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Experiences Shared


All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Stephen was 10 when his father left the family home. 

He was devastated by this loss, and his longing to be close to a father figure made him vulnerable to an abuser.

Stephen describes feeling that his ‘world had come to an end’ when his parents got divorced. 

A family friend, John, who Stephen had known all his life, began visiting the house frequently, and even went on holiday with Stephen, his sibling and mother. 

John had often taken the two children swimming, even before their dad left home. But Stephen says that after his dad left, the ‘dynamic changed’, although at the time, he did not see anything wrong with that.

Looking back, John was acting ‘as a confidant’, asking Stephen lots of questions about his friends and what they liked doing. This developed into John gradually engaging Stephen in conversations about sex. It began with ‘a bit of naughty language’ and escalated to talk about pornography, and then sharing obscene material. 

Stephen was 11 years old, and he says ‘I thought I was being like a young adult’. 

John began visiting Stephen more frequently. The older man was kind and considerate and because he was missing his dad, Stephen enjoyed spending time with him.

John encouraged Stephen to go swimming more often, and to bring his friends along too. Stephen remembers how John would take a long time drying himself after swimming, and made a point of facing the boys while he did this. He now thinks John was purposely exposing himself to them, but did not understand this at the time. 

Stephen adds that John was saying increasingly explicit things, and then he began sexually abusing him. The abuse consisted of touching and oral sex. This happened on one occasion in Stephen’s home when he was in his early teens.

Stephen believes from conversations he had with John that the man was abusing other children in swimming clubs. John targeted physically and mentally disabled children, and masturbated them in changing room cubicles.  

The abuse continued for several more years, until Stephen turned 17, and it became easier for him to avoid John. 

Stephen had not told anyone he was being abused, but he was sure that John was still abusing other children and he says he came very close to telling the police. However, about a year later, John took his own life and Stephen changed his mind about reporting it. 

Nearly 20 years later, Stephen decided to report the abuse. His initial contact with the police was so badly handled that it could have put many people off from proceeding.

However, the detectives he spoke to after this were very helpful and supportive and ‘totally transformed’ his experience of the police. They put him in touch with a support organisation which helped him access specialist counselling. 

Around this time, Stephen made contact with his father and told him about the abuse by John. His father commented ‘there had always been talk about John in the community’ and Stephen finds it hard to understand why nothing was done if that was the case.

As an adult, he clearly sees how John exploited his longing for a father figure. He says he was ‘clinging to people’, to replace the missing links in his life, and wanted to feel loved and cared for. 

Stephen adds that John was so skilled at manipulating him, he made Stephen feel he wanted to be abused. The abuser would ask him ‘are you sure you want to do this?’ and Stephen would tell John what he thought he wanted to hear.

He explains that he did not realise until he was much older how the abuse affected his mental health. 

Stephen has several suggestions for change that he believes could help protect children and support victims and survivors. He would like to see more education and awareness-raising in school about sexual abuse and for local authorities to take steps to make changing rooms safe.

He would like to see more specialist support available for victims and survivors, and for call handlers in the police to be trained to handle reports with sensitivity. He says ‘The first contact is so important’. 

Stephen thinks it is valuable for victims and survivors to have an opportunity to come forward and tell their experience to the Truth Project. 

He is having counselling and feels he is ‘on an even keel again’. His family gives him a reason to live.

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