The earliest known record of recovery from sexual abuse

Let them not deceive us this as a modern phenomenon. We have ancestors who are also survivors.
They had no words in their time for what they suffered. They too were spirits struggling to live in their bodies.
They took another path and retreated into their minds dreaming of the day they would die and their spirits would be re-united with their souls. This was the only way they knew. Now we know that life is the manifestation of spirit in flesh and our souls are essentially sensual.

An ancestor, a survivor, by the name of Sati myth wrote the following in the first century AD:

“I couldn’t live with who I was
And so I did dream of a land far away
Where my particular circumstance
Did not exist
I was free and me
Again before the shame
There, in that world, I had a life
And a woman I did love bore me a child
I saw that child grow and saw
Its spirit sparkle and glow in his
Eyes and his smile
But the dark clouds grew
Deeper than before
And although I was sad
And jealous of his life
I never let my hurt turn bitter
I let him be free
I saw how he radiated love
And changed the world around him
As he became a man
I basked in that warm affection
And it gave me life
When I became old and the day came
When I would once again be re-united
With my spirit my son came to me
With his smiling eyes
He held my hand
And told me to look in my soul
I didn’t think I had one
But I looked and there
In my soul I found my spirit
And I was one again
I was happy
He told me that my spirit
Had returned all those years ago
When I had allowed one of Gods’ spirits
To become what it would
I had allowed life in then
And I didn’t know it
I was dead no more from that time
So now at the edge of life
I am meeting death
And for the first time
I realised I was alive
This death didn’t seem
Like the dying I had known
There was a peace to it
I managed to speak some last words
To my son
“Why did no one tell me?
My spirit had returned?”
He replied,
“No one can tell you when
Your spirit returns
You have to find it for yourself”
He held my hand and
Looked into my eyes
And as I slipped away
Our eyes said all the love
Our words would never capture
And then came the darkness
When I opened my eyes
I looked upon my dead self
And I was with terrible grief
I saw I was holding my hand
And then I remembered
That my world was a dream
But in my dream
I had lived my whole life
I had died and been born”

This is the earliest known record of recovery from sexual abuse. Others followed his legacy and dreamed his dream and began to believe they too could have life before death We follow on now in this tradition and it gives us hope that there are people who have gone before us. Who have died and come back to embrace life and who have lived.

Rob Jones

Random Breakfast Conversations and SISU as a Male CSA Survivor Activist.

SISU not silence

Michael KaufmanOn a lovely June morning in 2011, I was having breakfast with Michael Kaufman (www.michaelkaufman.com) and his wife. Michael is the internationally acknowledged, co-founder of the original Canadian White Ribbon campaign which started in the early 1990’s.

We’d both spoken at a conference on the previous 2 days exploring interpersonal violence with a focus on sexual violence (http://www.cosca.org.uk/docs/Conference%20201104-13-11.pdf ) at a posh hotel in the small town of Nairn in the Scottish Highlands.

It never ceases to make me smile how a boy from the back streets of Wallasey docks bumps into people like Michael and has conversations which only make real sense many years later.

Michael is an amazing communicator with focused passion and powerful insights into the social and personal cultural changes needed to make us all safer in our relationships.

Towards the end of breakfast, we discussed the different routes we would take south. Mine being via the east coast – Perth followed by Glasgow. Whilst Michael and his wife were heading to Loch Ness and then down the West Coast to Glasgow – which is a lovely journey.

Michael asked me what I planned to do next in relation to changing societal responses to survivors?   I said I wasn’t sure that I would keep telling my personal abuse story, as it increasingly felt like it was becoming a form of entertainment for ‘professional’ classes in particular – many of whom just needed to tick boxes at the expense of you exposing your most inner hurts.

In truth, I was increasingly beginning to feel like John Merrick, The Elephant Man:

John Merrick, The Elephant Man

After 12 years of frontline activism, I’d begun to understand this was the reality of being disclosed and a vocal activist. You risk becoming the ‘freak’ show often for the same kind of people who ignored Rotherham for example.

Michael took note of my jadedness and said ““Bob you need to tell a different story”.” I asked what different story? Michael said during my ‘survivor unplugged’ presentation I had touched briefly on my experiences following disclosure with both professionals, specialist sector agencies and other activists.

Michael said that he felt, whilst the story of abuse was important, and people needed to hear the reality of its destruction of children’s spirits.

The story which wasn’t being told was the story of sexual violence activism and the reactions to the survivor who declares agency and takes control of their voice and pushes for social change. “What is that like from the perspective of the survivor activist?” he asked.

