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'Sexual abuse of children is everywhere' - Charity needs new Norwich base due to demand

PUBLISHED: 10:53 08 August 2019 | UPDATED: 15:24 08 August 2019

Patsy Johnson-Cisse, income and operations director for Fresh Start - new beginnings (right) with sexual abuse workers Lucy Firth (left) and Nicola Peck in the Fresh Start - new beginnings therapy room in Norwich. Picture: SOPHIE WYLLIE

Patsy Johnson-Cisse, income and operations director for Fresh Start - new beginnings (right) with sexual abuse workers Lucy Firth (left) and Nicola Peck in the Fresh Start - new beginnings therapy room in Norwich. Picture: SOPHIE WYLLIE

SOPHIE WYLLIE

Mental health problems, self-harm, eating disorders, trouble at school and trust issues.

A group session at the Ipswich centre of Fresh Start - new beginnings. Photo: Fresh Start - New BeginningsA group session at the Ipswich centre of Fresh Start - new beginnings. Photo: Fresh Start - New Beginnings

These are everyday challenges felt by children and teenagers who are victims of sexual abuse.

But one small charity, Fresh Start - new beginnings, is aiming to give these young people their childhoods back thanks to one-to-one therapy in a safe space in north Norwich.

Such is the demand for this specialised service, it needs a new city base and its lead workers are appealing for community support to achieve this goal.

It also wants to run support groups for siblings, parents and carers of sexual abuse victims, as well as groups for victims themselves.

A child by one of the notice boards at the Ipswich centre of Fresh Start - new beginnings. Photo: Fresh Start - New BeginningsA child by one of the notice boards at the Ipswich centre of Fresh Start - new beginnings. Photo: Fresh Start - New Beginnings

Fresh Start - new beginnings is the only dedicated charity in Norfolk and Suffolk helping young people up to the age of 21 who have been sexually abused with therapy.

Nicola Peck, a child sexual abuse worker for Fresh Start - new beginnings, said: "There is an incredible need for what we do. All the time more people are coming to us. We are helping children retain a sense of normality when their world has been turned upside down. We can give them a childhood of sorts."

She believed more victims were coming forward because of the Jimmy Savile scandal, as well as other high profile historical sexual abuse cases.

But Ms Peck added: "The longer children have to wait for comprehensive treatment the more damaging it is for them and their families."

She added the rise of the internet and social media was also leading to an increase in young victims of online grooming.

The victims are referred by health workers, the police and teachers and helped through cognitive behavioural therapy and creative and play-based therapy sessions including painting, drawing and writing.

Lucy Firth, another child sexual abuse worker for the charity, said: "We are trying to change how the victims think and feel about what has happened as well as lessen that sense of blame."

Fresh Start - new beginnings is currently looking after an equal number of boys and girls and the majority of victims are abused by relatives and close family friends.

Patsy Johnson-Cisse, income and operations director for Fresh Start - new beginnings, said: "When you start to look at what is going on you are shocked. Once your eyes are open you realise sexual abuse of children and young people is going on everywhere.

She added that one in 20 children across Norfolk are sexually abused.

Fresh Start - new beginnings, which has 15 staff, started seven years ago in Ipswich and has worked with 1,300 children.

It expanded into Norfolk in 2015 and opened its Norwich therapy room in February 2018.

The charity also runs therapy sessions in Dereham, King's Lynn, Lowestoft and Bury St Edmunds.

Mrs Johnson-Cisse said the demand for the one-to-one therapy offered by the charity in Norfolk was growing and that was why it needed a bigger premises in Norwich.

Currently there is only one therapy room but the charity director said ideally the charity would need two or three therapy rooms in a "homely environment".

There was also an ambition to start group sessions for victims and their family members or carers - something that is successful in Suffolk but cannot yet be done in Norfolk due to lack of space.

Mrs Johnson-Cisse was calling on community and charity support to help find a new Norwich headquarters.

"We need to up our game to help the demand of children who need the service.

"We need to get community groups involved. This is a unique opportunity because the work we do here gives back futures and that is huge.

"If you help people when they are children you will be able to help them when they are adults.

"Children are starting to talk about it and are starting to be listened to and believed."

They are currently 30-40 children and young people across Norfolk on the waiting list for the one-to-one therapy.

The majority of the charity's work is through these bespoke sessions with child sexual abuse workers but it also supports victims who are going through legal proceedings.

The charity costs £500,000 a year to run and relies on grants and donations but it does receive some statutory funding.

To support Fresh Start - new beginnings visit www.fsnb.org.uk or call Mrs Johnson-Cisse on 01473 705111.

Rape victim who went onto successful A-level study

Rosie (whose name has been changed to protect her identity) was referred to Fresh Start - new beginnings in March 2016 after being raped by a boy that she knew.

She said the sex attack was "non-consensual" and said at the time she "froze and let it happen".

She gave a statement to police, however she felt that it was too much for her to continue with an investigation as she did not feel able to cope with it.

An assessment found that Rosie was struggling with trauma. She also thought about taking her own life and had played out different scenarios in her head.

After nearly a year of treatment the biggest change has been to her wellbeing, having not hurt herself for many months and not having any thoughts of taking her own life.

She has just achieved an unconditional acceptance to study for four A-levels, is enjoying a happy relationship with her family and felt a sense of achievement.

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