On Christmas Eve in 1985 I was 13 years old. I lived with my mum, my younger brother and sister and my 4 year old niece, and earlier that year we had all moved in with my Uncle Jack. Uncle Jack was my mother’s cousin and he had been sexually abusing me for 3 years by this point.
My memories of that day start with my niece being bitten by Uncle Jack’s dog, a bull mastiff called Boris. She had gone out to feed the ducks on the lake in the garden and Boris wanted the bread she held in her hand so he attacked her.
I remember hearing screaming, and the adults shouting. I remember my own panic at being told that she had been bitten and had to be taken to hospital immediately, and then mum and Uncle Jack putting her in his car and driving away while we had to stay in the house on our own. The dog was left in the garden and we could see him through the windows, prowling around the house. I remember being frightened.
The next thing I remember is later that evening; Uncle Jack had come back but my mum stayed in the hospital with my niece. I remember that the dog was back in the house. I remember that my brother and sister were asleep in bed but it was Christmas Eve and I knew their presents weren’t wrapped, so I remember that I went downstairs, into the dining room and I shut the door and started wrapping the presents. I remember that I had to guess who each present was for. Then I remember that Uncle Jack opened the door to the dining room and he was wearing nothing but his dressing gown, and it was open at the front, and I remember that this seemed inevitable.
Then I remember we were in his study, and he gave me a drink. I remember that it tasted sweet and alcoholic. I remember that the dog was in the room. I don’t remember any conversation, but I remember that the next thing that happened was I had to lie on the sofa while he had sex with me. I remember that this was my first time.
I remember I was cold. I remember the exact colour and texture of the fabric of the sofa. I remember that I did not cry, or try to stop him, or call for help. I remember afterwards I walked up the stairs in my nightie and I got into bed, which was a mattress on the floor of the same room where my brother and sister were sleeping, and I remember thinking that what had just happened meant that I must be a grown up now. I remember that I did not feel like a grown up though. I remember that I felt small and cold and uncertain and alone.
I don’t remember anything about the following morning, but I think we were left alone in the house again because I remember a bit later on in the day Uncle Jack arrived with my two Great Aunts, one who was his mother and one who was his aunt. I remember crying and running to him when he arrived. I remember feeling my Great Aunts disapproval. I remember they made Christmas dinner, but I don’t remember anything else about that Christmas Day at all.
You might expect that Uncle Jack would be the ghost of my Christmas Past, but he isn’t. He has no power over me now. I have repeatedly and publicly spoken the truth about what he did and I have no secrets or shame to carry any longer; they belong to him now.
No. The Ghost of my Christmas Past is the 13 year old girl I once was because even now, all these years later, she still breaks my heart. Her hopelessness and her loneliness and her powerlessness have haunted me every Christmas Eve since, not just for that first rape or the years of abuse, but for all the years she was unprotected and uncared for and unloved and unsupported. She is the ghost I have always lived with.
Today is Christmas Eve 2019. I am sitting at the table in my bright, warm, comfortable kitchen and I am eating my favourite chocolates. So far this morning I have been for a run, had a shower and then driven to the local shops for a few last minute necessities. While I was out running I was thinking about how I might get through this new anniversary, number 34, because no matter how many I have they are always difficult, and ignoring the significance of the day only makes it harder to bear.
So I decided that this time I will look it in the face and I won’t flinch from it and I will write it down and I will share it. I will do all of this because the most important person today is 13 year old Emma, and I want to make her happy, and I want to make her feel safe, and I want her to feel loved, and I want her to know that I am proud of her, and I want her to remember that this life she lives today is because she was a strong and courageous girl who survived unspeakable things.
At the shops this morning I bought myself a soft, warm fleecy blanket. I bought it because when I saw it I had an urge to wrap myself up in it, and then I bought myself a box of my favourite chocolates and a bunch of flowers for good measure. After that I went to the local bakery for a loaf of bread, and while I waited for my change I noticed that there was a small, hand-knitted angel on the counter, bearing a small, hand-written sign, and the sign said ‘There is hope’.