I looked at him and said yes that story needs to be told indeed. However, during the next year there never seemed to be an opportunity to introduce such perspectives into ‘insight chats’ with groups of police officers for example – which I did a lot of over a period of years.  But increasingly as the ‘Savile affect’ took hold from 2012 onwards I began to add in elements of the ‘what happened next’ story following disclosure.

I found the reaction was negative – the audience didn’t want to have insight into the now of experience, they wanted it to be ‘historical’.  During my last ‘gig’ at a police awareness training – I experienced what is called ‘mobbing’ I understand – which my generation would call bullying.

During my presentation, I suspected the ‘fun’ for some of the officers was filmed! I was never invited back following this group bullying.

Again, my thoughts were drawn to John Merrick:

Like John Merrick, I’ve been lucky to be able to find safe spaces to escape to and stay human.  But it still has a cost on your spirit and following that incident I stopped accepting invites to speak on anything.

I’ve been able to endure the almost 20 years of constant victim- blaming (bullying) and some people argue become one of the most ‘recovered’ people they know due to what the Fins call SISU I believe:

SISU quote

Within the concept of SISU lies many of the themes we need to understand to explain how recovery is not about ‘moving on’ from child sexual abuse. It’s more about how we grow and develop deeper insights into ourselves and those we encounter. This works especially well when given well informed specialist support to do so. However, in the end the hard bit we have to do alone.

For me linking SISU to what has helped me to change and grow is insightful and allows me to understand my journey better.  Hopefully it might be helpful to some readers.

How it works for me is best explained by the former head of Combined Special Forces Operations for the US military Admiral McRaven. He powerfully unpacks how values and SISU work together to forge growth from adversity and allows you to max your potential as a human being:

Admiral McRaven

So, in the future I’m going follow the advice of Michael Kauftman and tell the story of what happened following disclosure.  I will also keep living to the code William H McRaven suggests.

Those who bully, silence and undermine, good luck with that, as I will never ring the bell and you will be faced down increasingly.

I’ll be offering more insights over the next months on SISU and many other issues from diversity to power from my personal perspective.

See you out there,


A brief insight into the current thoughts and perspectives of Bob Balfour

A brief insight into the current thoughts and perspectives of Bob Balfour

Founder/CEO of Survivors West Yorkshire & Ben’s Place


What is the biggest challenge you’re facing at the moment?

There are lots both personal and professional – It’s hard to pick just one! However, I would suggest it’s really keeping the faith, after 20 years of campaigning for improved services for sexual violence survivors, that the disclosure and increased ‘awareness’ of sexual violence in all its complexity will at some point reach critical mass in relation to policy and paradigm change.

What is the biggest opportunity?

Digital – it offers the opportunity to reach beyond the gaps in service availability and offer pathways for support in areas which have historically never had male or female services. A fundamental misunderstanding is believing people like me want to replace offline provision with online. When in fact I believe digital will enhance offline innovations; and allow not only clearly and easily accessible best practice evidencing. Whilst also bench marking ‘what good looks like’ for anyone who engages survivors in any context – trauma inform – is survivor enabling.

What advice would you give to specialist sexual violence professionals?

Keep the faith and remember the words of Nietzsche:

A brief insight into the current thoughts and perspectives of Bob Balfour img1

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I’m not sure he would listen – however he would have smiled at these words:

A brief insight into the current thoughts and perspectives of Bob Balfour img2

If you could wind back the clock to the start of your activism career what would you do differently?

Not a lot in truth – I chose the ’independent mind’ route and I believe that was the right one even if it’s a hard road at times. However, I would have taken a longer strategic view in 2000 when I stated it would take 25 years to achieve major change. I was right about the 25 years – in that by then we will have deeply begun the change process. However, I was wrong in believing that there would be real systemic change at the 25 year point. That journey will be culturally painful and last another decade or two, as lots of vested interests who have ignored sexual violence for decades, if not centuries, will attempt to colonise it and make awful mistakes or stall the changes needed in CJS for example. You see some of that in the growing awareness of ACE scores amongst ‘professionals’ of all kinds. The ACE score isn’t the objective. It’s just the beginning of a profound conversation with the person being scored. A conversation which will change and define all parties involved – if they embrace the ‘human’ attachment in the process. And importantly the joint growth potential such sharing can empower for both.

What does the future hold for you?

I’m coming to the end of my sexual violence activism life and I suspect change is going to happen on lots of levels for me both personally and professionally. I often think of David Bowie’s lyrics, from my favourite song of his ‘Changes’ – since I first heard them in the early 1970s, which increasingly feels like only yesterday as I approach my 60’s (I’ll let you guess which part of song spoke to me most powerfully then and now). You may ask why I selected a Bowie duet with Butterfly Boucher…well I think the song is always changing for sexual violence activism and it sounds better jointly sung personally.

