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Experiences Shared

Aparna

All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Aparna’s life has been devastated by sexual abuse she suffered as a child.

The abuser went on to hurt other children and she struggles to forgive herself for not stopping him, although she understands it is not her fault.

Aparna’s parents migrated from South Asia to the UK in the 1970s, and she was born soon after. Her family stayed with relatives for a few years after they arrived. 

Aparna’s father had a lot of responsibility within his extended family and he worked long hours. Her mother was also very busy caring for her children and her husband’s relatives.

There were many people in the house, including a number of young children, and Aparna says that, looking back, there was an ‘assumption of trust and no one questioned behaviour’. It was normal for Aparna and her siblings to be left in the care of aunts and uncles. 

Aparna was four years old when one of her uncles, Dhruv, first sexually abused her. The abuse went on for about four years. 

She relates that it included ‘being touched all over and internally … he said things and held me down ... I had no control or say in what was being done to me’. He also came to her room many times at night and forced his penis into Aparna’s mouth. She remembers how it was always dark when he did this, which added to her horror and fear of what was happening.

Aparna says she constantly had dark bruising on her thighs, lower legs and buttocks. She remembers her mum being worried about the bruises, and she knows they were visible at home, at school and at hospital outpatient appointments she attended. But she says ‘Nobody asked and nobody did a single thing … which I now think was really odd’. 

The abuse by Dhruv caused a lot of physical pain for Aparna. He used to tell her that what he was doing was ‘normal’, but it was also a secret, and he would give her sweets which she liked. She can now see how this added to her confusion.

The abuse ended when Aparna’s family moved into their own house some distance from the extended family. But Aparna still had to go through the trauma of seeing Dhruv at family occasions, and endure a traditional ‘blessing’ of him placing his hand on her head.

Aparna’s life has been blighted for decades by the abuse. She has felt unclean and ashamed, and that she deserved what happened to her. She says ‘I’ve tried to build up my self-esteem but it can unravel in seconds. I’m afraid to be truly joyful because I feel tainted – damaged goods’.

She is troubled by vivid memories of smells and tastes that disgust her. Her memories of what her uncle did have made it impossible for her to tolerate being near men of a similar age and ethnicity.

She used to bed-wet, has self-harmed, attempted suicide and still lives with an eating disorder. She is unable to have intimate relationships and does not like being hugged or touched.

Many years later, Dhruv was sent to prison for sexually abusing more children in his family. Aparna says he was always a respected and popular figure among relatives and the community, and this continued even after his conviction, and then release from prison.

She has never told anyone in her family that he abused her. She struggles with guilt that he went on to abuse other children, even though as an adult she understands it was impossible for her to have stopped him. She says ‘I can’t forgive myself for a crime I’ve not committed … I felt so bad that I didn’t have the words to help others’.

Aparna has counselling and is successful in her professional career. But, she says ‘it’s really hard to wear this mask all day when inside I’m falling apart with secret shame, internal conflict, disarray and pain’. 

She says that when she heard about the Truth Project, she knew she had to share her experience. ‘Maybe something good can come out of it.’

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