I did hope very much that Uncle Jack would one day have to face the consequences of what he did to me, but twice I have reported him to the police and twice the police have failed to take any action. I know that there is no hope left for this now, and so this Christmas I hope instead for the following small miracles:
That 13 year old Emma feels happy today.
That 47 year old Emma also feels happy today.
That writing this down and sharing it will ease the burden, and allow me to feel at peace with my ghost; a Christmas miracle, just for today.
Today is one of those days I just need to write. It helps me to get my thoughts in order and also to look back and realise I’m not doing too badly surviving this journey called life!
I am a CSA survivor. Too many others will already know what these letters stand for, which to be honest is sad in itself.
From the ages of four to eighteen years old I was sexually abused by two men who took advantage of an innocent girl who didn't know any better; thinking she was being taught what being loved really meant, to finding out years later that in fact she were being used as a peadophile’s sex toy.
The hardest part of my journey wasn't the abuse, which probably sounds crazy to anyone who hasn't been abused. The hardest part for me was learning how to be ‘normal’, if there is such a thing.
I remember writing the quote about a year ago:
“The biggest breakthrough is when you can see that you have been groomed! The next part of the journey is definitely a long and winding road with lots of ups and downs. Hopefully like myself the road evens out, the fog lights come off and instead of feeling like the passenger you take the wheel and become the driver!
I’m not saying I haven’t had a few crashes on the way but I can say now that I understand myself a whole lot more and I don't beat myself up as much as I used to.
I still have dark days and when life hits me a low blow there's always that underlying feeling that you ‘deserve this’, always chasing the feeling of being tainted and of being a bad person!
Of course, in reality I know that I am not, but like many of us, when you are trained to think a certain way it's always a fight to learn to think differently. You can overcome the abuse and psychological torture that at the time you didn't even realise you were being subjected to, because you just thought it was love.
My abuse stopped just before my eighteenth birthday but it took me at least another four years for my brain to start processing what I had experienced growing up as a child. To put this into perspective, I cannot remember a time during my childhood where I was not being abused. My earliest memory is the night my mum died; my second earliest memory is being abused for the first time when I was 4, and my third was telling my Nanna about what had happened to me. I didn’t realise at the time that this would then lead to my abuser seeking me out and abusing me for the next thirteen years.
Unfortunately my story is too common but luckily for me I was raised by a very strong woman who taught me how to deal with life and not let it break you…my Nanna.
I have one regret where my Nanna is concerned and only realised this from writing about my abuse: My neighbour that abused me for 13 years was a close family friend as his mum and my nanna were very good friends. I will call her Mrs D and she was roughly the same age as my Nanna although she may have been a bit older.
The first man I was abused by was my babysitter’s boyfriend and I told my Nanna on a Saturday morning when we were going to do the weekly shop. My Nanna listened to what I told her, that this man took his clothes off and lay naked on top of me and tried to get me to touch his bits, but it was only from writing about it as an adult that I realised the one thing she never did was to explain that what this beast had done to me wasn't right and that adult men shouldn't do this to little girls. Instead she said nothing but she must have talked about it with Mrs D, who was the mum of the second man who abused me, because in later years I was told by her son that is why he sold his garage and home and chose to move in with his mum near me as I had already been “Broken in” and I understood what “real love” was. I do wish my Nanna had just said to me “no one should do that to you Shirley and if it ever happens again tell me or another adult”.
Instead I just thought this is what all men did to little girls if they truly loved them…...what a mind fuck eh? Remember I was four when the first man abused me and by the time I had turned five my second abuser had already positioned himself in my life as someone my Nanna could rely on.
The day the light came on for me was my eighteenth birthday. I went through to his house to see him and his mum like usual and instead of being his usual friendly self, overnight he had changed into this entirely different person who was now laughing in my face because I was hurt and offended that he didn't even get me a card. That was the beginning of my wake up call and even though I didn't realise it at the time I was about to go through many stages of healing, some very painful, almost soul destroying, but also empowering moments where I feel I started to really find myself and who I wanted to be.
