Most people agree that it’s important that paedophiles are brought to justice for their crimes. However, after making a formal complaint to the police regarding my child molesting grandfather, I was left wondering whether it had been worth it.
Firstly, the police investigation has left me deeply traumatised and I apologise if this makes for an uncomfortable read. After revisiting in detail the sexual assaults I suffered as a small child from a man over fifty-five years my senior; what did his skin feel like, what was his breathing like, what did he taste like, what did he smell like; I’m now finding it impossible to have sex without the abuse I suffered over forty years ago gatecrashing uninvited into my mind.
In addition, there are some sexual acts that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to partake in again, despite having been happy to in my previous life, my life before the court case.
Last night I had a nightmare that I was being molested by him again.
Moreover, revisiting the sexual abuse as an adult, I saw things that I didn’t comprehend as a child, things I had thought were perfectly normal, as it was normal for me.
Like piecing together parts of a jigsaw puzzle with the few memories I have, with each additional piece, a fuller picture of my childhood abuse gradually revealed itself and I now realise that there was so much more abuse than the few episodes that I could describe to the police officer.
I remember very clearly the abuser saying ‘don’t tell your nana’ after he finished using my body for his own sexual gratification. I heard it so many times that I could predict what he would say before he said it. But I just don’t remember the majority of the assaults that prompted him to say those words, the words that made me believe that it was I, and not him, that was to blame for the vile acts that he committed, the words that ensured my silence.
I’m traumatised by imagining the assaults that I don’t remember, traumatised by envisaging what he did to my body when I was left alone in his care when my family went on holiday.
I wonder how much I cried.
I’m sure most of us hold secrets and hide weaknesses that we are self-conscious of. I know I do. So ever since my diaries were taken as part of the police investigation, I’ve felt exposed, as if my soul is naked and my shame and imperfections plain to see.
The diaries did provide good evidence and I never felt judged by any who read them, but I was so ashamed of what they revealed of my colourful past; previous toxic relationships and sexual acts, and a lifetime of selling myself short and allowing myself to be treated badly.
I have no doubt that the abuse I suffered has negatively affected the whole trajectory of my life and I feel that most of the things that I hate about myself, and continue to struggle to change, can be attributed to the abuse I received. To see it evidenced over my lifetime in my diaries was very painful, and to share with others, mortifying.
Although my initial disclosure to the police was a huge relief and felt empowering, this changed completely when the abuser began to fight to regain control and I began to feel that I was being abused all over again.
He pleaded not guilty on oath, feigned dementia and appeared to be asleep in court in a wheelchair that a family member had hired for him. I felt that I would explode in frustration as it was known within the family that he didn’t have dementia and more importantly, that he was guilty; I wasn’t his only victim and he had never denied his assaults when confronted previously; he had merely excused them, explaining that he had done it ‘out of affection’ or because ‘he loved us’.
Witnessing the abuser and the defence team in a prolonged battle with the Crown Prosecution Service, felt like watching a match point in a tennis game with equally matched players. Only this match felt like a game of life or death, as I didn’t feel that life would be worth living if he weren’t found guilty and his power to abuse me was taken away.
‘Justice delayed, is justice denied’
I watched helplessly and isolated from the sidelines. The match was agonisingly slow as each advance in the case took weeks and hearings were repeatedly adjourned. It felt to me that the abuser was delaying justice to punish and torture me for daring to defy him.
The stress was immense, compounded by the fact that the child molester was just short of 100 years old when I made my initial complaint to the police and nature could so easily relieve him of having to face justice at any moment, leaving me to carry the burden of his crimes forever. My life stopped as if I were holding my breath, unable to relax enough even to book a holiday, just waiting, waiting.
Then by an unpredicted and sudden turn of events, he was convicted and sentenced to a two years suspended sentence and I had ‘won’.
But I hadn’t won, nobody had won.
The abrupt conclusion to the court case left me only slightly relieved, my prevailing emotions were confusion and extreme anger as I felt that my abuser had escaped justice. The two year suspended sentence that he received mirrored the time that my life had been held in suspension during the court case. He only had to carry the shame of his crimes for the last two years of his life, whereas I’ve had to carry the shame for almost my entire life since his first assault on me as a small child.
Shortly afterwards, my hair began to fall out and the familiar general office noise became unbearable to hear, so much so, that sometimes I escaped to the toilets for respite from it. The lack of natural daylight at my desk made me feel trapped and suffocated. I left the job where I had previously been happy and haven’t felt able to work since.
Most of us understand the devastating effects of child sexual abuse on those who have suffered it. What is less understood, is the effects of the emotional abuse that often accompanies it, such as the victim not being believed, minimising the abuse or blaming the victim.
For me, it’s just as hard to process as the sexual abuse itself, and unlike the horrendous assaults that lasted for a few years, the emotional abuse has lasted for decades.
For many years before the court case, the paedophile was allowed access to children in my family and when I protested, I was told that it was none of my business and that I was making a mountain out of a molehill. I’ve been called selfish, accused of wanting to split up the family, accused of ‘just wanting revenge’ and my grandmother threatened to commit suicide when I wanted to report his crimes to safeguard younger children in the family.
