Quick Exit

Experiences Shared

Cathy

All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Cathy was sexually abused by a youth worker in her church who became a minister and went on to work in another youth organisation. Cathy felt stonewalled by the church in her attempts to gain acknowledgment of the sexual abuse, but has persisted in speaking out, with the support of her loved ones.

Cathy grew up in a strict religious family and felt very isolated as a child. Her mother had a condition which made it difficult to have visitors, and she never knew her grandparents.

In her early teens, she joined the local church youth group where she met Alexander, who had been appointed to look after young people. Alexander organised an evening drop-in for the young people and Cathy attended regularly until she went to college.

She was able to talk about her personal problems and describes how it felt ‘amazing’ to have someone listen to her – she felt Alexander understood and cared for her.

Cathy had a local voluntary job. To her surprise she discovered Alexander also attended there and he suggested that she could help with administration. He would pick her up and take her to his house where she would do typing for him.

Over time Alexander started to talk more about himself and problems in his marriage. He told Cathy she was the only person he could talk to. He would put his arm around her and on one occasion made her lie on a sofa and put his hands on her.

He was much bigger than her physically and would tell her that he was showing her ‘God’s love’. The sexual abuse escalated. Alexander would approach Cathy while she was typing and put his hands down her top.

Then on one occasion, he demanded oral sex, telling Cathy it was all for her benefit and she must not tell anyone.

She was forced to have penetrative sex on four occasions at various locations, including her own bedroom, which she had considered her safe place.

Later, when Alexander hosted a residential retreat he would take her to his room every afternoon; she felt unable to say no.

Some people were suspicious having seen Alexander and Cathy together regularly, and it was reported to the church. She believes Alexander was visited by members of the church to discuss his relationship with her, but she was never asked about it.

The sexual abuse lasted many months, until Alexander asked Cathy to pose for some photos in a bikini. She said no and felt empowered by her refusal.

She wrote Alexander a letter saying that she wanted it all to stop. When she next saw him he simply said: ‘I got your letter, that’s fine’, and walked off.

Cathy tried to move on with her life. When she attended a seminar on grooming she recognised that this was what had happened to her. She felt able to discuss it a little with her loved ones.

The church was reviewing its safeguarding procedures and asked if anyone wanted to share their experiences. Cathy wrote down her account and sent it to the church, expecting both acknowledgement and support in return.

Weeks went by with no response and this made her increasingly anxious that her confidentiality might have been broken or the letter gone astray. Eventually she received what she considered a very poor response in terms of confidentiality and respect for her.

Cathy says at that time she was suffering from depression and anxiety and had suicidal thoughts. Eventually the church ‘put their hands up’ and offered some support.

However, she found the offer hugely upsetting as it would have put her back in the environment where some of the sexual abuse had occurred. Cathy feels this was the last straw.

She had a breakdown and attended a mental health centre. She has been receiving weekly support from the NHS and says working with the community psychiatric nurse has been very helpful.

Cathy wrote to a senior official in the church to make a formal complaint of sexual abuse, but again received no response. She discovered that Alexander was a minister and had been moved from another church due to allegations of incidents involving other women. Cathy remembered that he had told her that ‘she was not the first’.

Cathy made a report to the police, but the Crown Prosecution Service stated that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute. They added that the allegations would be flagged on file should anything further come to their attention. She feels very unhappy with the poor procedures she has encountered while trying to report the sexual abuse she suffered.

Still feeling that she had unfinished business, Cathy took out a civil case against the church and won. She found this very empowering and has used the settlement to pay for psychotherapy and training.

Cathy later discovered that Alexander held a position of responsibility in a youth organisation. Someone close to her raised concerns about Alexander and they believe he has now been removed from this role and is not able to work with children anymore.

Your privacy

There are very limited circumstances where we tell anyone your name without your consent, for example if a child is currently at risk and we need to tell the police.