Quick Exit

Experiences Shared

Karyn

All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

When her mother’s boyfriend, Brian, moved into the family home, Karyn’s childhood was devastated by terror and physical and sexual violence.

She is still enduring the severe effects of this trauma on every aspect of her health and wellbeing.

Karyn was about seven years old when Brian moved into the house. He had two sons, one of whom also moved in; the other stayed with them regularly. 

At this point, Karyn’s life changed drastically. Brian began to enter her bedroom at night and violently rape her, vaginally and anally, and force her to perform oral sex on him. She knows she did not really understand what was happening to her, she was a young child still in primary school. The threats of further harm from Brian if she told anyone kept her in constant fear and silence about the abuse.

The son who visited the family home also raped and abused Karen and the son who lived with them sexually interfered with her. 

She says her mother was ‘vulnerable’ and that she and Brian began to drink frequently and heavily. Karyn feels her mother was not available to her due to her drinking and mental health problems.

She described the horrific level of violence she was subjected to during theses assaults and the threats of harming anyone she told, which kept her in constant fear and silence about the abuse.

Karyn describes vividly how the abuse changed her from ‘a bright, happy little girl who enjoyed school and performed well to a crushed, cowering, petrified nervous wreck who found life intolerable and longed to die’. She remembers how she was unable to sleep because she was terrified that one of the abusers would come into her room at night. She was constantly tired and unable to concentrate.

One night in desperation she rang the Samaritans, but one of Brian’s sons picked up the telephone extension in another room. He beat Karyn and told her to keep quiet.

On another occasion, Karyn phoned a friend of her mother and told her what was happening to her. The friend was very supportive and told her she had done the right thing. Karyn describes the sense of relief that someone was going to help her, but in a terrible twist of fate, her mother’s friend became ill and died.

Karyn says at the time she believed she was responsible for the friend’s death because she had been told that something bad would happen if she told anyone about the abuse. ‘I felt their threat had come true and I felt overwhelmed with guilt’, she remembers today.

The abuse continued for some years, but by the time Karyn had begun secondary school Brian and his sons had moved on. 

But the effects of her ordeal continued. Karyn began suffering severe depression, she self-harmed and attempted suicide. She experienced gynaecological and medical difficulties and has had difficulties in forming and maintaining adult relationships: ‘They destroyed my innocence and took away my childhood … I was a hollow shell, a child just filled with terror and anxiety. They destroyed any trust I had in adults, men in particular.’

She continued to have trouble sleeping, due to anxiety that Brian and his sons may still be abusing children. Years later, she found the courage to report the abuse to the police. This was not a positive experience for Karyn – she felt she was not taken seriously – but driven by her concern to protect children she approached the police again more recently, and the matter was fully investigated.

The police discovered that one of Brian’s sons had died but Brian and his other son were charged. The son was sentenced to six years in custody. A verdict was not reached in relation to Brian, who died before he faced a retrial. Karyn says she is relieved that her abusers no longer pose a risk to children.

Karyn says she has lived with a ‘crippling lack of self-worth’ most of her life. She has had therapy to try to help her depression. Because she was unable to engage with her education, Karyn’s employment opportunities have been affected. The abuse destroyed her relationship with her mother and she left home and married early.

In later adulthood she learnt that her sibling was also abused by Brian and his sons and she now questions if she and her sibling were the reason that Brian began a relationship with her mother in the first place.

Karyn recommends that children are given compulsory sex education so that they are aware of what healthy relationships are and can recognise if things that are happening to them are wrong.

She also believes that therapists’ notes should be seen by their clients after each session so that any inaccuracies can be amended at the time. This is because a minor mistake in a therapist’s notes was made a great deal of in the trial of Karyn’s abusers.

Karyn concludes that she would like institutions and organisations who deal with victims and survivors of child sexual abuse to be sensitive to the lasting impact that abuse can have.

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