“Helping you gain control over the things you want to change”
Prince Andrew: the lessons from my clients
The out-of-court settlement which Prince Andrew has made with Virginia Giuffre probably means that the story will disappear from the front pages, at least for a while.
Over the last couple of weeks, I have been reflecting on how high-profile cases like this affect people who have been victims of sexual assault. I know for many of the people I see (I specialise in this area so I see many clients who have suffered in this way) news coverage has positive and negative aspects.
You are not alone
On the positive side, news coverage brings the knowledge to sexual abuse survivors that they are not alone. Reading about experiences that sound so similar can make some people feel as if they have allies. One client said to me it is like someone is holding her hand. This is very important as one of the worse aspects of sexual assault is that victims feel isolated and alone.
Stories in the media can bring back traumatic experiences
On the other hand, reading about such experiences, especially if they are similar in detail, can bring back unpleasant and even traumatic memories. I know I see a lot of new clients every time there is a well-known case in the headlines. These are often people who have suppressed their own experiences, sometimes for years. They can find these experiences come rushing back when they read about these cases. Of course, if people decide to deal with the problem by coming to see someone like me this can be a good thing. In many cases, they can finally get free of the horrible memories. But I know many people will not seek help and will live with the misery.
Where there is no resolution
There is a third issue in the Prince Andrew case though, which I can see is hurting many of my clients. That is the fact that, as the case has never come to court, there is no resolution. It is likely that we will never hear the whole story. Nearly all my clients say they absolutely understand why victims such as Ms Giuffre do not want to expose themselves again in the full glare of a court case. Indeed many of my clients have made the same decision themselves and not even reported an attack. But even if they understand, some people can still feel that justice has not been served and matters are left unresolved.
Every victim makes unique choices
I say to my clients that the important thing is to remember that every victim has to make their own choice and should be respected for that choice, which will often be best for them. I then go on to talk to each client about how they, with their unique personality and way of looking at the world, can go about getting back their own happiness and well-being. The ways each of my clients will do this will be different. It will depend on their way of seeing the world, on what resources they can and want to bring to solve their problems, and how they see their life moving back to a better place.
Healing shifts the emphasis away from the perpetrator
As I work with a client to help them recover, often the emphasis shifts from the event, and the perpetrator of their abuse, to their own personality and mental state. They begin to realise that they cannot change the past, and they cannot control others’ behavior or the world around them. But they can change how they react to that world and process things that happen. They can begin a process where the traumatic experiences they suffered occupy less and less space in their minds. Instead, the space is taken up by positive plans and thoughts. When this happens the noise from the media about any particular case can seem a long way away.