How to pull the trigger on abuse;FE Focus

29th January 1999 at 00:00
Elaine Carlton reports on how a barrister came to terms with her traumatic ordeal and changed the course of her life.

FROM her earliest years, Lee Moore was repeatedly abused sexually and physically. Yet she was only helped to come to terms with the horrors she had been subjected to 40 years later, when she suffered a nervous breakdown and went into therapy.

With the help of her psychiatrist, she pieced together her life of fear growing up in an organised abuse ring between the ages of three and 15. Lee Moore was abused by carers, friends and acquaintances, both male and female. Her life was so traumatic that she had dissociated herself from it.

Her discovery has altered her perception of life. She has abandoned her career as a barrister specialising in maritime law and devoted herself to helping others who have suffered abuse.

"The health service, psychiatrists and the legal profession do not possess the skills or tools to deal with people who have been abused in childhood", she says.

"In my case, despite suicide attempts from the age of eight and a history of addiction, nobody had the time to find out what lay behind these problems and no one picked up on my experiences. For me, to stand by and do nothing now is to collude with the abuse of children, and the thought of that is repugnant," she said.

Lee Moore has taught a general introductory course for adults at West Herts College in current aspects of sexual abuse and this year has set up the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers (ACAL) as well as teaching a module on a degree course at the Institute of Advanced Nursing Education.

The six-week course at West Herts ran once last year and the college is planning to offer it again in September.

Diane Hawkings, director of adult education at the college, says: "There is a lot of sexual abuse out there and I think this is a topical issue which could be of interest to students. It is, however, a delicate subject and people are often frightened of it."

The aim of the course is to give professionals the tools to uncover abuse and help them to deal with what they find.

"The professional needs to learn how to recognise the cause of their client's trauma but he or she must also realise that they can affect that client to the point of death," says Lee Moore. "If the professional is not aware of the triggers, which can reawaken the memories of sexual abuse, he or she can end up making the trauma worse and 'revictimise' the victim without realising. Triggers can prompt all sorts of behaviour from an eating binge to a suicide attempt."

The course covers all aspects of child abuse, including the triggers which might persuade a survivor to disclose their secret and what might prevent them from doing so.

Triggers which could lead to disclosure range from seeing someone who looks like the abuser to noticing an object that was used in the abuse. The experience of cervical smear tests can often prompt women to disclose a history of abuse but the trigger could equally be the loss of a pet or a job.

By contrast, children and adults often deny abuse because they are frightened of the consequences or of not being believed. The abuser may have threatened to harm the victim's family and friends to prevent the truth being exposed.

Moore also teaches her pupils how to react when someone tells them they have been abused. "The listener should not show they are shocked or revolted by what they hear as that will make the victim clam up. The abuse victim will always seek to protect the listener."

According to a survey of 1,244 students aged 16-21 by the Child Abuse Studies Unit at the University of North London, one in 20 females and one in 50 males had experienced sexual abuse- defined as rape or forced masturbation.

Foster carer and special needs assistant Suzy Sampson feels she benefited from the course on sexual abuse. She fostered a deaf boy whose father was violent, and she was interested in helping to encourage children with hearing difficulties to admit their experiences.

"I learned that abusers are not always men and that a lot of women commit abuse, but I felt it was a shame the course was only six weeks because there is so much to learn," she says.

For course details contact PennyAnderson at West Herts College on 01923 812052

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