Listen, Believe, Affirm: normalising the conversation around childhood sexual abuse

Ellie Reed (Head of Social Work) and Nicola Wendel (National CSE Lead) explain how the Listen, Believe, Affirm project is helping our services to tackle the stigma of childhood sexual abuse. 

Change Grow Live’s services work with so many people who have experienced trauma, including sexual abuse as a child. We know that childhood sexual abuse can be a causal factor in problematic drug and alcohol use in adulthood, but there is still so much stigma around discussing it openly.  

Because of the nature of it, it’s something that people may never have been asked about or even felt comfortable to talk about. There’s a lot of fear across professionals. If they ask the wrong question, will they bring something up and make things worse? 

The Listen, Believe, Affirm project came out of our work with the Centre of Expertise on child sexual abuse. With their support, we carried out a survey across Change Grow Live to understand the level of skills and knowledge around child sexual abuse.  

We discovered that all of the tools were there, it was just a question of making sure those conversations happen. We needed to make sure that our staff felt comfortable and supported to ask the right questions, and that people were given the space to answer openly.  

We had the opportunity to bring something to light that’s so rarely spoken about. We ask so many personal questions of people as a part of their support with us; why not ask them if they have experienced childhood sexual abuse?  

Our first step was to train a series of practice leads to act as our organisational experts on psycho-educative work, myth busting, and how to build confidence and communication with people who’ve experienced childhood sexual abuse. 

Since then we’ve continued to build on this work and embed our learnings across the organisation. We’ve created accessible learning tools and run national conversation sessions to bring together voices of staff, experts, and people with lived experience of childhood sexual abuse. Through joint working with Victim Support, we’ve carried out free online training for over 800 of our staff and volunteers.  

As this work began to take shape, the project became Listen, Believe, Affirm, because those are the things we were hearing that people wanted. Not everyone wants extra support or a specific intervention based on their experiences. People just want to be asked the question and be heard, and to have their experience validated. Then they can make the decision that’s right for them.  

We want to move towards a whole-person approach that considers all the factors in someone’s life. It’s about creating the conditions where people feel safe and where their substance use is seen as a symptom of trauma instead of a lifestyle choice. 

We’ve had people tell us that they’d never really discussed their experiences before, and that their lives might have been very different if someone had just asked them, and acknowledged what had happened to them. 

Normalising the conversation around childhood sexual abuse is an important step in helping people to feel comfortable linking past experiences to their current selves. And that process of normalising the conversation includes the conversations we are having as an organisation. By asking the right questions we can empower people to make the changes they want.