Quick Exit

Experiences Shared


All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Mary has made great efforts to deal with the trauma of sexual abuse by her older brother, but it continues to haunt her.

Mary feels her experiences have wrecked her relationships and knows that she is exceptionally protective of her child. She says: ‘I feel my life would have taken a totally different path if I hadn’t been abused.’

The sexual abuse began when she was ten years old, with her brother claiming: ‘This is what big brothers do … show you how to do it … explain sex.’ Within a short space of time, he was regularly raping her. She describes how at first she trusted him because he was her big brother, but when she started secondary school she realised what he was doing was wrong and challenged him. He became violent towards her and the sexual abuse continued. She told her best friend at school about the sexual abuse, but no one else.

Mary’s brother was her regular babysitter, and she recalls that on one occasion her mother went away for the whole of the school holiday, leaving him in charge. The sexual abuse continued for many years, until Mary hit him, and he left the family home.

When she was still a teenager, Mary left home and had a child. She says she could just about manage seeing her brother at family events but would never be alone with him. On learning that he was moving to the same town as her, Mary says: ‘I had a meltdown. I didn’t want him near me or near my child.’ She visited her mother and told her about the sexual abuse, but her mother’s response was dismissive. Mary felt this proved no one would believe her.

However, when she told her stepfather and father they both believed her. Mary’s father could not understand why she had not told him while the sexual abuse was happening, as she saw him regularly. Mary says: ‘I couldn’t tell my dad because I didn’t want to leave my siblings – my brother had said they would be taken away.’

Mary reported her sexual abuse to the police, who she says took her seriously and began an investigation. Her brother was arrested and her mother was interviewed, but Mary believes she lied to protect her son. She says the police knew her mother was lying but there was insufficient evidence for her brother to be charged. She was disappointed that neither her father nor her stepfather was interviewed.

Reflecting on her childhood, Mary feels there were clear signs something was wrong that should have been picked up in school. She relates how she changed from being a high performer in primary school to being challenging in secondary school, but all the signs she displayed of her distress were put down to hormones. She feels she was labelled a ‘naughty kid’ and by the time a teacher tried to ask her what was wrong it was too late. Mary is clear that if teaching staff had asked her earlier she would have told them.

The sexual abuse Mary suffered has had a significant impact on her. After reporting the matter to the police, she suffered a breakdown and post-traumatic stress disorder and has received counselling. Although she feels she has dealt with the impact now, she continues to have night terrors. When she looks at her child, she feels incredulous about the sexual abuse she suffered at the same age.

Mary wanted to share her experience through the Truth Project to make recommendations to help others. She is concerned that schools today are no more prepared to recognise and manage the non-verbal indications that children may be suffering sexual abuse than they were when she was at school. She thinks that school staff need more training in how to respond to allegations of sexual abuse; that clear guidance is needed to manage allegations; that all schools should educate children about sexual abuse; and that fear of making wrong accusations should not prevent teachers from taking action.

She would like the police to take guidance from victims and survivors about the appropriate people to interview and gather evidence from in any investigation. They should not assume parents are protective, and appropriate adults present in child abuse interviews should not be related to the child. She thinks there is a clear role for victims and survivors of sexual abuse to contribute to safeguarding training for professionals.

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