew someone – G, who endured repeated sexual assault and rape as a very young child. He never really recovered. He became an alcoholic and eventually, he committed suicide. No one got to him in time and he was silenced for years. No one wanted to hear about what had happened to him, the degree to which a little boy had been hurt, not until it was too late. Ultimately, the silence destroyed him. Times have changed since G was a child; there have been great advances in societal awareness and understanding of abuse, but the battle to dismantle the barrier of silence surrounding it rages on.
I came to Portsmouth Abuse & Rape Counselling (PARCS) as a Helpline volunteer two years ago, and in hindsight I was naïve about what to expect. I assumed I’d be pointed to a phone and I would sit and wait until it rang. Instead I was offered a five-day training programme with a group of eight people with whom I would bond closely by the time our training ended.
To explain the experience without breaking confidence is almost impossible, but I can tell you – without any hyperbole – that it was one of the most important experiences of my life. Qualified professionals give their weekends to provide potential PARCS volunteers with their training, helping them not only to learn about providing support after a traumatic experience, but also to learn about ourselves. There were laughter and tears throughout, as we learned to trust each other with tentative disclosure.
I came to realise that the PARCS training runs parallel to the way in which their services for survivors are run: based on a patient, careful and respectful understanding of individuality and experience. A helpline colleague recently likened this approach to the delicate untangling of a necklace chain that has lain too long in a jewellery box: a forceful tug will draw the knots tighter, but gentleness and time will unravel the complications one link at a time. Slowly, the imposed secrecy of silence can be dissolved by the counselling and group services offered by organisations like PARCS.
The PARCS mascot – the elephant you can see in the picture above – represents the need for services like ours to break the silence and talk about ‘the elephant in the room’.
As a volunteer, I am a small piece of one of those services and I have been surprised how much it has changed things for me, for the better. People sometimes express concern about the stress of listening to the stories of survivors. Of course, it can be difficult, and sometimes painful to hear, but this is far outweighed by the feeling of being entrusted with someone’s story – the telling of which may be the first dent many survivors make in that long-standing wall of silence.
Services like PARCS always need funding and always need volunteers – you can find details at the end of this article for how to apply. However, you don’t need to work on a helpline to help survivors of abuse.
Survivors are everywhere, although some, like G, don’t make it as far as they could. We can all help survivors of sexual abuse by helping to break the silence. We all need to talk about abuse because it thrives in silence. The rape and abuse culture we talk about today has bred in this silence and it’s more prevalent today than any of us like to think.
So learn about it, talk about it. Follow organisations like PARCS on social media and help us break the silence. Listen to the accounts of survivors where you find them, in the media, in movies like Spotlight. Come along to our fundraiser screening of Spotlight and listen to PARCS Centre Director Kim Hosier introduce the film, find out more about what we do.
Survivors don’t just need us – we need them. We all need to understand how abuse works, and as a society we must stop slamming the door on issues like abuse, because they make us feel uncomfortable.
Listen to survivors. Support the organisations and individuals who work so hard to break the silence and with it the cycles of abuse. And, of course, speak out yourself.
Because for survivors of abuse, silence isn’t golden. It burns.
Find out more and get involved
Watch Spotlight at a special screening
The University of Portsmouth, Faculty of Creative and Cultural industries are proud to host a screening of Spotlight, in collaboration with the Portsmouth Film Society, introduced by Kim Hosier, PARCS Centre Director.
7th March, 7.30pm, in the Eldon Building, University of Portsmouth, Winston Churchill Avenue.
Become a PARCS Helpline volunteer
PARCS is currently recruiting for Helpline Volunteers – training to take place in May. Ongoing supervision and further free training opportunities available.
Fundraise for PARCS
PARCS is also currently looking for people who have a flair for fundraising, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Photography courtesy of Tessa Foley and PARCS.