One of our amazing Service Users has shared her story so that her experiences can help and empower others.
It happened to me.
Caravans were popular in the 70’s and as our family set-off on our annual Summer holidays we would dodge these mini homes on the motorway.
The family we stayed with had a caravan. I was seven years old and my dad had just died. Mum needed her friends, and I remember her crying a lot that holiday. I was always trying to play with the boys who were older than me. I was always trying to join in, but I was too young, Black and a girl.
Then one day everything changed.
The adults were about 15 minutes behind us, returning from a long walk. We ran ahead back to the house. The boys locked themselves in the caravan, leaving me outside on the lawn. ‘Can I come in, please? Please let me in’, the familiar cry of a younger sibling.
This time they did. They told me to go inside the caravan and then they would take it in turns to come in, everyone would have a turn. The first one came in and sexually assaulted me. It hurt. When he had done that he left and another one came in and did the same. As he was doing it I heard them laughing outside. I didn’t like this game.They were laughing about me. I was ashamed. I was seven.
Finally the eldest boy came in and took his pants down, he told me to lie on the bed and attempted to rape me. I can remember it was really difficult to do what he wanted and I wanted to make him happy. He finally left, I was told to put my pants back on and get dressed. The adults had returned.
That began 5 years of sexual abuse at the hands of the boys. They teased me and threatened to tell my mum. They would taunt me calling me a ‘Slag’ and a ‘Slut’ and then continue to abuse me. I even tried to run away, sitting outside the front door one time. But it was raining and I had nowhere to run. Everyone found that very amusing, including my mum. She didn’t know. The boys said that if I said anything they would find me when I was 21 and kill me. I was scared and I believed them.
I can remember thinking at seven, ‘When I’m fourteen I won’t feel bad, I’ll be happy again because I will have lived my life over’. It didn’t work out like that.” My period started when I was 12. Finally I had an excuse. The sexual abuse stopped physically, the mental torment continued for many years.
My teens were difficult, confusing, frustrating. People thought I was a normal teenager, but I wasn’t. I was screaming inside. My abusers were still in my life. I would have big tantrums. I was considered, ‘difficult’.
When you’ve been sexually abused the feelings of shame can overwhelm you; influencing how you think about yourself and how you interact with others. Shame becomes your default. You feel that everybody is better than you, has more rights than you, more value. But I believe God was telling me to hold on and don’t give-up. I knew he loved me no matter what.
I decided to tell my mum when I was twenty-one, fourteen years after the abuse had started. I wanted them confronted, but most of all I needed mum to believe me and know it wasn’t my fault.
Mum would only agree to it being done over the phone and I only got to confront one person. I campaigned for my mum to confront her friends. Nothing. They continued to visit. I was devastated.
I still managed to hold on. I found a Black female RELATE counsellor who I saw on a weekly basis. I told her everything. I told her that I had disclosed the abuse to my mum, but nothing had really changed. My mum had assured me that she would let them all know how angry she was on her ‘death-bed’. My counsellor said, ‘ That’s very kind of her, isn’t it?’.
I began to realise that my mum was failing me, badly.
* * *
Three decades on from the sexual abuse and I’ve managed to turn my life around. With the faith that I can have a good and happy life. I now have my own family and I’ve taken back control of my life and most importantly my future. I received a letter from one of the boys that abused me offering a form of an apology for his ‘adolescent curiosity’. He didn’t put a return address. My mum died, which though devastating, felt like a spell that had been broken. I was slowly able to break free from the secret that had bound me for years.
With telephone support from SARSAS I was able to disclose the sexual abuse to the wider family. It wasn’t possible for me to be free whilst I carried the secret of the sexual abuse. The abuse contaminated all my relationships, socially, at work, with family. The covering-up to protect the secret meant that I became a hollow version of myself, unable to be the real me.
Following the telephone support with SARSAS I did 13 weeks 1-2-1 counselling with The Green House and now I am unashamedly claiming what happened to me. I have let the family know that going forward I am using my experiences to help others find their voice. This has been my first step to empowerment, helping others.
After working with counsellors, listening to other survivors and professionals I understand that sexual abuse is never the fault of the victim. There were factors that meant that I was at risk of sexual abuse. I was a girl, I was black and I was a looked-after child. Any one of these factors increased my risk of sexual abuse.
It happened to me and I feel no shame.