'Abuse' Is a Small Word That Maybe Doesn't Convey the Horror That It Should

26/06/2015 09:41 BST | Updated 25/06/2016 10:59 BST

When you head the country's leading child protection charity facing the impact of sexual abuse on a daily basis, there is a risk of forgetting the depth and challenge of the service and support we deliver and what is achieved.

So reading James Rhodes' powerful new memoir, Instrumental which describes, among other things, how he was repeatedly raped as a child, was a timely reminder.

James was abused by his gym teacher when he was six-years-old, leaving him so severely injured that he had to undergo a spinal operation. He has experienced incredibly dark periods in his life, attempting suicide and harming himself.

Over the years people have tried to help him but as he says in his brutal self-assessment, it's akin to rescuing a beaten dog only for it to thank you by mauling your kids and messing on your floor day after day.

The analogy turned my thoughts to the NSPCC's practitioners who work tirelessly to piece back together the lives of children who have been sexually abused. They are remarkable people with endless patience, stamina and strength, doing one of the toughest but most rewarding jobs in the world. In recent years thousands of damaged children have come through the doors of our 18 therapeutic projects. There they are met with kindness, understanding, encouragement and support, no matter how they react.

And that's where they start the slow, often agonising, process of just getting to the 'start line' where they can begin to understand what has happened to them and realise it was not their fault. Instrumental is searing in its honesty when the author notes that it's easy to assume the abuse stops when the abuser is no longer in the picture "and so hard to hear that is only the beginning of it for those taking the abuse".

This is because the impact of sexual abuse is deep-rooted, a crime whose tentacles spread into adult life, never quite letting go of the abused child. Many children, like James, struggle for years before they are able to reveal the awful things that have happened to them. We have had people in their sixties calling our helpline to talk about such things for the first time - and still believing they were somehow guilty.

Instrumental quite rightly reminds us that no matter how offenders try to excuse their appalling behaviour it is never the child's fault - the survivor has absolutely nothing to apologise for.

But the road to recovery is frequently bumpy, sometimes tortuous but always worth the journey, which is why we need far more investment in therapeutic and mental health services.

Even then, as James says, you can't turn these young people into flawless angels. It just doesn't work that way. That's not to say we can't help. We can. But the earlier the intervention the more chance there is of improving someone's quality of life. James is still a fragile figure but he has carved out a phenomenal career as a highly acclaimed pianist with a family life he clearly cherishes. In this way his story is an inspirational one, illustrating that any obstacle can be overcome as long as there is the will to succeed.

I found the book both uplifting and upsetting, but leaving me admiring a young man who has somehow managed to negotiate a way through the most awful mental maze planted by abuse that happened more than twenty years ago - although there are still the occasional dead ends.

And finally it left me thinking deeply about that word 'abuse' which is used so depressingly frequently these days.

Is it a term that carries enough weight to adequately describe a serious sex offence against the most vulnerable members of society?

When a football crowd jeers a striker who has missed an open goal from two yards, that's abuse.

When a child is brutally raped by someone twice their size and five times older that is surely an awful lot more.

Abuse is a small word and maybe it doesn't convey the horror that it should.