“Helping you gain control over the things you want to change”

Fiona Nicolson

The Ghislaine Maxwell case is affecting many victims of sexual abuse

As I write this, it still looks as if there is a serious chance that the Ghislaine Maxwell trial will be declared a mistrial, this means that there is a good chance of the whole thing happening again later in the year. I am seeing a lot of anger about this, dread of it all happening again and immense sympathy for the witnesses who so bravely testified.

The trial can reignite trauma

I know that many of my clients who have suffered sexual abuse have found the whole thing very tough. It has brought back memories of their own suffering and in some cases has re-ignited trauma. Many people felt that the witnesses in the case were bullied by Maxwell’s defence lawyers, and in some cases, this reminded them of their own damaging experiences in court. One of my clients told me of her own experience. She said that she felt more vulnerable in the court when her attacker was brought to justice than she did in the actual attack she suffered. She described feeling exposed to the glare of everyone in the court and feeling completely ‘out there in public, for everyone to see.’ Seeing the witnesses going through this same thing upset her greatly.

Reliving things which happened years ago

Another factor that was particularly upsetting was the timescale: how long ago the attacks that were the subject of the court proceedings took place. Another client told me that, although she had ‘only’ waited two years for her case to come to trial, compared to the decades the victims in the Maxwell case had waited, she felt an great affinity with them in that they were very different people from the girls to whom the attacks happened. She said of her herself ‘I was 18 when I was attacked, and 21 when I went to court. By that time, I had graduated and was out in the world with a job I liked. I had a good partner in a relationship I knew would be long-term. But when I stepped into that witness box, I was a frightened messed-up 18-year-old again who I felt had made some stupid decisions that night and got myself into trouble. All the lack of confidence, the guilt, the blaming myself came flooding back. I felt a lot of the work I had done to heal was undone in that trial.’

When avoidance does not work

People have different coping strategies for dealing with trauma and one is a level of avoidance. In some cases, this can be a healthy response that enables people who have been attacked to get on with their lives. But in some cases, it leaves the problems to fester, and ignoring the psychological damage does not necessarily make it go away. A trial like the Maxwell trial can bring victims up short and they may have to reconsider how they deal with what happened to them.

This can be very difficult to do in isolation, if you are feeling badly affected then I would strongly urge you to contact an expert in this area. If you need to talk this through contact me and I will try to help.

Resources to help with sexual trauma

On the upside, there are been a fair amount of discussion in the media, both here and in the USA about this. I think that for many people this is a help. It shows they are not alone and it may give them some role models who have dealt with bad experiences.

National organisations are stepping up their support. The government’s website is full of useful information and resources, and makes it very clear that you can access help however long ago the attack happened.

  • All quotes from my clients are used with their permission and their identities are anonymised.


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