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Experiences Shared

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The‌ ‌Inquiry‌ ‌has‌ ‌taken‌ ‌the‌ ‌difficult decision‌‌ to‌ ‌stop‌ holding face to face Truth Project sessions‌ ‌at‌ ‌this‌ ‌time, after carefully considering the Government's guidance. Other methods of sharing are still available.

Isobel

All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Isobel was one of five children in a family that never had enough money. She describes her childhood as ‘hard’. As she was mature for her age, she took on a helping role alongside her mother. She found school difficult and felt ‘isolated and lost’ there.

One of the teachers, Mr Smith, ran a club that her siblings attended, and he suggested she join too. He organised outward bound trips for the club; Isobel was always given her own tent and it was on one of these outings that he began to sexually abuse her. She reflects that not only did he groom her but also her family, as her mother probably welcomed another adult taking her children on holidays when she could not afford to. 

Isobel says that between her early and mid teens, she was in a ‘sexual relationship’ with Mr Smith and describes how confusing it was for her: ‘I had something that was different and special and a sense of security as my family weren’t there.’ She adds: ‘It felt like a drug I couldn’t give up, but I wanted to be normal.’

She describes how the abuse left her feeling isolated. She told some people about it, but no one believed her or took any action until a school friend saw Mr Smith enter her tent one night and reported it to the school. When the headteacher questioned her, she says she was so terrified of the repercussions that she strenuously denied everything. As she left school that day, Mr Smith ran after her and she reassured him nothing had been said. 

On another occasion Isobel told her abuser she was sore, and he took her to the ‘VD clinic’. She says this was an awful experience that made her feel ashamed and also angry, as she realised Mr Smith was only concerned about himself.

After the abuse had started, her older sister found letters to her from Mr Smith and told her that she and her mother had an appointment to see the headteacher. Isobel says she felt ‘really scared’ about getting into trouble. She was later told the teacher would be disciplined but found out that he had resigned.

She says she felt the school blamed her – the deputy head suggested that she should be expelled and when Mr Smith approached her one lunch time, off school grounds, a teacher who spotted the interaction gave Isobel a telling off, implying Isobel had lured him to her.

About 12 years ago Isobel realised the abuse might be of interest to the police. She had thought she would wait until her mother died until she reported it, but ‘then there was Savile, and I had an overwhelming desire to do something’.

Isobel told her sister, who was supportive about her plan to report it, but her mother ‘went hysterical’. Her family never talked about the abuse and her mother had never told her dad. She describes how her mother’s guilt about the abuse has impacted upon her ability to talk to her.

Isobel says it was a desire to have a voice, and to have her experiences acknowledged, that drove her to report the abuse. She says she had ‘felt alone and that nobody would come … I tried to talk to people, but they were like: “Oh, oversharing?” … I couldn’t access support at the time due to a lack of acknowledgement by society and by my family.’

Having reported the abuse, Isobel wasn’t offered the choice of a male or female to make her video statement to. Mr Smith pleaded guilty before the court case began. She says his admission was a relief, but she didn’t have her day in court. When she saw him in court for sentencing, Isobel thought he looked small and pathetic and says it helped her to see him like this, to overlay the memories.

But she adds: ‘I thought it would bring closure, but it didn’t.’ Mr Smith was given a one-year suspended sentence and 200 hours' community service. Isobel feels strongly about the court process: ‘His mitigation was consensual … it’s not the full facts. I could have screamed. There was no recognition from the court: “You did wrong. You’ve impacted on the rest of her life”.’

A year later Isobel found out that Mr Smith had been struck off the teaching register and put on the sexual offenders register. 

As a result of the sexual abuse, Isobel has experienced depression, a sense of being alone and self-blame. She feels that the standard six sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy offered on the NHS is insufficient, and comments how difficult it is to access appropriate support even if you have knowledge of the services available.

She adds: ‘We talk about it, but people don’t really understand the impact it has on the rest of their lives … It affected the person I married, how I coped when we broke up, the fact that I’ve done everything for everyone. I’m lost in the middle of that and I’m screaming for help. It's the reason the whole of my life I've not been a happier person and I’m not able to cope.’

Isobel would like to see the court process more victim centred to take into account victims’ feelings. Isobel believes that if someone goes to the police it should trigger access to high level specialist support and the police should ask about emotional damage as well as physical when they take a statement.

Isobel considers there should be more support for potential abusers so that teachers or others who are having thoughts about sexually offending can access support and talk to someone.

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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.