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Experiences Shared


All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Elspeth describes her parents as two middle class and respectable people, on the surface. But behind the scenes, there was domestic violence in the family home, and they both sexually abused their daughter.

Elspeth was the eldest of two siblings. The abuse she suffered at home was so regular and extensive that she finds it hard to be sure when it began. She knows that when she was a baby she was placed into foster care because her mother had serious mental health issues.

After some time Elspeth was returned to the care of her parents. Her father was a teacher and her mother stayed at home and was also a voluntary children’s group leader.

Elspeth thinks her earliest recollections of abuse are from before she started school. Her father would sexually abuse and rape her, threatening that he would hurt her younger sibling if she said anything.

Her father was an active member of a church and would take her to church buildings where she remembers being subjected to organised sexual abuse by adult men.

Elspeth was also sexually abused at home by her mother. She says it is difficult for her to tell when normal care by her mother became sexual, but she knows that it did.

Her mother would always be in the bathroom when Elspeth was in there, not just as a child but throughout her teenage years and into early adulthood. Her mother was also domineering and physically violent towards her. Elspeth says her younger sibling knew what was happening but they never spoke about it.

When Elspeth was infant school age, the family moved. Later her parents separated, but the abuse continued. She says she didn’t play with other children at school and when the playground supervisors asked her why not, she just said she wanted to be left alone.

She says that tutors tried a few times to check if something was wrong at home but she just couldn’t say anything and no one pursued it. Social services were not involved with her family. She says people knew her mother was mentally unwell but she thinks her parents were both viewed as ‘respectable’ and it was never considered that anything ‘really bad’ could be happening in the household.

When she was about nine years old, Elspeth, her mother and her sibling moved further away from her father and the abuse by him stopped as she had less and less contact with him. But the abuse by her mother continued.

Elspeth later developed mental health problems. Desperate to get away she got a place at university but says ‘I managed to pretend to be normal for a whole year … then everything just crashed’.

She had a breakdown, was self-harming and had to leave her course for a while. She had some counselling but was scared to tell anyone what the real cause of her problems was.

She says she feared not being believed, couldn’t find the words to try and describe the abuse and was terrified what would happen if her parents found out.

She did succeed in getting her degree, but with nowhere to go after university, she returned home to her mother. Within a few days the abuse started again. She tried to work but her mental health declined badly. She had some counselling but felt she was not believed and did not find it helpful.

She later returned to university as a mature student and did well in her studies. She had more counselling that she says was a great help, and is now married. She says this is the first relationship she has allowed herself to be involved in, as for years she feared any kind of intimacy.

Elspeth reported her abuse to the police last year after prompting by her counsellor. But she is still fearful of retribution and doesn’t feel strong enough to cope with any criminal proceedings.

Elspeth would like to see education programmes in schools about child sexual abuse. She says that like her, children being abused may not have the language to explain or even understand that what is happening to them is abuse.

She would like to see professionals who work with children be fully trained to spot the signs of abuse and to support and encourage the child to talk about what is happening to them. She feels there were many signs for years that things were not right for her. She was ‘sad and solitary’ at school and despite academic success, socially and behaviourally there were clearly problems.

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