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‘I’ll be a survivor for the rest of my life’. Research by the University and Survivors in Transition

24 Jul 2018 9:00AM

The University of Suffolk and local support charity Survivors in Transition has today published research looking at the impact of ‘delayed disclosure’ and access to services for those who have experienced sexual abuse in their childhood.

The research entitled ‘I’ll be a survivor for the rest of my life’ follows the publication of ‘Focus on Survivors: See Me, Hear Me, Believe Me’ by the University and the charity in 2015.

The 2015 report was based on an online survey and concluded that ‘poor service can have a long-term impact and represent a barrier to support for survivors. In contrast, a good service response can result in survivors coming to a point of recovery or resolution sooner in their lives’.

Following these findings, this latest study followed a qualitative route; based on in-depth life biography style interviews with 28 adult survivors of child sexual abuse who volunteered to share their experiences of support services.

The interviews, some lasting over three hours, yielded rich, detailed descriptions of survivors trying to access help and support and their experiences of services. The study aimed to develop a deeper understanding of each survivor’s experiences of disclosure, accessing services, the support they had received, what they felt ‘worked’ in terms of effective support and good practice and how survivors consider support services can be improved.

Many survivors spoke about the barriers to disclosure and the impact of delayed disclosure. The over reliance on medication and the limitations of time-limited interventions were highlighted, as well as the dearth of available specialist support services. The findings suggest that specialist support which is available is often poorly signposted by professionals and, as a result, survivors battle for years, even decades with mental health issues as a direct consequence of delayed disclosure and inappropriate service provision. 

Most participants indicated that their first engagement with support services after disclosure was with statutory services, predominantly with their General Practitioner and emergency response services. The study suggests that there is a need for better information and greater access to multi agency staff, better local knowledge, with better education and training.

The research was shared at a national conference held at the University of Suffolk in front of an audience of 180 delegates.

Fiona Ellis, Founder & CEO of Survivors in Transition, said, “Our joint research highlights how hearing the voice of the survivor is critical for a whole system change by all services that survivors of childhood sexual abuse come into contact with. By listening to individual survivors’ journeys we have gained so much insight into how the system responds and what we can do to make these responses more effective and ensure positive experiences and timely support for all survivors going forward.”

The research has been endorsed by Kate Davies OBE, NHS England’s Director of Health & Justice, Armed Forces and Sexual Assault Services Commissioning. She said, “The quality of your partnership work is a national example of good practice.”

Professor Emma Bond, Director of Research at the University of Suffolk, said, “Our study reveals the decades of suffering that survivors of child sexual abuse experience as a result of delayed and denied disclosures, poor awareness of health professionals and a lack of specialist services. It highlights the urgent need for professionals to understand three key concepts in supporting survivors – to listen to them, to believe them and to respect them.”

To access the full report please visit

To access the executive summary please visit


University of Suffolk Press Office
T: 01473 338476