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Two-year wait for therapy after relative's abuse

Charlotte Robinson
Charlotte Robinson was abused by her step-grandfather from the age of five

A woman who was abused from the age of five by her step-grandfather is calling for more specialist support for victims of sexual abuse.

Charlotte Robinson, 26, waived her right to anonymity to call for help and counselling to be made available to victims when and where it is needed, after she faced a long wait for therapy.

Ms Robinson, from Carmarthenshire, reported Raymond Hodges to police in 2016 and, the following year, the 71-year-old was jailed for 25 years for numerous offences.

The Welsh government says it has established the Wales Sexual Assault Services Programme to improve services.

'I still suffer with flashbacks'

“It was sexual, emotional and physical abuse," said Charlotte.

“It started not so bad but when I got to about seven it really ramped up and there was a lot of physical abuse mostly from nine, sexual abuse throughout."

“At 15, just before I was 16, I managed to leave home and that’s when I started to talk about what was going on with me and what had happened.”

Describing the system as a "postcode lottery", Charlotte said the help available depended on where you live.

"Post-trial I managed to get a little bit of counselling for a few weeks and then it kind of just tapered off.”

She said she had moved home a few times over the years but there was no offer of “proper therapy… for the flashbacks or the post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms" the abuse had caused.

“The NHS have only referred me to a counselling session and there’d be an 18 month waiting list.”

“There wasn’t enough support for what I needed.”

'Hard to navigate daily life'

Four years ago, Ms Robinson contacted the mental health support group Shadows in the Amman Valley, which she says saved her life.

"I have managed to get on proper medication which I was never offered before,” she said.

She was referred to a community mental health scheme and was offered therapy.

“I’m on a waiting list but it’s been about three years (in August) for IPTS which is specialist therapy for trauma and I still suffer with flashbacks.

“I wake up in hot flushes and sweating. It’s hard to navigate daily life.

“I am now about to start compassionate focus therapy, which is a 10-week course to tide me over the waiting list time.”

Johanna Robinson
Johanna Robinson agrees that waiting lists "are harmful"

Ms Robinson's story is not uncommon, according to Johanna Robinson, the Welsh government’s national adviser on violence against women and domestic abuse.

She says the situation “impairs people’s recovery” and everybody should receive the “support they need, as soon and as long as they need, when they need".

"And if they don’t want it for a little bit that they can return to it when they do," she said.

But Johanna Robinson acknowledged there is also a question of funding so that the things that "should" happen are turned in to reality.

"Who is going to pay for it?" she said.

"There is an investment in services, unfortunately what we have is that the demand is higher than that investment.”

She acknowledges that the “waiting lists are harmful” and “we need to find ways to address that”.

That call is echoed by Sarah Thomas, head of sexual assault services at New Pathways, Wales’ largest counselling and advocacy service for people who have been affected by rape or sexual abuse.

Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas says some strategies to cope with the long waits "can be negative"

"People need the right specialist counselling at a time that is right for them rather than having to sit on waiting lists, which is what people are doing and that is not acceptable," Ms Thomas said.

“People start to adapt and find coping strategies and unfortunately some of those coping strategies can be negative.

"People sitting on waiting lists can feel forgotten, feel that they are not important enough.

"So as an organisation we’ve been looking at lots of ways in which we can improve the experiences of victims and survivors of rape and sexual abuse so they do have support whilst they are waiting.”

A Welsh government spokesperson said health boards are responsible for providing appropriate mental health support.

"We have established the Wales Sexual Assault Services Programme to improve services for survivors of sexual assault," they said.

"We also fund Traumatic Stress Wales which aims to improve the health and wellbeing of people of all ages at risk of developing or with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)."

Meanwhile Charlotte Robinson hopes that when she eventually gets specialist support it will help her deal with the trauma from the abuse.

She said: "Flashbacks multiple times a day and nightmares make it hard for me to sleep sometimes so I need medication to sleep.

"Having support to minimise those symptoms from my abuse will help me move forward.

"I have spent so long just plodding along from day to day. I would just like to see the bigger picture."

Details of help and support with sexual abuse is available via BBC Action Line

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