Trigger warning: sexual abuse, child sexual abuse, r*pe.
A note from the author: I hope this story isn’t too triggering - I wouldn't want to do that, but I know it’s important to talk about these experiences so I want to help where I can. Specific details of my life are omitted because while I know my loved ones and colleagues would be supportive, this is the first time I've put pen to paper about my experience.
Part 1: The Abuse
Where do I start...
The earliest memory I have is this: I'm 7 years old and I'm not sure what’s happening, ‘is this normal? surely it must be, right…?’ The reality is, it was far from normal, which I learnt when I disclosed at 15 years old.
The man, who is 50 percent of my DNA, abused and raped me. I can't call this man by his patriarchal title, as he doesn't (and never did) deserve to be called that. He was liked by our neighbourhood and no one had a clue. The other 50 percent of my DNA knew though, which I found out many years later. For days and years I was locked in his bedroom. I didn't complete all of my schooling, which led to me starting my career late in life. When I was 11, I stole a pregnancy test from my local supermarket and found out that I was pregnant by my abuser. I hurt myself badly to lose the baby.
When I finally disclosed what had happened, my statement took 8 hours in the police station, and those were only the parts of the abuse I could handle talking about. This was before the children's act came into force, so the only ‘justice’ I received was that he had to attend circle meetings, much like AA meetings, where it was expected that he would get better. ‘Holy crap, are you kidding me?!’ I thought…
When I disclosed, I didn’t tell them I had been pregnant. Nobody knew this until 10 years ago when I spent some time in a psychiatric unit for PTSD. By that time it was too late, the man had moved and they couldn't find him for a long time. When they finally found him, of course he denied it, so once again I didn’t get justice.
I didn’t have a support system. The other 50 percent of me used to call me ugly because I looked so different to other members of the family. I was cast out by everyone else; grandparents, aunties and uncles, cousins - the list goes on. ‘Why has she made this story up?’ I used to hear. The police had tons of DNA from me and the man, and my ‘family’ still tried to say that I made it up… So now, apart from my children and partner, I don't have any other family.
If you're wondering how they had DNA evidence - as I got older, I hid tissue paper with his DNA on because I had seen in police programs that the DNA would help my case. They had all the evidence, and he admitted to some of the charges (the ‘less serious’ ones). I couldn’t believe that there would be such a thing as ‘less serious’ charges, but sexual abuse that's non-penatrative is categorised in this way.
In 2001, I got my then-partner to drive me to Cardiff where I found the man. I parked outside his scruffy hostel for 3 hours before building up the courage to knock on his door. I had a large pair of scissors in my coat pocket and I'll be honest, I didn't know what I was going to do. I knocked for what seemed like hours, then a figure came to the door. The man smiled and said “Hi *********”. I froze, and the voice in my head said ‘do something!’. I looked him in the eye, then up and down, smiled, and walked off. That was the first and last time I saw him in 21 years. In 2013, I had a message on Facebook from an auntie I don't speak to, asking if she could call me. She told me that the man was dead - he had died alone and wasn't found for days. I cried my eyes out. I went to sleep that night, cried in my sleep and woke up to a soaking wet pillow. They were tears of joy, and of disappointment that the justice system had failed me. He should have died in prison.
I have been used and abused by men all my life - some that I chose to let into my life, and some that I didn't. Another of my bad life experiences did involve the police being amazingly helpful and me having my day in court. It took 12 months - the judge was great and found him guilty which was a relief, but I always wonder, if they didn't have CCVT footage, would that have been the outcome?
There’s a lot more that I could write here, but this is where I lay my pen down, as it wouldn't be right to tell all of my story at this moment in time, due to my children not yet knowing the full details of my life. And besides, if I wrote down all of my story it would be a book. A book of sad times for numerous years of my life, which would eventually turn into a book of ‘look at me now’. I had two pathways when I was 15 - to kill myself, or to walk through cement to get away from it all. I walked through cement until I was 38, and now, as corny as it sounds, I feel like I'm walking barefoot on green grass.
Part 2: Recovery
I am now a mum to some amazing children. I’m successful, and have a rewarding job which I love. My romantic relationships have been questionable. At one point I felt like I had ‘I'm broken so pick me for a partner’ tattooed on my forehead. I failed miserably trying to be the perfect person, until I met a lovely man who has given me everything a girl could want. But the road to ‘look at me now’ was a very, very long road. It took me from disclosing the abuse, to receiving loads and loads of therapy - you name it, I can guarantee I’ve done it 10 times. So let’s talk about recovery.
Does anyone actually ‘recover’? I don’t think we do. I think we learn to live, and to take each day as it comes. I had therapy for 17 years - CBT, meditation, talking therapy, art therapy, drug therapy, and the list goes on… Counsellors are good but when you’re dealing with rape and abuse, all the degrees in the world can’t even begin to make you understand what a person has been through. That lack of understanding delayed my ‘recovery’.
I spoke to a priest and asked him if there is a God, why did he let me get raped and abused? He told me it wasn’t God’s will, it was the devil’s. I couldn’t understand why this would happen to me if God loved all of his children, so this priest brought me no comfort either.
My life was a car crash for years. I went through years of self harm where I would bash my hand and chest with a rock. I had eating disorders which made me lose so much weight that I was 5ft 9 and only weighed 7 stone. It wasn’t about losing weight, it was about control, and food was the only thing I could control in my messed up life. I was reckless and spent money I didn’t have because I thought it would bring me some happiness, but that happiness didn’t come until my last placement in a psychiatric unit in 2008. I had to finally bury the box of awful memories. I couldn’t let this man take away or destroy any more of my life. I kept telling myself that I’d lost so much of my childhood and early adulthood to that man - I knew I deserved more from life and that I was the one in control - not him.
While most of the healing process is about you, I’m not saying that therapy isn’t useful. One thing I learned the hard way is you have to talk about what happened, you have to relive every moment to get all the tears, anger, and ‘why me?’ out. Be open minded and let yourself become vulnerable - you have to hurt to get better. Don’t be ashamed of who you are, and tell your story if that helps you. Please remember to be kind to yourself. I’m at a place now where I own my mental illness and I’m not afraid to talk about it.
As I sat here writing, my friend told me “if you wrote down everything you’ve been through, no one would believe your story, you've had a horrific life but you've come out so strong.” People close to me often tell me that I’m strong, and that what I’ve been through is awful. And yes, it was awful, but I stopped asking ‘why me?’ years ago. I’m not a victim. This word doesn’t give justice to what I’ve been through and how far I’ve come. I’m a survivor. I’m simply me.
'The Virtual Vigil' is a series of perspectives, emotions and poems written in response to the current political climate. As a feminist art collective we want to use our space to empower the voices of those affected by gender based violence. In doing so, we hope to challenge existing narratives and teach men that they have a collective responsibility to speak up and call out inappropriate and violent behaviours. If you would like to take part in our virtual vigil, please feel welcome to email us at email@example.com.
Images by Emily Mort.