Pete Saunders, chief executive and founder of NAPAC, describes how the charity helps survivors of abuse come to terms with their traumatic histories.
Whenever I’m asked to write something about NAPAC (National Association for People Abused in Childhood) I experience excitement and fear in about equal proportions. Excitement because it gives me the chance to tell others about our amazing and unique charity and fear because it conjures up the possibility of making a fool of myself by trying to tell people things they probably already know and that puts me in touch with my childhood… where it all started!
NAPAC supports people who suffered any form of childhood abuse. Many who call our freephone support line (staffed by an amazing and growing band of volunteers) begin by apologising for getting in touch: ‘I’m sorry to trouble you…’ Trouble us? That’s what we are here for… to share these peoples’ troubles and to help or rather ‘empower’ them to unburden themselves. And it can be a surprisingly simple thing to do. For example you would be astounded how many people just need to hear the words ‘It was not your fault.’ Many of us grow up believing it was – ‘I must have done something to deserve it.’ Children often take on the burden of responsibility for abuse and many of us carry that into adulthood.
NAPAC tries to ensure that anyone can access help by using a variety of communication methods. As well as answering support line calls our volunteers respond to letters and emails.
You may not be surprised to hear that we receive quite a few letters from people in prison. These are not from those who have offended against children and they don’t write making excuses for their offending. They write asking for help with the rage that lies deep within them following childhood abuse.
One chap I visited recently doesn’t mind me using his story. Jon (not his real name) was brought into the world of a violent family and his earliest memories were of violence and sexual abuse at the hands of his father. Before reaching secondary school age his own behaviour had become so ‘difficult’ that he was taken into ‘care’.
Years of further abuse followed in the care homes and when thrown onto the streets at 16 he was immediately targeted by a group of violent sexual predators and pimped for sex – Jon described this gang as a paedophile ring.
Jon is in his early thirties and he has only ever known prison life. He has been in and out of them since he was a teenager. I spent two hours listening to him pour out his heart, for the first time in his life. For the first time, someone listened to him and heard. A fortnight later I got a letter from him, saying that our meeting had changed his life. Changed his life!
All I did was sit and listen. If someone had cared to listen to him a long time ago, he may never have ended up where he was when I met him. And I believe there is good news to report about Jon. The last I heard he was out of prison. With the help of others (including some very caring prison officers) he has a place to live and has a job. Most importantly, he is determined never to go back to prison.
As hard as I find it to go into prisons, I always leave counting my blessings and realising that truly ‘there but for the grace of God, go I’.
My own abuse seems to pale into insignificance compared to many of the people we hear from. Is it any wonder there are so many problems in society when for too many years (thousands in fact!) we just haven’t valued the meaning of childhood: the right of every child to grow up in a safe, caring and loving environment. Many of us who were abused were also fortunate to know love in our childhoods but when you take that away, as well as everything else, you are left wondering just how some people survive. I struggle to understand how they do.
Coming back to the work of our support line, it is a freephone service and we think that’s important. Some people who get in touch, as well as experiencing childhood abuse, find themselves in abusive adult relationships, so we don’t want their call to show on a phone bill. Also many people may simply not be able to afford to make the call when they need to. Lots of survivors live on low incomes and we want to empower people, not deter them from calling.
But not all survivors of abuse are hard-up financially and some of them are very generous to NAPAC! Without the support of our ‘own’ people and a handful of sympathetic trust funds we couldn’t do this work. Having volunteers run the service is great but we still have lots of bills to pay and we ensure that our people get the very best support and supervision we can afford.
NAPAC does not and probably never will fall into the ‘cosy’ or ‘sexy’ category of charity and we may always struggle to find funds. But we have an ethos that will endure because just about everyone involved in the charity is a survivor themselves (not all but most) and we know how important it is to simply be there.
I read somewhere that there are over 200,000 charities in the UK but there is only one national charity dedicated to adults abused in childhood and that’s NAPAC! Our support line offices are based near London Bridge. We always welcome new volunteers and never turn down donations!
NAPAC Support Line:
0800 085 3330
The NAPAC website, www.napac.org.uk lists details of UK support groups, and downloadable support packs