Tracks – The National Association of adults with long term consequences of sexual abuse in childhood (Tracks)
The National Association Tracks is Denmark's only national organization of adults with long-term consequences of sexual abuse in childhood and adolescence.
Tracks has the followings goals:
- To gather people who have experienced sexual abuse in childhood and others who wish to help this cause by illuminating the long-term effects of sexual abuse.
- To enable and support members to form different networks.
- To lobby for treatment for adults with long-term consequences of sexual abuse in childhood and to promote members' interests socio-politically
Child sexual abuse and it’s consequences is a very comprehensive and complex problem. Due to the difficult emotions that are involved, it can be difficult both to speak and to listen to the adults that have experienced sexual abuse as children.
Taboo, silence, secrecy, lack of knowledge and treatment help to maintain the conditions under which sexual abuse thrives. To prevent sexual abuse for future generations of children there must be a greater openness about the problem. There must also be relevant treatment for the victims, also when these victims are now adults.
A high price is paid by people who have suffered sexual abuse in childhood
Sexual abuse generates a high price for individuals and society. Statistics show that about 10% of all Danish children have been sexually abused. This means that about 550,000 Danes have been sexually assaulted in childhood.
The latest research shows that about 1,200 children and young people from each school year were sexually abused. The Danish Crime Prevention Council has estimated that only about 10% of abused children get adequate help.
Studies show that 60 percent of those who have been sexually abused in childhood develop long-term consequences.
The number of adults with long-term symptoms, unable to partake in the labor market is many, and this can be an indication that most of these adults have not received relevant treatment if any.
The statistics from the Danish Centres working with adult sexual assault victims shows that only 38% of attendees aged 20-66 years are in employment compared to 77% of the Danish population in the same age range.
Long term consequences due to Childhood abuse
"Early experiences are crucial in understanding how our nervous system creates itself."
Quote from chief psychologist Lars J. Sorensen in 'The social challenge' on Danish Radio P1.
The mental, physical, emotional and social problems that arise as a result of sexual assault and other childhood conditions are called long-term symptoms. The symptoms are different from one person to another, but the result often is that life can be very difficult and lead to a reduced quality of life.
Typical symptoms can be
- PTSD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (overloaded nervous system)
- Physical symptoms including Abdominal diseases, dental and jaw problems
- Physical ailments and diseases (often chronic):- Insomnia, fatigue, hyperactivity
- Memory and concentration problems
- Mental disorders such as depression, anxiety and personality disorders
- Mental illness - psychosis and other psychotic disorders
- The experience of alienation, a feeling of being transparent or of being unseen, different from others in a painful and negative manner and not able to find one’s place in society
- Weak or absent sense of identity
- Fundamental lack of security, trust and confidence and consequent 'control mania'
- Difficulties knowing one’s own borders and therefore an inability to feel another person’s borders
- Inability to feel and relate to one’s own feelings and needs and therefore problems understanding others
- Deep inner sense of loneliness or boredom
- Poor self-esteem
- Shame and guilt
- Self-destructive thinking and self-demeaning thoughts
- Self-destructive behaviour and abuse: e.g. self-abuse, eating disorders, promiscuity, prostitution, drug and alcohol abuse, suicide attempts
- Social problems. tendency to isolation or to the opposite a fear of being alone, and a tendency to become involved in abusive relationships
- Unable to have allow oneself to enter emotional relationships in a balanced manner
- Sexual problems
- Problems related to pregnancy, childbirth and parenting
- A danger of repeated rapes
With proper treatment, focusing on the cause rather than the symptoms, there is a basis for sustained recovery and healing.
Organization - Development
In March 2014, Tracks established its national office in Grundvigsvej 27 A, 1st floor, 1864 Frederiksberg C. Since May 2014 we have been able to employ part time an academic employee in charge of our volunteers Bolette Westerholt, and since November 2014 we have had Marian Bridget Connolly connected as a Psychologist. Their work is to assist the members that are active in the organization to develop it. This has been possible due to funding from foundations and public funds. The association has a Board and the daily work is done by an Executive group who can form other groups as needed.
Tracks established the first three local out reach offices in Jutland and in 2015 has the first local out reach office on the island of Zealand. The goal is to open more local out reach offices. Tracks has established an academic and an experience-based network. The academic panel consists of individuals who have experience in treatment and counselling of adults who have experienced sexual abuse as well as other professionals who have knowledge and/ or have done research on the symptoms. This group also assists with supervision of experience-based panel and by being available for media interviews.
The experience-based panel consists of incest exposed / sexually abused adults, who have undergone a relevant treatment program. This group has reached a point in their personal development where they are ready to come forward in the media and convey their own experiences with the consequences of their sexual abuse and their healing process. Tracks has developed ethical guidelines for members’ participation in media activities.
History of the association Tracks
In 2004, the first Awareness Day for adults who have experienced childhood sexual abuse was held in Aarhus. The organization called The Joan Sisters was celebrating their 25th anniversary and had asked three other Incest Centres to join them for this day.
The following year, Copenhagen arranged its own Awareness Day.
The incest centres, which worked to arrange this yearly Awareness Day in Copenhagen from 2005-2007 could not continue due to a lack of resources. Therefore, the two Founders, Helle Borrowman and Marian Bridget Connolly decided to start a new Association to continue this Awareness Day project. We called this the Awareness Association.
