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Experiences Shared


All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Kirsten was lonely as an adolescent and this left her vulnerable to grooming and sexual abuse by an older man.

When she made it obvious she was self-harming, staff at her school said she was attention-seeking.

Kirsten was an only child. Her parents were separated; she lived with her mum and saw her dad occasionally. Because her mum had to work long hours, Kirsten was often left alone for long periods. 

Kirsten says she was a ‘bright child’ who did well in primary school. She adds that she was ‘geeky’. This was never a problem at primary school but she was bullied at secondary school.

She didn’t feel she could talk to her mum about this, partly because she didn’t get back from work until the evening, and also because Kirsten knew she was under a lot of pressure and didn’t want to add to her worries. 

This meant Kirsten felt very lonely. When a man called Bradley, who she met at a station, showed an interest in her, she felt pleased and flattered. She was about 13; he told her he was 20 but was in fact seven years older than that.  

One day Kirsten played truant from school, and Bradley shoplifted some alcohol. They went to her house and talked about music and other shared interests. Then Bradley raped her. She remembers she turned her head away and he kept trying to turn it back. She also remembers the intense pain and trying to get away, but he was too heavy on her. 

Afterwards, Bradley acted ‘like everything was normal’, asking when her mum would be home. She said ‘soon’ to make him leave, then she ran a hot bath and scrubbed herself. She was crying and ‘feeling so stupid’. 

Kirsten says she didn’t want her mum to worry about her, and she felt it was her problem to deal with. She told a school friend, who said she was ‘stupid to take a grown man back to your house’. After this, she felt unable to tell anyone else.

She continued to see Bradley but he never raped her again. She later found out he was grooming and abusing other young girls and that he had not told her his real name. He was later sent to prison for sexually abusing a young girl. 

Kirsten says she began self-harming and became aggressive at school. She exposed the damage she was inflicting on herself by wearing short-sleeved shirts and she was excluded as a result. Teachers said she was attention-seeking, but no one asked her why her behaviour had changed and she was harming herself. Her mum was angry with her too.

Things became worse for Kirsten, as she started using drugs and alcohol. This affected her education and she left school with no qualifications.

Kirsten has suffered a range of physical and mental health problems, including agoraphobia and an eating disorder. She has been involved in abusive relationships and had negative sexual experiences.

Kirsten would like to see mental health support prioritised in schools, with school counsellors available for young people. She believes schools should give young people information and knowledge about sex and healthy relationships, and that teachers should be trained about sexual abuse and trauma.  

She feels she does have a good insight into her feelings and behaviour, and is now able to care for and value herself. She says her daughter has helped her recovery and given her hope for the future. 

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