Quick Exit

Experiences Shared

Angie

All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Angie’s early experiences of an unstable family life included living abroad, divorce of her parents, hospitalisation of her mother and harsh treatment by her stepmother. These made her vulnerable to a series of incidents of sexual abuse that continued into her adulthood.

On the point of committing suicide, she pulled back, and now continues to work on her recovery with the support of her husband.

Angie’s parents were both in the military and were stationed overseas when she and her sibling were young children. After her parents divorced she, her sibling and mother moved back to England. Angie had been born with a medical condition that meant she needed additional care and she thinks this may have placed extra pressure on her mother. Soon after their return, Angie’s mother was hospitalised and the siblings were placed in care.

Angie was one of the youngest in the children’s home. She clearly remembers sitting on the knee of the manager when he sexually assaulted her. She believes she told her mother that she did not like what this man was doing; she has a vivid memory of her mother confronting the manager and shouting hysterically at him.

The siblings were moved to another children’s home, where Angie says she was subjected to three incidents of sexual abuse by older residents in the home. The first involved three older boys trying to get a younger boy to penetrate her, which resulted in Angie sustaining a vaginal injury. She recalls using sanitary products to stem the bleeding, but instead of enquiring why such a young child needed them, staff told her off for wasting the products and stopped her pocket money.

In the second incident of sexual abuse, Angie was vaginally, orally and anally raped by an older boy who was resident in the home. Angie recalls how the children were required to clean shoes as a chore. It was on one of these occasions that the third incident occurred. An older boy told her that he would teach her how to polish shoes properly and proceeded to make her masturbate him.

Clearly dismayed, Angie comments that despite obvious signs that something was wrong, no one made inquiries of her or attempted to intervene. She describes how she displayed her distress: ‘I used to bite myself, throw myself downstairs, pull chunks of my hair out … and I was just labelled disruptive … Surely the carers weren’t that ignorant?’

Some time later, Angie and her sibling were asked if they want to return abroad to live with their father and his new wife. She recalls being frightened of this prospect due to things her mother had told her about him, but her sibling wanted to go so she agreed.

She describes their stepmother’s behaviour towards the siblings as ‘evil … we were like Cinderella’. They were made to do chores and behave to an exacting standard and Angie recalls that she was not allowed to socialise or have boyfriends. She wonders whether her stepmother resented them.

One day Angie was raped by a stranger, but the harsh regime of her home life meant she felt unable to tell her father or stepmother, as she feared she would be blamed for the attack. She does not recall any contact or checking by social services with her family after she returned to the care of her father.

Angie describes how the very difficult experiences she had as a child and young adult led to her having relationships with men who physically assaulted her, until she met her ‘amazing husband’. Together they built a family and a successful business, but an event occurred that revived her previous traumatic experiences and triggered serious mental health difficulties for Angie.

She was subjected to an assault by a man, which she reported to the police. She says this process was extremely difficult for her, particularly so as she was interviewed by two male officers, and her memories of being abused became powerfully vivid.

She says: ‘I had isolated myself as a means of protection; I was an adult, I could protect myself now and nothing was going to happen. Then BOOM! I felt so vulnerable and scared that I could not protect myself.’

Angie locked herself away and began to drink heavily. She was diagnosed with depression and referred for counselling but says this was a poor experience that added to her low self-esteem. With no confidence that she could get better and feeling that she had let her husband and children down, she climbed a high building to commit suicide.

She feels strongly that children in care need consistency to support attachments. To build a rapport, no more than three key staff should be involved in a child’s care, doing everything with the child, including the school run and visits to dentists and doctors. That way, if something is wrong with the child, they should have a good enough relationship to pick up on non-verbal indicators.

Angie adds that additional training is needed for residential workers to develop the skills to pick up and respond to changes in a child’s behaviour and ensure that they take responsibility to act.

She thinks social services departments are insufficiently equipped to provide the early support to families to prevent admissions to care, and that prevention should be the focus of work with families. Politicians should look at the long-term picture, not at short-term wins.

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