KENTVILLE, NS - Jedidja Dziedziejko has a message for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse: “Know that you’re not alone and there’s somebody out there who cares.”
Dziedziejko is the co-ordinator of Survivors of Abuse Recovering (SOAR), a non-profit organization founded in 1993 as a result of an observation that many survivors were in need of support.
“There was a community mental health nurse… who noticed that a lot of the people she was dealing with on a regular basis came out as saying that they had experienced childhood sexual abuse. It was an eye-opener that there was this huge need,” said Dziedziejko.
SOAR offers opportunities for adult survivors of child sexual abuse to meet with fellow survivors in an accepting and positive environment, and participate in one-on-one peer counselling and support services.
“It is a very delicate topic to talk about and it takes a lot to make somebody feel safe,” said Dziedziejko.
“It’s comforting to have somebody who’s willing to listen to you and who says, ‘I’ve been there too.’”
SOAR provides training for peer counsellors and works to raise awareness of the issue of childhood sexual abuse and its effects. The organization is always looking for new volunteers, be it survivors or community allies.
“We have wonderful, wonderful volunteers and some of them have been around for the 25 years,” said Dziedziejko.
SOAR can also point survivors in the direction of professional mental health service options that could assist with persisting symptoms associated with abuse-related trauma.
“The bigger support system, the better. We do actually encourage people to also find professional help,” she said.
“We are not professionals. We are not replacing anybody who has university training in actual counselling but, having said that, a peer is a unique social space.”
Dziedziejko sees the potential for SOAR to be a larger, province-wide organization based on the demand for services. The Kentville-based organization was originally formed to serve West Hants, Kings County and Annapolis County.
“A lot of people do actually travel to come and see us,” she said, adding that recent social movements that aim to reduce stigma seem to be having a positive impact.
“We are having more people who are coming forward, and especially men.”
Survivors, Dziedziejko stressed, do not have to suffer in silence.
“You are not alone,” she reiterated.
“SOAR is the best-kept secret in the Valley, and we’re hoping to change that.”