I cried today. I cried for humanity. I cried for all the girls and women, the boys and men, for all who may suffer.
I was five when a man who my family knew well, sexually abused me regularly in my bedroom.
I was even younger when my stepfather regularly rubbed his erection against my little body when lying next to him in my parent’s bed, while mum went downstairs to fetch a cup of tea.
Years of mental abuse ensued from that same man, but if you asked anybody about my stepdad they’d tell you what a great guy he was, so helpful and kind. ‘Salt of the earth.’
I was fourteen when he pinned me to the sofa, groping my breasts and forcing himself on me.
Sexual, physical and mental abuse is wrong. A simple statement that we like to think we all agree with, but society hasn’t accepted it as a collective responsibility yet.
This isn’t something that should be political, it shouldn’t matter your religion, your colour, your culture, your gender.
One Step Forward … Two steps back
Just when victims are beginning to be heard, injustices of the past revealed and uncovered and the broadening societal awareness that even priests can no longer hide from their wrongdoing, we face a situation that could undermine all of that progress.
How can a world move forward when a powerful leader sees only one side of an argument, who cries out to the world that men are now the victims and publicly denigrates a possible victim because she spoke out? Where neither side can prove either innocence or guilt, what is fact, is that we don’t know what happened. We don’t know the truth – but the accuser has been labelled a liar and degraded in front of the world.
Will this encourage victims, women or men, to speak out? I think not. There is no glory in speaking up about abuse, a victim does not enjoy recounting and reliving those moments. It is already difficult enough for them.
The Heart of the Matter
Innocent? He must be innocent, he is a ‘fine man’ an ‘incredibly important man’, he ‘has done so much for the advancement of women’.
This must concern us even more. This is a misconception that strikes at the heart of the matter.
There is no ‘stereotypical’ abuser. We hear that a person is of ‘good character’, of high standing or is a pillar of society – it’s irrelevant. They may do incredible work for charity, they may work tirelessly for a cause, they may run the local soccer team and they may preach to their congregation every Sunday. It’s all irrelevant. A smoke screen, a chameleon skin.
Abuse doesn’t live in the dark nooks and crannies, it’s hiding in all the places no one wants to look or thinks to look. It’s hiding in the next-door neighbour, in our friends, in people we trust and people who are just like you and me.
My Story: The Secret that was Never to be Told
I was five when that family friend sexually abused me. He went to prison for a year. Every night at bedtime he’d come and visit. Always with a little present – sometimes a ‘Mary, Mungo and Midge’ book, sometimes a small packet of sweets. I don’t know how I knew, maybe he told me, but I knew the little books and sweets would stop coming if I didn’t keep our secret.
He’d place my little hands where they should never be, though I didn’t know that back then – I was five. He’d touch me, and I’d wriggle and squirm and giggle – and yes, I thought it was a game. I was only five.
Who in their god damn right mind would let someone go to their five-year-old daughter’s room every night and close the door?
My parents did. The man was the granddad of my five-year-old best friend across the road. He was coming over to read a bedtime story to me each night. How lovely. How kind. What a thoughtful man to go out of his way to do that.
I don’t remember how long this went on, I don’t even remember what I called him. I do remember he always shut my bedroom door. I do remember certain scenes which can play over and over in my head as if it happened yesterday. And from when I was old enough to really understand, I could feel that filth, feel that shame, feel that anger and feel that pain. I can feel all that as if it was yesterday.
The secret was never meant to be told and I won’t play what if… but fortunately, it was.
My Story: The Pretty Doll Under the Magic Blanket
He slipped up – he didn’t realise how excited a five-year-old can get about a pretty, tiny doll sleeping in a matchbox with a tiny blanket. A tiny blanket that magically stretched and went over the piece of him he liked me to touch.
This was to be my prize the next night – but only if I was really good and didn’t wriggle and I kept our secret quiet. I would get to keep the precious little doll. I was so excited and promised not to tell a soul … but I was five.
Most of what comes next, I remember, because all of a sudden, I was the centre of everyone’s attention. I quite liked it. I felt important. A short-lived bonus for a little girl, not yet aware of the consequences of what had really happened.
My Story: The Secret’s Out
The next night, as bedtime was getting nearer I was bursting to share my excitement about that little doll with the magic blanket. As my stepdad was putting me to bed I told him to keep the secret I was about to tell. He didn’t keep the secret. He scooped me up and took me downstairs to tell my secret again to mum.
I remember them being angry about the ‘magic blanket’. They drew pictures and they obviously had seen it too. The man didn’t visit that night. They told me he shouldn’t have shown me the ‘blanket’ – I thought maybe it wasn’t the right one for the little doll.
The next morning, I was treated like a princess. Mum put me in her big bed and said I didn’t have to go to school. I didn’t feel sick, but mum said I had to stay there. Then a policewoman arrived, and she sat on the side of the bed talking to me all day. There were lots of voices coming from my bedroom and people were coming up and down the stairs all day. I didn’t see them though, just the policewoman sitting with me.