The ages between eighteen and twenty two were my years I would say of ‘winging it’, still processing in my head everything that I had been through, and at that time still being the only one (apart from my abuser) who really knew the dark truth of my childhood. I often describe it as like a shadow, because even in the moments where I did get to experience being a ‘normal child’ it was always in the back of my mind. You need to understand that this had become a regular occurrence that I had to endure at least two or three times a week. Whenever he had the chance to get me on my own something would happen.
The stages of healing after abuse stops are crazy….
PRETENDING….Every victim of sexual abuse pretends! it's something you are taught from a very young age: you have to ‘pretend to enjoy’ what is being done to you, you are constantly trying to please so you act the way your abuser trains you, how you’re supposed to be, you're looking for that reassurance all the time. I saw my abuser as a father figure, and he knew this and very much played on that vulnerability. As I mentioned earlier I lost my mum at three and a half years old. I was taken in by an aunt until my Nanna took early retirement from her job to become my guardian. That's how he became involved in my life, his mum would watch me for small periods of time while my Nanna either worked or was out for a bit, and this is when he would have the opportunity to touch me ...so much so that if his mum went to make a cup of tea you could guarantee he would have enough time to put his grubby hand up my skirt, if she needs to go upstairs for the toilet well that was another story as it took her a long time to move, so that's when he would really get to play. I knew I didn't like it but I didn't know any different by this time and all I knew was even though he did these things to me he was also really nice at the same time and as I grew older he became my confidante, he made me laugh, he had me convinced he was the only one that properly understood me and I believed it with every innocent peice of my heart.
When you’re young it’s all a big game, a secret that only you and him know about. The older I got the more he influenced me, and now I know I was like his little puppet, thinking I was acting in my own judgment but unaware that I was constantly and blindly being guided by him. The hardest part is when you realise that everything you may have had and believed in was a lie and that really you were some dirty man’s sex toy.
The problem came when I got too old for him. I was turning into a woman and that's not how he got his kicks. I didn't understand all of this until years later and that’s what’s so hard to make other people understand, is all the psychological damage men like that can do, especially when they prey on one individual for a long time. There is so much grooming and manipulation that you have to take in and unfortunately if you’re as vulnerable as I was then you blindly take every word they say as gospel. There are so many scenarios I could write about that when I do start letting thoughts come back it’s like opening the flood gates.
What I'm trying to say is thanks to my abuser I became the best actress I know, because if you think about it, I managed to lead a secret life for fourteen years and no one suspected a thing ...and even if anyone did guess, who would be the first to warn him? That would be me! Which brings me straight onto my next stage.
GUILT is one emotion I am certainly good at. Grooming is all based on manipulation, zoning in on someone’s weak points. Be it an adult or child it's all done the same way. You’re made to feel responsible for everyone's emotions so that if someone is feeling bad ‘then you must have caused that’ Every situation that has happened makes you believe that ‘you caused it’. I got told that when he first started to abuse me it was my fault because I would show him my pants on purpose! That’s because I wore skirts to school, and he said he couldn't help himself because it was me who made him feel like that. Then as I got older, which now I know was very manipulative of him, he started turning sexual acts into money, because my nanna didn’t give me pocket money, he started paying me between £5 and £10 for sexual acts. He siad “Think of it like you’re doing your paper round, you’re doing something to make me happy and I give you money to do what you want”. He was totally playing on my teenage emotions.
The reason I’m telling you this is because I carried the guilt that I accepted the money for a long, long time. I felt guilty, as if I was just as bad as hime because I took the money.
Guilt is the biggest emotion that I still have to fight to this day. I keep telling myself that I'm not a bad person and, as I tell others, “IT'S HIS SHAME NOT MINE.”
Over the years I have beat myself up to the point of not wanting to live anymore, because I have felt worthless and too damaged. But I have fought hard and always tried to live by the rule that he stole my childhood but I wasn't going to let him do the same with my adult years. He has stolen a few but I have learnt along the way and I will not let him or the guilt beat me.
