Skip to main content

IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.



Oliver talks about how mental health services are failing survivors

All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Oliver has experienced serious mental health problems as a result of sexual abuse in his childhood. He came to the Inquiry to give his views on how mental health services are failing survivors.

As a young schoolboy, Oliver encountered an older pupil who he admired and looked up to. The older boy got Oliver to carry out increasingly strange tasks by way of ‘serving’ him. Looking back, Oliver sees he was in a sort of ‘sexual slavery’ and was subject to a variety of violent and sexual abuse. But, he says: ‘I didn’t see it as abuse at the time; just something really, really terrible.’

Oliver says he couldn’t tell his parents or anyone else but describes his behaviour as clearly that of someone trying to communicate a problem; he started to self-harm. He considered himself a ‘bad’ child and to compensate behaved very well at home, helping with chores around the house.

After a couple of years, the perpetrator lost interest in him, and Oliver says he found himself craving similar treatment, which the boy had told him made him special. He found another older pupil who would carry out similar acts against him.

Later in his teenage years he started to go out with girls, but he remained concerned about his sexuality and the things he wanted other people to do to him. He contacted a national helpline for survivors and they made the link between his childhood experiences and his adult behaviours. Oliver says he had not realised this before.

He relates how his mental health fluctuated, with feelings that he was being watched, he wasn’t good enough, he was a fraud. He describes desperately trying to maintain a sense of order through obsessional behaviour.

He repeatedly visited the sexual health clinic to be tested for sexually transmitted infections, despite knowing there was nothing wrong with him, until he told the doctor he felt suicidal and was referred to a therapist. Despite the seriousness of his feelings he had to wait several weeks for an appointment.

He went on to study and took a teaching position in a school where he was highly regarded. He continued to self-harm, and accessed counselling periodically.

In middle age, his mental health took a significant downturn after it came to light that other teachers in the school had been sexually abusing boys. Oliver says the school reacted swiftly and appropriately, which resulted in successful prosecutions, but the events triggered a serious depression for him.

One day he broke down. His GP recommended he see a psychiatrist and he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital that night, where he remained for a number of weeks.

The psychiatrist who assessed him said he needed cognitive behavioural therapy as he was a perfectionist and obsessional and that his difficulties were partly due to a chemical imbalance in his brain. He did not ask Oliver if he had experienced abuse, nor did a sex therapist or various other psychotherapists he saw over the next few years.

Oliver left his job in the school and the loss of income meant he and his wife had to move. In his new location, his GP referred him to mental health services but despite several inpatient stays and his history of mental ill-health, he was advised he didn’t meet their critical criteria for secondary health care

Eventually, Oliver saw a senior mental health practitioner who pushed to get him appropriate support and asked the ‘right’ questions. He disclosed for the first time what he had experienced.

He began attending a men’s support group for survivors of child sexual abuse. This also helped him to think about his identity as a man. The most important difference from other services was that he also learnt that he was not mentally ill but traumatised because of his experiences.

At this time, he also met with a therapist who was unfortunately not very experienced. Then, after waiting for a year, he met with a much more experienced therapist in the NHS, who specialised in working with men who had been sexually abused in childhood.

This helped Oliver to understand how grooming had worked in his life as a child. Unfortunately therapy ended abruptly when the therapist left and was not replaced. Oliver coped by self harming.

Through his struggle to access support services, and by challenging the system through patient involvement groups, Oliver says he has become aware that there is a lack of capacity in services and of therapists experienced in child sexual abuse, and that services are failing to recognise and acknowledge child sexual abuse.

He feels passionately that society must to listen to survivors and involve them in relevant decisions. He would also like to see long-term support offered at an early stage to survivors and continuing whenever they need it afterwards.

Oliver feels that this early help could reduce costs in the long term, for example by preventing repeated hospital admissions. He says that the criteria applied often deny people the help they need and that joined-up services are essential to support survivors.

Back to top