THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS CONTENT THAT MAY UPSET THE READER
A survivor of childhood sexual assault has bravely decided to tell her story to The Canary. And it’s one that demonstrates why the inquiry into non-recent child rape and sexual assault allegations must proceed without fail.
Jane, a false name used to protect her identity, spoke out after the judge who has been leading the so-called ‘CSA Inquiry’ stepped down. On 4 August, the inquiry’s Chair, Dame Lowell Goddard, released a statement confirming her resignation. She said:
I announce with regret my decision to resign as chair of the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, effective from today … Compounding the many difficulties was [the inquiry’s] legacy of failure which has been very hard to shake off and with hindsight it would have been better to have started completely afresh. While it has been a struggle in many respects, I am confident there have been achievements and some very real gains for victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse in getting their voices heard.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd said that “the work of the inquiry will continue without delay”. She thanked Dame Goddard “for the contribution she has made in setting up the inquiry so that it may continue to go about its vital work.”
A different time and place
The CSA Inquiry, as it has come to be known, has been fraught with difficulties from the outset. It was set up to “consider the extent to which state and non-state institutions have failed in their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation”. In the wake of the death of BBC DJ Jimmy Savile in 2011, hundreds of people came forward to say he had abused them as children. The spotlight then fell onto local authorities, the NHS, children’s homes and Westminster. Numerous individuals (including politicians) have been accused of the rape and sexual assault of children, with various organisations identified as potentially complicit in the cover-up of these crimes.
Cover-ups are something Jane knows only too well. Speaking to The Canary, she described her childhood as “a time when anything was possible … where all the world was in front of me”. But all this changed in late spring, 40 years ago.
I remember the weather; where we were; what I was wearing; what he was wearing and what was happening one second before. My senses remember it and always, around late Spring time, my body reacts and I get ill. I dissociated so much at the actual time [of the assault] that I came out of my body and was suspended above it. All I remember is thinking: this is not happening; this is not happening. Over and over. I didn’t do the ‘flight or fight’. I froze. Played dead.
Jane doesn’t go into the detail of her assault in 1976. But it wasn’t a stranger, or someone she barely knew. Nor was it a boyfriend, or male friend of the family. It was her Grandad.
Blotting everything out
“I can’t remember the rest of the day, or the following weeks or months,” Jane says. “I never told anyone. There was nothing to tell”. She went on to say that:
He never said a thing. He never said ‘don’t tell.’ He never said ‘this is our secret’ or threatened me in any way. Therefore, I must have made my Grandad do such a thing. I must have led him on. I must have been OK with it, as I didn’t stop him. I didn’t go running and crying to anyone. I loathed myself and felt shameful.
Feelings of self-loathing and shame were just a part of the long-term effect it had on her. The repercussions were tangible and devastating. Jane describes how it affected her behaviour, that she “went into overdrive” and became a “workaholic”. This automatic reaction to throw herself into something, anything, to try and blot out the trauma of what had happened is probably not uncommon. She says that “the denial became avoidance”:
I was a risk taker. Loved a thrill. And loathed my body image and myself so much that self-care was not a priority. It affected my decisions and choices & led me to marrying an emotionally abusive man. I didn’t like myself, so why marry a kind, generous, loving man? I didn’t deserve such a person.
Her marriage to her husband lasted 13 years. She says it was marred by arguments; emotional abuse; mind games; intimidation; putdowns and constant criticisms. She stuck at her marriage for so long, seemingly because she didn’t think she was worth anything more. Those feelings of self-loathing and an inherent worthlessness were dragging her down.
But her life was thrown into sharp focus by a conversation she had one day, 19 years ago in her kitchen. The situation appeared innocuous at first, but as Jane describes, it quickly turned into a “snow globe being shaken up and down”, and her life became a storm.
Hell on earth
She was having a coffee with a cousin who was going through a rough patch. They needed someone to talk to. Then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, they told Jane that her Grandad had sexually assaulted them, too. Jane remembers running to the sink and being violently sick. And then the full ramifications of that conversation hit her:
Their truth shone a torch on my truth. I could no longer avoid it and I began two decades worth of dealing with it.
Little did I know on that day in the kitchen, that I would have to face: my Grandad denying it; my Mam, brother and husband not standing by me; my Nana ostracising me and hoping God would forgive me for lying; pounds spent on counselling (due to a lack of long term NHS therapy); some people running for the hills if I disclosed; a severe depression and anxiety lasting three years; flashbacks – two so severe I ended up in A&E twice; suicidal thoughts; a referral to a Crisis Team; a year off work; not being able to carry on at work and taking early retirement; having to sell my house and feeling I would end up being a bag woman walking the streets.
Hell on Earth.
Jane says at times she felt so vulnerable and helpless that she just didn’t know what to do. She was living with depression. But it was only four years ago that it hit her, causing her to spiral down into severe depression and anxiety.
She recalls it was just after the London Olympics, when the news broke about the allegations surrounding Jimmy Savile. It hit her like a train.