TIME is one of the most important factors to any survivor of CSA. There is no overnight cure or recovery, and unfortunately our justice system is not always able to offer the justice you expect ( but that’s a whole other blog).
There is a common pattern with historic abuse victims where it does take time to come forward and to understand that what happened to you was wrong, and that what they did was a criminal act.
I stopped being abused just before I turned eighteen years old but it took me until I was twenty two years old before I told anyone. I told close friends but no one within my family, and it wasn't until my Nanna died that I felt I could be more open about what he had done to me, because he had moved out of the area within months of stopping abusing me.
I went for a short period of counselling at that time but then I never took any further action until I had my twin girls. By the time they were two years old I couldn't stop thinking about what I had witnessed before he finally left my life. I saw him stalk a group of kids, fixing their bikes, being Mr Friendly, just like he had done with me when I was that age. Eventually this group of kids was whittled down to one little girl and I will never forget the night I went to his house to pick up key from him for my Nanna's house, and she was there sitting in my chair…..it was like looking into a mirror of myself ten years before. I felt overwhelming guilt that because I hadn’t told anyone what he had done to me, he could do this to more girls. Knowing how much damage he had done to me, how could I not tell the police if there was a chance of it stopping him doing that to anyone else? So I went to the police, but due to a lack of corroboration the police decided not to proceed with my case so my abuser to this day has not been charged.
This again is where time comes into play. I’m now forty one years old and it took years of trying to survive, and then the last few years realising that if I didn't speak out and fight for what’s right then nothing will ever change.
Which has brought me to where I am today, fighting alongside my campaign sisters, and slowly we are making people listen which in turn will bring change.
Talking to someone else who has been where I've been and understands without any explanation has given me so much strength. I honestly couldn't recommend enough to just reach out to others, If you need someone to talk to don't let the waiting lists isolate you - reach out! Unfortunately there are many of us to reach out to, far too many to be honest, but always remember that you're not alone.
I know I may never get justice, but if telling my truth gives even one other survivor the strength they need or the understanding that they are not alone, then writing these blogs will be worth it.
People heal People x
Today's blog was written by Suzy, one of the founders of the campaign.
Can you remember what presents you received when you turned 13? I recall waking up and telling myself “you’re a teenager!” It was so exciting, although I looked just the same as I did the day before. 5’3”, a bit spotty, hair tending towards greasy, “well-developed” for my age, and wearing shoes scuffed from messing about playing football. These details are important because 46 years later I’d be describing them in detail, as were my brother and sister, to police officers.
Back to the birthday. One of my gifts was a yellow sweater. Well, it was the early 1970s and everything was either yellow, orange or brown. I put it on with pride, a new day, a new decade. 12 hours later, as I took it off my life had changed forever. I had been raped, although I’m not sure if I actually knew the name for it then. I realised I had been violated horrifically. I had thought I would die from suffocation from the weight of him; I had bled; the pain was indescribable and I still ached from the agony of it. As I undressed I inspected the damage to myself and my clothes, and I felt sadness. The image of me laying down the yellow jumper is as clear today as it was then, and although I must have been in shock I remember vividly that the pleasure I’d had in receiving and wearing the gift had been spoiled. Even then I guess somewhere in my young head I realised there had been a seismic shift in my life and that nothing would ever be the same again.
For the next two years I was groomed, manipulated, raped and abused multiple times by a number of men. I never told my family because I thought it had somehow been my fault and that I would be punished. This might seem a strange thing to say, but the terror of telling an adult seemed worse than going through the abuse. Apparently I tried to speak out to my 18 year old brother and he remembers this quite well, but I must have drawn back at the last minute and kept the secret to myself. What is heart-breaking to me now is hearing his description of how I changed, physically and emotionally almost overnight. Things like I had lost my spark, that I became withdrawn and even my hair lost its shine. I do ask myself why my parents didn’t try to find out what was wrong, but unfortunately I think it was put down to teenage rebellion, and the more I was criticised for being secretive, for not speaking to my father, and how I had changed from the sweet girl I had been, the more I withdrew silently into myself.
