Quick Exit

Experiences Shared

Zoe

All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

From a young age Zoe took on caring responsibilities beyond her years. With a school and family life that was erratic at times, she was left vulnerable to grooming by older men.

Zoe’s father had mental health issues. Her mother struggled to cope with the changes in her relationship with her husband and began to use alcohol. Zoe remembers feeling the need to protect her parents. She had a sibling, but she says they preferred to ‘do their own thing and didn’t take on caring responsibilities’. Zoe feels she did not have much support – although services were working with her father there was no provision for the rest of the family. Other than an older relative, Zoe had no one she felt able to talk to.

At primary school Zoe had health issues and was under the care of the hospital. She recalls her attendance was poor as she wanted to stay at home to care for her father. She believes this was not questioned by the school as they assumed it was due to her own health issues. Zoe remembers being unhappy and finding it hard to maintain school friendships.

At secondary school she managed to distance herself a little from the caring responsibilities as nurses attended to her father daily. During this time, she says she established good friendships and felt close to her family, remembering that they would regularly join other family members for weekends away.

But on occasions her parents would go away for the weekend leaving Zoe and her sibling at home. They would miss school and go into the city drinking. She also began to stay weekends with the relative of a friend, who would buy the girls alcohol. She describes how they began mixing with older men and staying over at their places, each saying they were at the other’s home.

The older men would pick Zoe and her friend up from school at lunchtime, returning them for afternoon lessons. She is surprised that no one at school questioned who these men were or where they were going. On reflection she feels that her behaviour and drinking was normalised by adults in her life who viewed it as typical teenage behaviour.

Zoe’s friend began to form a friendship with a man, Al, who was aged around 30. One night when the two girls were both at Al’s home he invited a friend, Lucas, to join them for a drink. Zoe was left alone downstairs with Lucas, who sexually assaulted and raped her. It was the first time she had had sex.

She describes being terrified of Lucas, and how she met him on three further occasions because she was so frightened of him. He showed her videos on his phone of other girls cowering and crying as he held a weapon. Once he chased Zoe down the street and pinned her against a wall, causing bruising, as he tried to kiss her.

Shortly after this Lucas was arrested and sentenced to prison. Zoe says: ‘If he hadn’t been arrested I don’t know how I would have escaped it. I don’t know how I would have got out of it. I was terrified.’ Zoe has learnt subsequently that Lucas and Al were imprisoned for committing serious crimes.

The sexual abuse had a significant impact on Zoe’s mental health. She has suffered depression and anxiety, requiring medication and counselling. It has also impacted on her ability to form relationships; she is frightened to be on her own yet scared to start a new relationship.

Zoe has attained a career she loves, and although she has been unable to tell her parents about being raped, she has told some work colleagues who are very supportive, offering her guidance and reassurance.

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