Jane said she “couldn’t escape it and I couldn’t escape my thoughts and feelings”. She was hardly eating or sleeping. She “couldn’t see past the day I was living”. She was still going to work, but when she reversed her car into a wall by accident, she realised she had to see her GP:
For every person that turned their back on me, I was very fortunate to have another one take their place. My GP was (still is) a buffer against the world. Advising time off work, prescribing medication, referring me to mental health services. Always having time to listen, empathise and come up with a plan.
Jane says that her genuine friends didn’t desert her. They always made time to check she was OK, or pop round. Her daughter, son, sister and sister-in-law were rocks for her, as well: “an abundance of patience, love and understanding”. Her GP says that she had probably been mildly depressed since the assault happened, but that she had kept it at bay through that automatic reaction of throwing herself into everything else. “Denial becoming avoidance”. But then the Savile stories opened the floodgates.
Slow realisations as a survivor
Jane says that with the support of her GP and those closest to her, she began, slowly, to heal. She found a balance of medication that worked for her, and engaged in what’s known as ‘eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing therapy’ (EMDR). But she also came to learn about herself, and began to put an end to the self-loathing:
I came to learn from therapy and reading that the betrayal by a very close family member (a supposed caregiver) was the ultimate betrayal. That my family’s lack of belief and support was a double betrayal, that re-traumatised me. I learnt that he had groomed me so well, and that he was so high up on a pedestal in our family, that he didn’t have to say ‘keep it a secret’. He thought he was above the law. He was so credible in the business world too. Whoever would have believed me over him?
Jane has managed, as a survivor, to begin to heal the wounds of what happened to her all those years ago. But it was Judge Goddard’s resignation, and also some research released on the same day, that made her want to tell her story. To try and make a difference to someone else.
The Crime Survey for England and Wales estimates that one in 14 adults were sexually assaulted during their childhood. A shocking figure. The survey also suggested that 567,000 females aged between 16 and 59, and 102,000 males in the same age bracket, had experienced “sexual assault by rape or penetration” when they were children. The report also found that three in four survivors of these assaults said they did not report what happened at the time, most commonly because of “embarrassment or humiliation, or thinking that they would not be believed”.
It was this last statement which rang true with Jane. “How many haven’t reported?” she says. “I didn’t ever ‘report’. It has been bad enough disclosing to my family, never mind the authorities”. She says she didn’t say anything at the time because “my family’s reaction to me when I was a 38-year-old adult” was bad enough. With a tragic resignation, she said, “I did what I did at the time in 1976 for sheer survival.”
Justice and peace
But she now feels at ease, somewhat, with events. And it’s this point which she feels is so crucial relating to the CSA Inquiry. Because no matter how long ago something happened, it is never too late to seek help, to try and begin to deal with it:
Logically, I know I was not to blame. That he was totally responsible for his actions. Through therapy, support, bloody hard work and eventually cutting out toxic people from my life, I’m really beginning to believe it. Feeling it. Finding joy in life again. Feeling very grateful for my family, friends and life. Starting to show myself compassion and self-care. Being kind to myself. Beginning to like that self-conscious, sad, ashamed teenager I once was. Because, along with the confident, curious, enthusiastic five-year-old I once was – they are all a part of me.
Jane knows that her case, and every other one, are all completely different. She says that with the resignation of Judge Goddard that “a lot of survivors must be feeling abandoned. Again. Feeling let down. Feeling betrayed. Again. A lot of survivors must be financially and emotionally struggling. A lot of charities struggling to support survivors”. She also says that she would never encourage anyone to report what had happened to them: “I know only too well the taboo around abuse in a family. I felt the wolves at the door. I have felt the stigma and shame”.
But would she change things, and still speak out when she was 38?
Yes. I believe abuse is toxic and it festers. I had to cut out the poison. But that was my choice. Everyone has to make and live by their own choices. And I still wouldn’t have spoken out when it first happened. There was the fear of the wrath. Of the shame. Of splitting the family up.
Justice means something different to everyone. For Jane, the justice she’s had is that her Grandad is now dead. But she says the justice she truly wanted was from her “Mam and Nana”. For them to validate her experience.
Optimistically, though, she says:
Justice is also peace for me. It is every day I feel freer from the triggers and the feelings of self-loathing. It’s every day I spend loving, laughing and sharing good times and sad with my two children and my loyal family and friends.
But justice for many others will require the CSA Inquiry to get quickly back on track. That finally, after decades, those who want it can see justice prevail. That those responsible for some of the most heinous crimes imaginable are finally exposed, and that legislation surrounding the safeguarding of children is drastically improved, along with the support networks that are available.
While Jane has found her justice and peace, sadly many still haven’t. But Jane’s positive ending to a tragic story shows that if there is one certainty, it is that there is always hope. She concludes:
I can testify that I was not to blame. It was not my fault. It was all his fault.
Something which every survivor should always try, if they can, to remember.
– If you are an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse and would like to speak to someone, contact The National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC) on 0808 801 0331, free from landlines and mobiles, from 10am to 9pm Monday-Thursday, and 10am to 6pm on Friday.
– If you are a child, or concerned about the safety of one, contact the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000, 24 hours a day.
– If you are concerned a child may be in immediate danger, call 999.
– You can find more support at The Survivor’s Trust website.
Featured image via Public Domain Pictures