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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.

Nicole

All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Nicole’s father died when she was four years old, and her mother got remarried to a violent and abusive man. 

Her troubled and chaotic home life, with no supportive parenting, made her vulnerable to a series of sexual assaults from older boys, and later to further abuse by an adult relative.

Having endured so many incidents of sexual abuse, Nicole explains ‘The fear for me is that people don’t believe me; that they think all those things can’t happen to one person’.

She was the youngest of five children with about 20 years between her and her oldest sibling. Her father was ill for some time before he died, and Nicole spent some of her early years in foster care. 

The family lived on what she describes as ‘a working class estate’ where all the children played out on the street.

Between the ages of about five and 10 years, Nicole was sexually abused by a number of boys who were bigger and older than her – by as much as 10 years. The abuse included indecent exposure, vaginal and anal rape, being forced to perform oral sex and penetration with objects.

Nicole remembers that after the first incident, when a boy had exposed himself to her, she told her mum. She was beaten with a wooden cane ‘for looking’, and was very confused by this response. 

She adds that the boy was friendly to her, and she liked the attention he gave her. This need in her made it easy for others to exploit, abuse and humiliate her. She can clearly remember the details of incidents, such as being ‘squashed’ under bigger boys. She says the memory of the anal rape is the one that fills her with the most horror.

Nicole was about seven or eight when her mother remarried. The new husband was abusive, violent and very unpredictable. He once smashed up the family home after he was arrested. On another occasion, they all went on holiday and he left them stranded, returned home and destroyed their belongings.  

After some intervention that enabled her mother to get a solicitor, Nicole’s stepfather moved away. By this time Nicole was self-harming. 

Because of the violence of her stepfather, she had been spending a lot of time with an older sister and her husband. Initially, she was very fond of the husband, and saw him as an older brother figure, and she would babysit for them.

But when she was in her early teens, soon after her sister had had another baby, Nicole’s brother-in-law began to sexually abuse her. The abuse escalated to rape and became a regular occurrence. He warned her not to tell her sister.  

After a while she started trying to make excuses to avoid going to the house. By then she was living alone with her mother.  

Nicole tried to talk to a teacher who had been very supportive regarding her stepfather, but she could not bring herself to explain about the abuse. The teacher did not pursue the conversation. 

Her self-harming became more serious and more frequent, but no one questioned this and she was labelled ‘accident-prone’. In another attempt to convey what was happening to her, she says, she made up a story about rape, but she was called a liar and no one questioned why she was telling this story.  

She attended a rape support organisation, which she says helped her tremendously. 

After her mother died, Nicole decided to report her brother-in-law to the police. She telephone her sister first, and told her about the abuse. It emerged that her brother-in-law had sexually abused other family members, one of whom went with Nicole to the police. 

She says the police took the current risk to other family members seriously, and the investigation moved quickly.

However, there were delays to the trial and Nicole found it very distressing. Her brother-in-law was found guilty of three charges. 

She makes a number of considered observations and recommendations relating to child sexual abuse. She says of the first males to abuse her ‘just because they were under 18 doesn’t mean that it had less impact than it would have had from an adult’.

She thinks that adults should be vigilant about small children spending time with teenagers who are starting to sexually experiment, and that adolescents need to be educated about acceptable behaviour and boundaries.

Nicole also emphasises ‘how absolutely crucial an initial response is to a disclosure’.

The ordeal has had a significant, lasting impact on her, but she says the support she accessed ‘saved me’. She works as a health professional and volunteers for a support centre. 

 

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