Barnardo's wants businesses to support Safe and Sound to help victims of child abuse.
Rachel was just eight years old when she realised her relationship with her father was not normal.
Having been sexually abused for as long as she could remember, she had never known any different. But when she started learning about relationships at school, she realised something was wrong.
“Before that I just thought it was what happened. I didn’t know,” she says.
It was not long after this that the abuse stopped but the damage was done.
“I didn’t tell anyone You just don’t. I never felt I could tell any of my friends. But you do think about it,” she says.
As a teenager she decided to confide in a boyfriend, but he had no idea how to cope.
“He couldn’t help at all and didn’t know how to deal with it so in the end we split up.”
But when another family member raised concerns and the police were brought in, Rachel felt it was time to lay the ghosts to rest.
“I was 17 when it all came out. I asked for counselling and I started it within a couple of months,” she says. “And it has really helped. I can talk to my counsellor Gordon and I know he won’t judge me.”
Rachel’s father is serving a prison sentence for the abuse but she admits that working through that relationship has been very difficult.
“I know what he did was wrong but he is still my dad and obviously I still love him,” she says.
But having gone through weekly counselling sessions with the Amazon project at Barnardo’s for just over a year, Rachel, now 18, is finally dealing with all the issues that have surrounded the abuse.
“I used to be really quiet but I was also a little terror. I would drink a lot and tried piercings and tattoos. But I realised that I didn’t have to treat people badly. I realised that it was because I didn’t know how someone should be treated. But now I know that I deserve better and so do other people.
“I am much more confident now and I feel like a much stronger person. I am really glad I came to counselling as it has helped me so much.”
Rachel – her name has been changed to protect her identity – is one of hundreds of children and young people who have been helped by Barnardo’s Amazon project in Birmingham, Dudley and Solihull.
Working with youngsters up to the age of 21, the Amazon project offers counselling for those who have experienced sexual abuse, as well as their families, carers and other appropriate adults.
“We aim to work for the benefit of the young person,” says project manager Debbie Southwood. “There is no set number of sessions but we will review where we are every six to 12 sessions. I would say the average is about 18 sessions but there are some young people who stay with us for years.”
Counselling sessions tend to be weekly and are confidential – offering young people a safe environment in which to discuss their worries.
“People will raise a range of issues but a good deal of it revolves around emotional damage,” says Debbie. “They may feel guilty about what happened and blame themselves. They could also be blaming themselves for any disruption to the family that has happened.
“They may feel worthless and have very little confidence. That may lead to self-harming, anorexia or other problems. They may have anger issues which could be coming out at school leading to them facing exclusion or suspension.
“They may find it difficult to make friends or their lack of confidence could lead to them being bullied. They may be having flashbacks and nightmares. They could be reliving incidents.”
Then there is the issue of their relationship with the abuser, who is often a family member or friend of the family.
“It is very difficult when the person who has been doing the abuse is someone you love,” says Debbie.
Amazon also offers support to other members of the family. “They can feel guilty that they did not stop the abuse,” she says. “It may be the case they have been manipulated by the husband or partner or that they have also been abused. Very often they will be asking how they missed it and whether they are to blame in any way.”
Barnardo’s is calling on business leaders in the West Midlands to sign up to its Safe and Sound Appeal to help young victims.
The charity is launching its £750,000 appeal to fund counselling and outreach support to hundreds of young people who have suffered or are still experiencing sexual abuse.
Appeal chairman Jon Fox, regional managing director at NatWest Retail Banking, said: “This is a huge figure in these challenging times but it is one we must reach if we believe these children have a future.”
Safe and Sound will fund a counselling service for young people who have suffered sexual abuse as well as supporting those at risk of sexual exploitation for three years and is expected to directly support 500 local young people.
Appeal manager Huda Al-Saedy stressed that every penny raised in the appeal will go directly to the service. And she urged businesses to consider adopting the appeal.
“Our focus is on obtaining support from businesses that can support us through forming a partnership with us or through ad hoc fund-raising,” she said.
“A corporate partnership with Barnardo’s offers companies the opportunity to support a charity with 93 per cent brand awareness and demonstrate their commitment to bettering our communities to existing and potential customers. Staff can support Barnardo’s in a number of ways, often simultaneously developing and strengthening their key skills in team work, leadership, communication and creative thinking.”
Also on the Safe and Sound board are CEO of the NEC Group Paul Thandi, Birmingham Post editor Marc Reeves and Broad Street manager Mike Olley.
* For more information on supporting the appeal, see the www.barnardos.org.uk/safeandsound website.