I buried a lot of this over the decades, although I’ve had several periods of mental illness followed by different therapies and medication. Nothing could have prepared me for the police investigation however. I decided on a whim to find out if there was any use in reporting the crimes. Within two days I was giving a statement to uniformed police, and shortly afterwards was allocated a Sexual Offences Liaison Officer (SOLO). I have to say that the two SOLOs appointed were wonderful, and were incredibly helpful as well as sensitive. It was the process of giving statements that was unbelievably harrowing. I wasn’t prepared for the minute detail of every crime, for instance – where was his shoulder compared with yours; how much of the penis was inserted; can you describe his penis; describe the room; what were you wearing; did you say stop; did he know you wanted to stop; did you struggle. This is just a tiny sample of questions you are asked, and what’s worse is that the SOLO has to write everything down. It’s not recorded. That is why it takes hours and hours, then they read it back to you (just when you want to try and forget!), and you sign each page. All of this is hugely traumatic, and in my case I had the shakes and felt sick afterwards. I began having nightmares, and all sorts of things came back to me that I had pushed away for years. I was diagnosed as having PTSD and am still on medication for this. As I type, the ghosts of my abusers float around the wall. They’re like still images of the past. I can see how one of them sat in front of me the first time I met him. And there’s the tent. The orange sheets with my blood. Imagine, as you’re going about your daily business, at work, with the family, watching TV, and then suddenly they’re there. That is what I contend with every day. There are so many triggers and it’s hard to explain to those who don’t understand.
The question that has had the most impact on me is “Can you remember how your lower clothes were removed?” The answer is “no”. For each and every time I was abused I cannot remember how this happened, and the gap in my memory plagued me for months. It still does. Had I actually been complicit and removed them consensually? (As I was underage what does this matter anyway?). I’ve fretted, and again and again gone over all the abuse to retrieve the answer. It wasn’t until I was in counselling at Rape Crisis that it was explained to me it would be very unlikely to remember as the brain has a way of protecting the individual in episodes of extreme fear and trauma. I guess I should thank my amygdala, although it’s unfortunate that the police don’t seem to realise victims of rape are rarely able to remember this kind of detail. If they are aware then it would be helpful to point this out during their investigation, as survivors like myself can torture themselves worrying about what actually happened. I still ask myself - was it my fault, was I being obstructive?
So here I am, finally speaking out about what happened to me. I’ve kept silent for so many years, as have others, but I couldn’t have done it without the love and support from those at my local Rape Crisis, my family and friends. Over the last few months my sister survivors Emma and Shirley have helped me so much not just by giving me the courage to be myself at last, but also because we all understand what each of us has gone through, and continues to go through. I am no longer ashamed to say out loud “I was raped”. I just wish I could have been there for my 13 year old self and given her the love and support she so badly needed.
Sorry changes nothing.
My GP used to say to me, there are no words for what has happened to you, then hand me a prescription for Valium to take the pain of my trauma away.
If it wasn’t prescription medication it could have been alcohol or illegal drugs. Whatever the method of choice, sit in any recovery meeting and you will hear stories of trauma and of wanting the pain to stop. As a society, surely we have to ask ourselves, can we not do better than medicate trauma?
We read reports in the media everyday of the burden addiction causes society, then we turn the page and read the latest press release of an Organisation being “Sorry” for the abuse suffered by children and vulnerable persons in their care.
As a survivor of sexual violence, I have to state, in the strongest of terms, I’m fed up hearing sorry. Sorry changes nothing.
Let’s try harder. Let’s work with trauma victims and survivors of abuse. Let’s hear their voice, what does trauma look like? How can Scotland’s wider society help? Surely they have a moral obligation to do so? Scotland is a very clever country, let’s get the clever minds together. How can we do better? We need to keep the debate open.
Rabindranath Tagore wrote, “Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark.”
Let’s give survivors faith that better may be possible.