A Letter to the Editor from Ian SHIMMIN, of H.O.P.E. Scarborough, regarding the services H.O.P.E. Scarborough is offering to all victims of abuse. The North Yorks Enquirer encourages readers to join us in supporting the vital work of H.O.P.E. to free victims and their loved ones from the shackles of anguish and isolation.
Dear Mr Editor,
HOPE ( Healing Our Past Experiences) is a Scarborough based charity committed to supporting people who have been affected by sexual, physical and emotional abuse, sexual assault and rape. It was created in 2003 by Pauline Carruthers, herself a survivor of childhood abuse because there was no existing specialist service offering help to those traumatised by their experiences. Pauline started by asking where can victims of abuse and sex crimes can go where their quite specific issues could be understood and where help could be found. The answer was nowhere. In the past eleven years HOPE has worked with thousands of victims of sexual abuse as well as partners, carers and families. Pauline also works with the Survivors Trust on national forums as well as with groups as far afield as South Africa and the USA where Pauline was a guest speaker at an international conference for male survivors.
HOPE offers specialist counselling services, listening ears and a whole range of self help groups, drop-ins and activities to anyone, male or female, from the age of 14 upwards. All of these services are offered completely free of charge to the client and are available for as long as they are needed. Some clients may take years to recover enough to move on with their lives and put their past horrors behind them. Some go on to become volunteers at HOPE and a few have even studied for degree qualifications and become counsellors themselves. The backbone of HOPE is the small army of volunteers who give their time and expertise freely. Without them HOPE could not function. All volunteers are taken through a course of training so that they acquire a level of understanding about abuse and the effects it can have on people. It absolutely key to the success of HOPE that everyone who comes through the doors can be assured that they will be treated sympathetically, confidentially and without any sense of blame for the experiences they have endured in their lives.
For some victims of sexual abuse or rape crossing HOPE’s threshold can be the start of a long and sometimes painful road to recovery. It is quite possibly the most courageous step they will ever take. What they will find if they do take that step is a sympathetic, non judgemental environment where they are listened to without feeling they are being judged or blamed for what happened to them. Victims of sexual abuse frequently adopt coping mechanisms which are in themselves harmful. Self harming, substance abuse, prostitution, relationship difficulties withdrawal from society and isolation are all common characteristics. The cost to the victims is incalculable and the costs to society in general must be enormous. HOPE’s intervention with expert counselling, support and activities can, and does, help individuals to recover their lives and move back into mainstream society where they can leave their abused past behind them safe in the knowledge that they have learned how to face their inner demons and conquer them. Without being overly dramatic, HOPE knows that its work really does save lives.
HOPE has worked in secondary schools in the area to educate and train pastoral staff on issues such as self harming, a common coping mechanism among young victims of abuse. HOPE set up a special young persons service which provided support to young people with behavioural problems due to abuse and trauma, including neglect, sexual, physical and emotional abuse including domestic abuse. Although this service had a high success rate with the young people and the need in Scarborough has not diminished at all the service has had to be suspended because of a lack of funding.
HOPE relies solely on grant funding and donations to cover the cost of all its work. It receives no direct funding from government sources, NHS or social services. We are told in the media that the economic recession is over and the economy is recovering in leaps and bounds but small charities like HOPE are finding that grant funders are becoming more and more difficult to find. The pots of grant money are being spread ever more thinly and the stark reality for HOPE today is that the charity is facing imminent closure. It costs over £200,000 a year to keep HOPE running and without an immediate injection of cash the doors will close and clients will be left stranded without adequate support. Already some services have been temporarily cut back until funding can be secured. This is putting individuals health and well being at risk. Statutory services are simply not equipped to take on the care of the people who use HOPE’s facilities. It is specialist work using techniques and styles developed over many years. In addition, there is no limit in either time or type of help an individual can access through HOPE. Some people can take many months before they are ready to even start counselling. It can take a long time to establish trust and a sense of security in someone whose experiences of other people has given nothing but exploitation and pain.
People come to HOPE through many different routes. Some people self refer or are brought by a family member. Others are referred by their GP, the police, social services, other mental health agencies, schools and other organisations. HOPE has seen an alarming rise in the number of referrals in the past few years. Indeed, HOPE received nearly 50 referrals in the first 3 months of 2014 alone. In large part this is a consequence of the media coverage around the horrendous abuses by Jimmy Saville. Sadly for the town of Scarborough Saville was not a lone predator. Hope has known for years about the abuses of other high profile individuals in the town who preyed on vulnerable boys and girls in the area but has not been able to gather enough evidence to take action. In effect this was a paedophile ring operating in our midst. That it continued when it was common knowledge that people such as Jaconelli were able to act with apparent impunity begs questions of the authorities. Why were investigations and actions not taken earlier? HOPE will continued to work to expose and bring to justice all perpetrators of abuse wherever they are and whoever they are.
One ray of light in what is otherwise a bleak picture is that the media coverage has helped to highlight the extent of the abuse in our society. This has enabled more people to recognise their past abuse and see it for what it is and come forward seeking help. Victims have been empowered to think that they will be believed, they will be taken seriously and their abuser can be brought to justice. More importantly they know that there is help and support there for them.
The staff and volunteers at HOPE are just as passionate about the work they do as they have ever been. The need for the services HOPE provides is, sadly, not going to go away any time soon. That HOPE may have to close its doors would be a tragedy for those who need it most. It is certain that all of us in this area know at least one person who is or has been a victim of sexual abuse at some time in their lives. They may not be able to disclose their abuse yet but some day they may find the courage to take that first step. The workers at HOPE want to be there to greet them.
Ian SHIMMIN, HOPE Group, Scarborough. 1st July, 2014.