Quick Exit

Experiences Shared


All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Iris’s father subjected her and her disabled mother to abuse and bullying. This made Iris vulnerable to abuse by other men and left her feeling confused and guilty about the sexual abuse she was subjected to on several occasions.

She says ‘It was a common experience in women and girls’ daily lives. Well, that was my experience.’ And she has questioned: ‘Was I too attractive? Was I to blame?’.

Iris describes her father as ‘rough as rats’. He worked as an accountant following service in the merchant navy. She spent most of her time as a little girl with her mother, who was partially sighted and unwell due to severe allergies. Still, Iris says she felt protected by her mother.

Her first experience of sexual abuse occurred when she was aged between four and five years old, at primary school. She says ‘I was sick and so I was taken to the teacher's office and he touched me down there ... I couldn’t cope. People thought I was being naughty.’ She adds it was a huge shock to her after such a sheltered start in life.

Iris started at a new primary school when the family moved to a different area because her father found a new job. Iris describes her family as being quite ‘out of place’ in the ‘well-to-do’ village they’d moved to. Her father was abusive to her mother, referring to her as ‘a lower animal, with no brain’. He described Iris the same way.

Following the move, Iris’s father also started a new business with a partner. This man began grooming Iris, calling her ‘my flower’ and ‘my beautiful daffodil’. Iris was eight years old and says by this time her mother could not provide the attention she needed and that she ‘would do anything for attention’.

She relates how the abuse progressed, with the abuser getting her to play with his penis. She was 10 years old when she had ‘full sex’ with him, on an occasion when he was supposed to be babysitting her. She describes feelings she had that illustrate how confused she was by the manipulative behaviour of her abuser and a view that she encouraged the abuse. She believes that people who have been abused don’t understand they may feel like this ‘because we’ve been groomed, touched, fiddled with … it’s not our fault.’ 

After she was raped Iris says she was frightened of how it made her feel, she knew it ‘wasn’t right’. She told her parents who dismissed it as ‘what drunk men will do’. The abuse stopped but she had to endure the perpetrator coming to her house to meet with her father for the next few years.

A further incident of sexual abuse took place around the same time at her primary school. Iris says that when she was in her final year one teacher would single out girls for ‘additional help’ and put them in the cupboard in his room and sexually abuse them. When he tried this with her, she says she let him ‘get so far’ but because of her previous experience she knew what was coming and told him: ‘No, you’re not doing that to me.’ She and a friend reported him to the headmistress and she says he was subsequently prosecuted and sent to prison. 

Iris describes being abused by a GP, at around the same age. During an examination the doctor grabbed her by hand and rubbed it against his penis. She says: ‘I knew what men did by that point, but I trusted him. He was a doctor.’

During her time at secondary school, Iris says she was harassed by a family of boys, the oldest of whom raped her. He was in his 20s.

Iris left school at in her mid-teens after truanting a lot and slapping a teacher across the face. She found work as an ancillary nurse and on one occasion she was locked in a room by a male nurse who tried to rape her. She managed to push him off and escape. She says didn’t report the incident because she feared for her job.

Some time later Iris became a resident herself in the same hospital. She remembers people ‘fiddling with me’ during this time but says she could never have spoken up about this because, in the mental health system, ‘you had no rights’. She shared a room with another young woman who had been abused by a relative and says they were both labelled as ‘deviant’ and blamed for the abuse they experienced. Iris says she was diagnosed with a personality disorder but feels this was probably a misdiagnosis of reactions to her circumstances.

The abuse impacted on her career supporting vulnerable people: ‘I couldn’t go on because I realised I hadn’t resolved my own stuff.’  

Iris says that as well as affecting her education and career, sexual abuse has damaged her relationships with men and her ability to enjoy sex. She says she did not want to ‘make myself vulnerable again even though I loved my partners. Also, it was the shame, how could I let that happen again?’ 

She thinks it is important that people in the mental health system should know their rights. She highlights the need for awareness raising among children, so they can recognise the signs of abuse. Teachers and other professionals need to be able to ‘stick their neck out’ without fear of losing their jobs. Most importantly she says, there is a need for people’s attitude to sexual abuse to change.

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