Gradually the Association's activities began to extend plus there was some confusion about the name, as it was both the name of the Association and the Annual Theme Day. In May 2011 the Association changed its name to Tracks – The National Association of adults with long-term symptoms of sexual abuse.
This Association has now become both a user and an interest group for sexually abused adults.
The Annual Awareness Day continues to exist as a theme day and in Copenhagen continues to be organized by Tracks. This Awareness Day is now held in several Danish Cities. In Copenhagen it is always Saturday of week 38. Read more about the project day at www.synlighedsdagen.dk.
In 2015 we celebrate the first decade of holding Awareness Days in Copenhagen and each year this theme day becomes more and more known and helps create a greater awareness in the Danish society about the long term consequences of sexual abuse in childhood.
When a partner, a sister or a brother, a child, a parent or a friend has told a caregiver that they have been a victim of incest or sexual abuse as a child, can plunge the caregiver into an emotional chaos. Yet one must often be strong for 'it’s not me who has suffered this abuse.’
For caregivers there are usually three ways to react:
- Either try to help by arranging contact with professional
- or trying to listen to and support the person to tell their story
- Or one is unable to listen to this story, does not believe it and tries to push it away
The usual approach is often to make contact for the person to a professional. It can be a great relief to act, or to do something. However there can be more frustration especially if the caregiver experiences that the family member or friend who has shared their story refuses to accept professional help.
Listening to the person can be difficult, both because one may be uneasy about whether it is beneficial and whether one is doing more damage than good. It can also be difficult to accept one's own responsibility if, for example, it is one’s own child who has been the victim of abuse, or, if you as a friend has been told about the abuse and sworn to secrecy not to tell others about it. This is very difficult because in order to do something to help the victim, one may have to break the foundation of friendship - trust. Or as a spouse, one may be worried that sexual contact within the relationship could give offense to the other or that a lack of desire in the partner can mean that the relationship is floundering and that they are drifting apart. If it is a parent who has experienced the abuse then it is the child who must be strong.
Often close relatives are what we call 'hidden victims' who have a hard time getting help. For how can one know what the other needs when you are in a completely new situation where you can not draw on your own experience? And how do you find out what you yourself need in this area?
Therefore, the caregivers also need professional help, help for the abused but also for them.
Dysfunctional family patterns
'The understanding of the world needs to be rewritten', commented Chief Psychologist Lars J. Sorensen in 'The social challenge' on Danish Radio P1.
In order for child sexual abuse to occur, certain conditions in the environment must be present. These can be found in what is called dysfunctional family patterns.
The dysfunctional family will have both communication and boundary issues. Boundaries are much more than being able to say ‘no’. It is very complex and is more about the way you perceive yourself and other people, the way you are in the world.
Eva Hildebrandt describes in her book 'Child sexual abuse of children' four essential boundary problems in the family (and hence also for each family member):
1. The family can have very strong boundaries towards the outside but closes in on itself. There is no emotional openness but very often a strong facade. There may be a family experience that it is 'us against the world', which is reflected in a negative attitude to the general public or to allow outsiders to access this family.
2. Internally, the family has little or no boundaries. There is generally no respect or understanding of the individual's boundaries, feelings and needs. At the same time, there is no natural boundary between the individual family members, making it difficult to separate them and be different without feeling wrong. Change, development, autonomy, independence and individuality is not encouraged and perhaps even belittled or prevented.
3. The family has trouble maintaining boundaries between generations. There arises a role confusion or role reversal, where the children in some areas will have adult roles and responsibilities, while adults get the role of the child and not assume their parental responsibility. There can be all sorts of constellations: The child works as a mother for her own mother, mother and daughter are friends or rival wives. Father and son are peers or competitors. Son takes father's place or daughter takes her mother's place, etc.
4. The boundary between reality and fantasy disappears, which means that there is a real distortion. When reality is painful and denied, displacing suppresses pain and this cannot be communicated so the family or the individual then creates an alternative unreal reality. In other words, the person no longer sees and experiences things that others outside the family see and experiences. This distorted reality, for example, can be that the child feels guilt and shame for something that he or she is truly innocent of. The adults do not feel responsible for something they actually are responsible.
The dysfunctional family pattern is unfortunately not at all uncommon. In such families there will always be various forms of abuse - if only an emotional abuse. There is always neglect of different kinds. It should be emphasized that dysfunctional families do not automatically lead to sexual abuse of children but that the conditions for this to happen, is present in these families.
Breaking the pattern
Dysfunctional pattern in the family is the reason why the child develops a dysfunctional emotional life. As the child matures this can than lead to physical, mental and social problems, which can then develop into long term consequences and symptoms. They can cause a strain on the individual to a greater or lesser degree for life, depending on how he or she gets to work with his problems in therapy with professional therapists.
A healing process breaks this dysfunctional pattern and strengthens the persons boundaries. Feelings and needs can then be developed, and the person will be better able to accommodate his needs and his emotions and to learn how to communicate them in an appropriate manner. Self-esteem is built up. The story has been rewritten and understood, so one can see the world in a newer and healthier way.