Quick Exit

Experiences Shared

Hannah

All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Hannah was sexually abused by her uncle, her mother’s stepbrother, in her home and in the home of her grandparents.

She was very young at the time and, as the perpetrator was a relative, she says she initially thought the abuse was ‘normal family affection.’ She describes her family set-up as ‘odd’.

Hannah lived with her parents and sister until her parents separated when she was still quite young. Hannah and her sister initially lived with her dad but he soon met a new partner. Hannah describes her as ‘not very nice’ and Hannah and her younger sister went to live with her mum and step-dad. Hannah has not seen her father since.

Hannah’s uncle was a lot younger than her mother, and closer in age to Hannah. He would often stay over at Hannah’s home or they would all stay with Hannah’s grandparents, who lived close by. Hannah looked on her relationship with him as ‘more like a brother or a cousin than an uncle’. She saw him as a good role model and a friend.  

The sexual abuse Hannah was subjected to took place on multiple occasions and continued for five or six years. It began with inappropriate touching and progressed to rape.

She describes how, when her uncle began to sexually abuse her, she did not realise it was wrong, but thought it was a kind of affection and part of a normal family relationship. Hannah and her uncle were often left alone together so there was plenty of opportunity for him to abuse her.

It was only when she began to receive sex education at school that she realised it was abuse and that it should not have been happening to her.

Hannah experiences flashbacks of the abuse. She thinks it may have been more extensive than she remembers, but she has blocked out some of the memories as they are too traumatic.

After one incident Hannah remembers she was bleeding but lied to her mother and grandmother about how it happened, and they never questioned her further. As a mother herself now, she says she finds this hard to come to terms with.  

Hannah describes herself as ‘precocious’: she often dressed more ‘grown up’ than other girls and wore make-up from an early age. She believes she was more sexually aware than her peers, but this was never picked up on by her family or teachers. At the time she was being abused, she thinks she did exhibit signs of distress, but no one noticed. ‘I felt like the world had forgotten me’, she says.

Hannah relates how, when she realised she had been abused, it impacted on her personality. She changed from being very sociable, outgoing and ‘girly’ to being shy, introverted and ‘not girly’ in any way. She stopped wearing dresses or make-up. The switch happened very quickly, but this significant change was never recognised or questioned.  

 

Hannah believes she wanted to talk to someone about the abuse and would have done so if she had been asked if she was ok, but she never was.

She reflects, ‘the only place I felt I had control was in my own bedroom’, and she never wanted to socialise or go on school trips. She found it difficult to make friends with other girls and was traumatised when she was made to work alongside ‘alpha-male’ boys who reminded her of her uncle.  

She thinks this made her time at school more difficult, although she found going away to university easier. At university she says she became more open and started to talk about her experiences, but she adds that she has struggled with the physical side of relationships.

Hannah has now told her siblings what her uncle did and they have confirmed that he did not abuse them, which she says was a relief. However, they were not surprised at the revelation and Hannah says he is not popular in the family.

However, the abuser is still close to Hannah’s mother so she has chosen not to disclose the abuse to her, and says it is difficult having to see him regularly. She would like to go to the police but feels the situation is ‘too complicated’.

Hannah found it very difficult and stressful when she discovered that her uncle’s partner was pregnant and worried about whether she should say anything if the child was a girl.

Hannah has several ideas about how children could be better protected from sexual abuse. Because her family moved around a lot, she feels she may have got ‘lost in the system’ as there was no consistency.

She believes there should be better education in schools about seeing signs of abuse and questioning changes in behaviour, especially in independent schools (she says they should be monitored in the same way that Ofsted checks state schools).

She would like schools to provide children with a dedicated member of staff to build up trust and continuity, and that if children move around their records should follow them from place to place.

Hannah thinks that children should be regularly educated about abuse and how to keep themselves safe, and that parents should be told how to provide support and how to spot the signs of abuse.

She would like employees to receive regular, and more specific, training to understand the impacts of child sexual abuse on individuals and for there to be more awareness in society of the prevalence of child sexual abuse and its impacts.

She would also like to see longer sentences for people convicted of sexual abuse.

Hannah’s partner also attended her session with the Truth Project and believes that partners of survivors need more advice on how to help and support loved ones who have been sexually abused.

 

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