Skip to main content Quick Exit

Experiences Shared

Mayan

All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

After her mother left home, Mayan was sexually abused by her father.

She later found out that he recognised his inappropriate sexual feelings and had asked the church and the police for help before he started abusing her.

Mayan was the oldest girl in a large family. She grew up in the 1960s and 70s. She describes a very difficult and unsettled home life; her mother often left the family home and the children would be taken by their father to beg her to come back. 

One day Mayan’s mother left the house and never returned. 

Mayan, who was about 10 years old, took over the care of her younger siblings. She had been very close to her mother and missed her badly. 

Her father drank heavily and was aggressive and physically abusive. She describes him ‘shouting and bawling’ in the street; sometimes he threw the children’s clothes outside and they would have to go and retrieve them.

Soon after her mother left, her father started behaving in a way that made Mayan feel uncomfortable. She didn’t like the way he looked at her, and he would chase her around the kitchen table. She recalls ‘He made out it was a joke, but I knew, I just knew, it didn’t feel right’.

Before long, her father started to sexually abuse her. He would drag her out of her bed and take her into his. He often remarked that Mayan looked like her mother. 

Mayan believes that when she started her periods, her father was worried she might get pregnant, because he went to social services and told them that Mayan was having sex with someone. He asked them to put her on the contraceptive pill.

After this, Mayan was seen every week by a social worker, who she describes as ‘lovely’.  Mayan thinks she was concerned about what was happening in the household and tried to build a trusting relationship with Mayan to enable her to talk about it.  

But Mayan says she was too scared to disclose the abuse. Her father made her swear on the bible that she would not tell anyone. He also used to threaten Mayan that if anyone found out about the abuse, the younger children would have to go into care and it would be all her fault.  

One evening, when Mayan was 13 years old, her father went to see some neighbours. She found out later that he admitted to them he was abusing Mayan. The neighbours called the police, who came the same night. Mayan wanted to go on caring for the younger children but was not allowed to, and she describes feeling that this was all her fault. 

The children were taken into care, and Mayan is still grateful to the social worker who fought hard to keep them all together. ‘When I look back, she was very good at her job’ she says.

Not all the professionals who dealt with the case were kind and sensitive. One of Mayan’s most harrowing memories is being asked by a police woman after her physical examination ‘Why did you let your dad do that to you?’

Mayan is still distressed by this and says she hopes no one in the same situation today would ever be spoken to that way. ‘I felt guilty like it was my fault anyway … my dad used to say “It is because you wear your skirts too short” … that convinced me it was my fault’ she says. ‘Why would anyone say something like that?’ 

Mayan’s father was subsequently convicted of the sexual abuse and received a prison sentence. 

Some time later, Mayan learnt that before he abused her, her father had told a local priest and the police that he was concerned about the sexual feelings he had towards his daughter, and had asked them to help him. The police apparently said there was nothing they could do because he hadn’t committed any crime. The priest gave him a blessing.

Mayan feels this was a missed opportunity to stop the abuse before it happened. ‘That’s the thing that feels most raw to me’ she says. 

Despite her traumatic experiences, Mayan has always felt deep concern for others and still suffers with feelings of guilt. When her father was sexually abusing her, she thought about leaving home as soon as she was old enough, but worried about what might happen to her siblings if she left.

Mayan found it hard to understand how her mother could leave her children, and feels guilty about that. She also feels sad for her because she knows her father was violent towards her mother. She now wonders if he had a mental health problem.

She even expresses concern for a call handler on a telephone helpline she once rang in distress.

Mayan recognises that she suffers emotionally because of her feelings of guilt. She has low self-esteem and poor body image, and suffers with anxiety and depression.

She would like reassurance that professionals now have a better understanding of the impact of police questioning and medical examinations on children. She comments ‘If you were asked to talk about your most explicit sexual experience ... think about how that must be when you are 13 and are questioned for hours and hours about it’.

She would also like to see effective help for potential abusers who come forward and ask for it.

Mayan says she has thought a lot recently about how her father recognised his feelings and tried to get help before he abused her. Because institutions failed to act, she was subjected to sexual abuse that still has a deeply distressing effect on her life.  

She concludes ‘If something good comes of this and children are helped then that will be great’.

Your privacy

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.