A brief insight into the current thoughts and perspectives of Bob Balfour img3

What is your ambition for Ben’s Place and SWY

That a male survivor anywhere in West Yorkshire will be able to connect and have a simple message spoken to them:

“You’ve never been alone – we’ve been working hard for decades to create safe spaces and we’re pleased you’ve found us.”

What would you do if you were made Prime Minister?

Try not to be Donald Trump!

Is there something you’d be happy doing every day for the rest of your career?

Once upon a time I dreamed of creating a retreat centre for survivors and being the person who cuts the grass; and when someone is really lost they could find safety in the walled garden I would create for them. I still dream that one day I might do this.

What is the biggest professional decision you’ve had to make?

Not to be one {a professional} in the sense of forgetting to be human first.

What does the future of sexual violence service provision look like for you?

Amazing! As does all trauma informed work – it will change the world and free our species to become who we have always meant to be.

How would you like to be remembered?

As many people know, I’m a big fan of Doctor Who – really did keep me sane as a child in those north Wales children’s homes. So, I’ll let him tell you who I’ve always tried to be:

A brief insight into the current thoughts and perspectives of Bob Balfour img4

I hope I did decent and kind good enough.

Kindness is a superpower,


What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!’ Does this apply to male survivors?

Is it true what they say? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger! I often wondered about this? Especially during some testing points of my life, it certainly didn’t feel like I was stronger from the experience. However, according to German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, the notion that people can build up their strength from going through difficult experiences is true. The idea is to express optimism in times where in reality things seem hopeless.

As human beings, it is inevitable that we will suffer at some point in our lives. For some people unfortunately, this is more so than others. Nevertheless, where there is suffering, there is also opportunity for happiness and contentment. It is therefore a unique humanistic quality to not only recover from such difficult times but to flourish and grow from the experience. This ability has been coined ‘Post Traumatic Growth’ (PTG); a process experienced as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or a traumatic event. There have been many psychological studies that have looked into PTG and found that many survivors of cancer, war and life-threatening incidents reported transformation in specific areas of their lives after their traumatic event. Typical changes survivors described were improvements in their relationships, a greater appreciation for life, new opportunities, a greater sense of personal strength and spiritual development.

The idea that we are able of transform ourselves in the face of adversity and live better lives is something that has interested me for many years. Having worked clinically with people who have suffered sexual abuse, this made me think about the potential impact of PTG on their quality of life. Much of the focus around sexual abuse tends to cover the damaging effects and long term negative impact. It is the recognition of strength and resilience that is often missed; how they have coped, how they managed to get themselves through each day, how they were able to form relationships despite the difficulties in trusting others, how they picked themselves up and carried on. It’s the persistent and continual steps of resilience that gradually results in growth. This gives me hope and highlights the beauty of humanity, especially how incredibly durable we, as human beings, can be.

As a trainee psychologist, I am learning the value of being part of someone’s growth journey.  For me it is the most rewarding aspect of my role. It is the stories of how people have coped, survived and remain determined in the face of adversity that I find truly fascinating.


To feel their struggle and witness their progress fills me with confidence that growth after trauma is possible. Whilst we tend to admire those who are ‘strong’ and ‘resilient’, in some cases, this idea is skewed and ‘strength’ is often viewed in those who do not seem to be affected by the adversity, perhaps those who don’t show emotion or talk about their difficulties. We are learning that this is not always the case and actually those who experience PTG are those who may struggle with their emotions, who express their pain and ‘carry on’ regardless.


This idea is often a challenge for males.  Society conditions us to believe men should be tough, unemotional, and certainly not be victims of sexual abuse. Therefore, for many male survivors, trying to fit with this masculine concept many influence their experience of growth. I have asked myself, is it possible for male survivors to experience growth in a society which promotes masculinity? I believe the answer is yes. The male gender role is evolving and warmth, compassion and sensitivity are key masculine attributes.


The more we accept and recognise males as victims of sexual abuse and the struggles they face, the less stigma male survivors will feel in disclosing their experiences and getting the correct support, and the more opportunity there is for growth.

Post traumatic growth after sexual abuse is possible. However, we know this is not always possible for everyone. It is therefore vital we learn more about the processes involved and how growth is developed. The need for more research in this area is undoubtedly essential. The more we understand the processes involved in making this happen, the better placed we are at supporting people in their growth journeys. If we could find this out, bottle it and sell it, the scope for transforming people’s lives is huge. Growth and resilience is what we need to pay more focus to.  It gives us hope, brings people together and shows us our unique worth as human beings.

Hazel Lewis (Student Clinical Psychologist University of Liverpool)

Email:  hlewis@liv.ac.uk

Twitter: @malesurvivorsresearchUK

Facebook: male survivors research UK