My Story: Life Goes On
I didn’t see the man again for over a year. I was no longer allowed to be friends with his grand-daughter, in fact, I wasn’t allowed to talk to my friend any more at all, ever again. The family didn’t want me telling her what had happened. They wanted the secret to go away. To them, it never happened.
Mum said it was best not to talk about it all, as it couldn’t be nice for them and we had to think about their feelings. She didn’t speak to them anymore either. Mum said they didn’t believe that it had happened – even though the evidence found in my room had been proof enough.
My Story: Every Day at the End of School
When he was out of prison he wasn’t allowed to park his green combi van in the street for a year, just a year. But he parked in the street at the top of the road and walked down instead. I saw him and that van every day from then on. Every day at the end of school he’d be there.
Did they think that by age six I would have forgotten? Who was thinking about my feelings? How could the neighbours not speak up, how could my parents not do anything? I remember they thought of moving but couldn’t afford to apparently. Every day at the end of school he’d be there. Through infant school, primary school and high school, he’d be there.
He was there when I visited after I’d left home. Even when I was a mother myself, he’d be there across the road, watching as I hurriedly took my own child from the car. I wish I’d had the gumption to approach him, but even then, when he was a wiry old man, I was frightened. I was right back in my bedroom, a five-year-old feeling dirty and unclean. He’d stare at me with a slight smile. It was like he could see my fear and delighted in it.
The fear didn’t get any less. When I left the country, I didn’t have to see him again, and now he’s dead. But it never goes away. The film reel is still in pristine condition, I can watch it anytime I like.
The Filth Injected into Your Soul
If you are the victim of sexual abuse, you will undoubtedly know this feeling, but those fortunate enough not to have been tainted with the uglier side of humanity, may not understand the intense feeling that can remain with you. The memory leaves you feeling exposed and naked, infected with a filth that has been injected deep into your soul. It never goes away, but you learn not to go there.
You learn that you are a survivor, you learn that you are stronger because of what you have endured, you have triumphed because you are here and are not broken. Your cracks make you more beautiful not because of it, but in spite of it.
You use it to protect your own children, to be aware, to be forever vigilant, to know mankind as it is. You use it to give you the strength to know you can conquer and survive.
Is Abuse Society’s Responsibility?
There are predators out there, abusers of many kinds. Are we not all against these, no matter our gender? We need to remember it isn’t women against men or men against women. We need to lift our awareness, stop building a gap between men and women and work together against the common enemy, the abusers.
Many predators blend perfectly into our society, they are people we trust, people we know, people who everyone likes.
We think nothing of reporting an abandoned suitcase at an airport as suspicious. Below, is counter-terrorism advice given to members of the public:
… an unattended suitcase on a train platform does not necessarily mean anything sinister. Still, the best course of action is to notify a member of staff straight away. Or call the police.
However, do we ever report someone, or even look more closely or probe them because we are suspicious that some kind of abuse is happening? No, we are afraid, hesitant, convinced of their good character, we might be wrong, their feelings might be hurt. Put the feelings of a possible victim first rather than worrying about the other person being affronted by your questioning, or probing. Abuse is much more prolific than unmanned suitcases – we need to pay closer attention. We need to change our focus.
How Did This Happen to Me Mum?
When I finally got the courage to tell my mum years later, about my own step-father’s leering, inappropriate conduct and sexual abuse, do you know what she said?
“I had a suspicion something like that was happening.”
When I asked why she didn’t wonder why the family friend always closed my bedroom door,
“ I often saw the shut door and maybe I thought it was a little odd, but didn’t for one minute think anything untoward was happening – he was always so friendly, he seemed so lovely and we’d known him so long.”
We never do think the perpetrators would do what they do – that these ‘lovely’ people would do these things.
Our Approach Must Change.
Act on slight suspicions, trust your gut instincts, notice any slight odd behaviour, no matter how small and follow up. Isn’t it a member of society’s duty to act, to protect against abuse?
Should we not follow the same advice given in respect to unmanned suitcases. ‘ …It does not necessarily mean anything sinister is happening but still, the best course of action is to notify… Or call the police.”
I felt compelled to tell my story, to help give context to what is the reality.
Sometimes we need raw facts to jolt us into action, to remind us how important it is that we pay attention.
We need to listen and we need to encourage victims to tell their story, they cannot be fearful. We need to stop assuming or justifying that someone is innocent simply because of who they are or because of their ‘good standing’. We need to appreciate that the abusers are not hidden, they are there for us to find, they are the ‘lovely’ people.
This isn’t something that should be political, it shouldn’t matter your religion, your colour, your culture, your gender. We can all help prevent abuse.
It is up to us all.
Abuse doesn’t live in the dark nooks and crannies, it’s hiding in all the places no one wants or thinks to look.
Pin to Raise Awareness
After finishing my Law Degree I decided to become a teacher. I am passionate about teaching, learning and most of all, about inspiring others. Now, as a writer and blogger, I love sharing our travels and our musings on life’s journey. I hope, through these, we can play a part in inspiring you to do whatever ‘satisfies your soul’.