Such was the pressure to keep the family secret and to join in the conspiracy to shield the identity of a dangerous paedophile.
Hence another consequence of seeking justice for the abuser’s crimes against me, was that the emotional abuse that I receive from some family members also increased.
I was shocked and felt betrayed by the many family members who attended the paedophile’s funeral to pay their last respects to the evil man who had enjoyed harming children within the family, yet not one member of my family was present to support me when I attended court.
On social media, I’ve seen pictures of my family at a meal that I hadn’t been told of or invited to, as if it were I who had sexually abused young children in the family instead of him.
A picture of myself as a child with other victims, at a time when I was being abused, in my abuser’s house, appeared on social media endorsed with ‘likes’ from family members as if nothing horrendous had happened.
I also received an email from a family member calling me ‘a cruel, heartless woman’, ‘a true outcast’ and ‘unfit to have our name’, seemingly unaware that I had changed my name from that of the abuser, some thirty years beforehand.
Some of the emotional abuse has been so vitriolic and full of hate and anger towards me, that I have feared for my life.
I wanted my family to fully support and protect children, report the paedophile to the police the moment his crimes were disclosed, to ostracise him and make him accountable for what he had done.
The abuser wanted my family to do nothing.
In doing virtually nothing, it felt like my family supported the paedophile.
I do love some members of my family and understand why they are unable to protect and support me. However, the way I am treated is not acceptable to me and due to the continued victim blaming and pressure to normalise and minimise the years of sexual abuse I suffered at the hands of the paedophile, I have estranged myself from my entire family and I am the one who is ostracised.
So I have lost my family too.
So was it worth it? For me, yes. Although no length of prison sentence or amount of compensation awarded could ever make up for what happened to me, to get an official acknowledgement of what my abuser did and making him accountable for his crimes has gone a long way to helping me heal.
But more importantly, I detested the facade of respectability that my abuser so easily slipped back on after he assaulted me, leaving me as a small, terrified child reeling from his attacks, whereas he turned his back and calmly rejoined his spurious life as a decent, loving family man.
With help from those that colluded with his abuse and shielded him from justice, he let people believe that he was a ‘gentleman’ instead of the incestuous, serial paedophile that he really was, and revealing the truth of his character after years of pressure to keep quiet about it, for me, was the best justice of all.
I understand how lucky I was to get a conviction for crimes that occurred behind closed doors in the 1970s, and words can’t express how thankful I am to all those who worked hard to achieve it, treating me with respect and consideration whilst doing so.
However I understand why so many people who are abused in childhood choose not to prosecute; fearing disbelief or insensitivity from police, pessimism about their chances of achieving a conviction, or not wishing to relive the abuse; amongst other reasons.
It took me over forty years to take that huge step to report the crimes.
However, from the support I receive each time I speak out about what happened to me, I feel less burdened by the shame the abuser gave to me and I pass it back to him, back to the person to whom it belongs.
In reporting, I also felt comfort that there was a permanent record of what he had done. Even if I hadn’t wanted to prosecute myself, my account could potentially help any of the abuser’s other victims to take that step, had they wished to do so.
Sadly, many people who are abused in childhood and who do choose to prosecute, do not see the perpetrator convicted and I have so much admiration for those who don’t achieve justice through the legal system and manage to carry on with their lives afterwards, as without support, I couldn’t see a way that I could have done so myself.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse, recently compiled a report entitled ‘Can adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse access justice and support’. This document suggests numerous, vital recommendations that would have greatly improved my experience of reporting, had they been in place at the time.
Examples include a standardised leaflet given to those who report, explaining the criminal justice process and where support is available, and consulting with survivors regarding sentencing guidelines in the proposed Government’s Sentencing Bill. To assist every survivor, the report recommends an Independent Sexual Violence Adviser (ISVA) to perform a variety of roles from advising and advocating during the criminal justice process to accompanying the victim in court.
I was very fortunate that this role could be filled by patient and well informed friends working in the legal profession before I received the assistance of an ISVA at the end of my court case. Without their unwavering support, inexhaustible encouragement and help in untangling a complicated legal system, I wouldn’t have and couldn’t have undertaken this painful, solitary rollercoaster journey.
Hence I would consider the support of an ISVA as essential, particularly on the darker days on receiving unfavourable news.
Moreover, studies have shown that the presence of an ISVA during cases involving sexual violence, convey the incredible statistics that the chances of a case receiving a charge, the chances of cases going to trial and the chances of cases receiving a conviction are all doubled.
Paedophiles depend on silence to continue offending, hence reporting and convicting is important to protect all children as well as benefiting the victims.
Convicting perpetrators of advanced age, imparts the message to those who abuse, that there will never be respite from the fear of prosecution for the rest of their lives. Moreover, I would like to believe that if more abusers were brought to justice, it may discourage others from offending.
As a society, if we believe in justice and compassion, we need to bring about changes to make reporting less distressing and resulting in more convictions, which in turn would encourage more victims and survivors to report.
I understand that reporting childhood sexual abuse is never going to be easy, however, I do believe that making the recommendations outlined in the document compiled by the APPG, would go a long way to ensuring that for the vast majority of victims and survivors, reporting was overall, a positive experience.
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