Quick Exit

Experiences Shared

Gemma

All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Gemma had an exceptionally difficult childhood. Neglect and domestic violence occurred regularly in the family home, so much so that all her older siblings were placed into care. 

Gemma’s mother had a mental mental illness and continued to neglect her youngest child until Gemma too was taken into care and fostered before she was two years old.

At the age of three, she was moved to live in a children’s home run by a woman who Gemma remembers she thought of as a mother.

Gemma stayed there for some years and says she felt settled and happy, apart from when her parents’ visits to the home upset and disturbed this stability. 

During one of these visits, when she was about nine years old, Gemma’s father began to sexually abuse her. This sexual abuse carried on for years, during which time she recalls her mother started to behave in a sexualised manner towards her.

When she was 13 years old, Gemma was introduced to new foster carers, Mr and Mrs Burn. She was taken to visit their home before she went to live with them.

Mr Burn would collect Gemma from the children’s home and, during the journey to his house, he would show her sexual and pornographic pictures.

Once she had moved in with the family, Mr Burn began sexually abusing her. His daughter told Gemma to ‘just accept it and let him do it’ and Gemma decided that the only way she could escape the situation was to behave horribly towards Mrs Burn.

The tactic worked, and Gemma was returned to the children’s home. She was subsequently given two more unhappy foster placements where she experienced physical abuse and poor care.

The sexual abuse by Gemma’s father continued until she was 18 years old. She reported him to the police, but it was a difficult experience as she had no support and says she was made to feel that she was the criminal.

Her father was convicted but she feels he received a very lenient sentence for the years of sexual abuse he carried out.

Some time after Gemma had left care and was living independently, she became terrified she would see Mr Burn, as he lived in the local area.

She is aware there were other victims, as she has discovered that at some point he went to prison for sexual abuse.

Gemma says her life has been shaped by the horrific experiences she suffered as a child and young person. She is very sad, angry and upset about the failure of local authorities and social services to keep her safe throughout her childhood. 

She demonstrated markedly disturbed behaviours as a child, including running away and substance abuse, but social services made no attempt to understand what was happening to her, despite having parental rights over her. 

She feels relationships have been difficult for her and she struggles to manage love and care for others.

She also thinks she is unable to make good judgements about people and as a result has ended up in relationships with others who have been abusive and controlling.

She still has vivid and terrible nightmares and flashbacks of her sexual abusers when she goes to sleep. 

Gemma has struggled with uncontrollable anger said that she has been ‘out-of-control’ in the past. She also abused alcohol but has successfully stopped drinking despite a lack of help from anyone.

There have been times when Gemma has self-harmed and taken overdoses.

Gemma believes she could have been a very different, successful person if things had been different in her childhood. If she had been able to stay at the children’s home where she was settled and happy she would not have suffered more abuse through foster placements and unwanted contact with her parents.

With the help of her counsellor, Gemma has taken a number of actions to try and get someone to accept responsibility for the sexual abuse that she suffered as a child.

She has requested help from the local authority, her MP, the police and medical services. However, despite her efforts, Gemma has been told that most of the relevant records relating to her as a child around the time of the sexual abuse are missing or incomplete. She finds this strange and suspects the truth has been covered up.

Gemma’s experience with her local police has been negative. She was visited by a male police officer alone at home, who Gemma says dismissed her specific needs and did not allow her to call a friend to come and support her.

Gemma was upset, shocked and confused by the police response to her as a victim of sexual abuse, and it has had an ongoing impact upon her.

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