The Gatehouse: Transformation for Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse

By Stefan Horodeckyj, former group facilitator and former Director at The Gatehouse

What is The Gatehouse?

The Gatehouse, founded in 1998 by Professor Arthur Lockhart, is a unique community-based centre in Toronto that provides supports, resources, and advocacy on behalf of those impacted by childhood sexual abuse. It offers, among other things, three types of adult peer – support group programs: a phase1 peer- support group program for male survivors, and a phase 1 peer – support group program for female survivors; a co-educational phase 2 peer- support group program and an advanced co-educational phase 3 peer- support group program. The goal of these programs is to provide a forum where survivors can heal from the devastating trauma of childhood sexual abuse. In this article, I will focus on Phase 1, adult peer-support group programs.

What is Childhood Sexual Abuse?

Childhood sexual abuse “is the misuse of power by someone who is in authority over a child for the purpose of exploiting a child for sexual gratification. It includes incest, sexual molestation, sexual assault, and the exploitation of the child for pornography or prostitution”. (Rogers, 1990)

The Gatehouse adult peer-support group program

The seven principles of The Gatehouse adult peer-support group program are resilience, self-care, mutuality, encouragement, respect, safety, and responsibility. And, the topics discussed in Phase 1 peer-support group program include: from isolation to belonging; triggers; dissociation; flashbacks to grounding; anger and emotional regulation; addictions and relationship to abuse; the ‘inner child’; loss and grief; positive boundaries; shame and guilt; resiliency and the sacred path; and sexuality.

Benefits of The Gatehouse Peer-Support Group Program

At The Gatehouse, healing through the Phase 1 peer-support group occurs in three major ways: by addressing the emotional needs of the survivors; by teaching survivors important social skills, relaxation, and self-care coping techniques/tips; and by providing survivors with important information about childhood sexual abuse and support services contacts.

  • The Gatehouse addresses the emotional needs of survivors
  • The survivor has a need to feel empathy from others. Empathy means that other members, including the facilitators, show respect, caring, and compassion for you, as they walk with you on your healing journey. Empathy also comes from feeling safe in the presence of the other group members and by trusting them with your life story and feelings.
  • The survivor has a need for empathic listening from others in the group. This means that others should: give their undivided attention; be non-judgmental; read the speaker (ie: observe the emotions behind the words); and not feel that they should have an immediate reply to questions and comments presented.
  • The survivor has a need to have their “voice” heard. This is paramount since the voice is one of the first things that a child sexually abused is deprived of by the perpetrator. A survivor finding their voice means no more silence, secrecy, shame, and self-blame. This is the power of one’s voice! Finding one’s voice means that the survivor can express their feeling of anger, grief, shame, guilt, fears, and hopes.
  • The survivor has a need to trust others. This is vital since trust is what the survivor had violently breached by the perpetrator, who is often someone they know.
    The survivor has a need to be connected. This is one of the basic human needs. Healthy connections with others define who we are, and provide us with emotional sustenance.
  • The survivor has a need to feel safe. Peer-support groups that are experienced by participants as being emotionally non-threatening, provide the basis for developing trust and empathy, and a venue where survivors can find their voice.
  • The survivor has a need to connect to the “inner child”. The inner child is the authentic or real self. In order to heal from childhood sexual abuse, the grownup adult must connect with the inner child’s fears, anger, pain, and sadness, and then to provide love and understanding to the inner child.
  • The survivor has a need to feel self-empowered. This can occur when the survivor has positive self-esteem. When survivors realize that they are the best ones to ascertain their own needs and that they are not responsible for, or defined by their childhood sexual abuse, then they can bolster their self-esteem and become more self-empowered.
  • Some survivors have a need to forgive the perpetrator. By doing so, they release negative feelings and energy that can impede their emotional healing.
  • The survivor has a need to feel hope. Hope is achieved by realizing that healing from childhood sexual abuse is possible. Healing is a process that evolves in the group and continues outside of the group setting.
  • The Gatehouse teaches survivors important social skills, relaxation techniques, and self-care coping skills/tips
  • The Gatehouse provides a forum where survivors can learn and practice effective communication skills with other group members. As well, it provides a place where survivors can practice healthy personal boundaries with the other group members. Also, it provides a venue where the survivor can establish and practice respect and empathy for other group members.
  • The Gatehouse teaches relaxation techniques such as grounding and breathing exercises and mindful meditation. Also, The Gatehouse teaches self-care coping skills/tips including ways of dealing with triggers/anger/grief/forgiving and personal boundaries.
  • The Gatehouse provides survivors with important information about childhood sexual abuse and support services contacts
    Some of the information shared with participants by the facilitators during the group sessions includes stages of recovery; myths and facts about sexual abuse; common symptoms of sexual abuse; the relationship between anger, grieving, shame and guilt, addictions and childhood sexual abuse; suggestions for dealing with one’s sexuality; and instructions and suggestions on how to create a suicide safety plan.

The facilitators provide participants with a list of addiction services available and a list of emotional/psychological support services available in the GTA.

By way of a summary, the transformative nature of The Gatehouse Phase1, adult peer-support group program is succinctly captured in the testimony of a survivor who completed this program:

“Being part of The Gatehouse had given me a renewed feeling of hope for a chance at living my life on my own mindful terms.”

If you know of someone who would benefit from the programs at The Gatehouse please tell them about us!