A survivor of sexual abuse as a very young child has spoken about how keeping her secret shaped her life, and how much brighter she feels since she found the courage to speak out.
It was 1995, and Amy* was just three years old and sitting on her grandfather’s lap when he first touched her inappropriately during a tickling game.
This abuse went on practically every week until she was nine, and even involved him photographing and videoing her, despite her asking him to stop.
And with his words that it was her fault, and that she wouldn’t be believed, hanging over her, she didn’t tell a soul for 27 years.
“We used to stay at Nan and Grandad’s and I loved spending time there, but felt really uneasy at what was happening with my grandfather when my Nan was out at work. I knew it was wrong, but I was just a little girl and didn’t understand it, and couldn’t express how I felt.“
“As a child, all through growing up, and even as an adult, I always had a very negative self-image, and hated everything about myself.
“I was angry at everyone for not understanding me and I acted out, went off the rails and got into all kinds of trouble, but I realise now just how badly what happened with my grandfather influenced my life.
“This behaviour was my inner self crying out to be liked and loved, but as I felt I didn’t deserve it, it turned into negative attention.
In late 2019, following her Nan’s death, and fearing that another young family member was at risk, Amy finally opened up and told her parents what had happened.
“I felt terrified at what causing such a huge upset in the family would do, but I must say that my parents have been my rocks throughout, and even though I was not ready to do so at the time, eventually it was my Mum that encouraged me to report to the police.
“Even though there were delays and hurdles on the path to court, and times when I thought I would crumble, they’ve been my pillars and kept me going. Never underestimate how much support you might have.
“Now we are past the court case, and he’s been jailed. Being believed feels incredible, but I do understand why people keep secrets.”
“I had massive guilt about not speaking out, but I was in fear, and that was part of the grooming and him justifying what he was doing.
“He told me I’d never be believed, that no one would find any evidence to support me, and I’ve lived with that fear all my life. Until now.
“Now, my whole attitude to life has changed, and I live how I want to live, with no regrets and no fear.
“Speaking out has taken the power away from him.
“Looking back, I can see there were times when I could have spoken out, found a person I trusted to tell, maybe at school, and I wished I had.
“This experience has definitely shaped the way I am as a Mum. I’m fiercely protective of my own children, and of my nieces and nephews too, and I’d urge anyone to stay alert and look out for the young ones in your life. Learn to spot any of the signs they may be being abused. I can’t emphasise the NSPCC PANTS rule and song enough.
“If your story is similar to mine, I say it’s never too late to find your voice and speak up. Give yourself the chance to recreate yourself as you want, free of the fear and of the burden of years of carrying around an awful secret.”
Detective Constable Nina Bradbury, from our Public Protection Unit, investigated Amy’s report, and worked to gather the evidence and build the case.
Nina said: “It was a long process, but right from the beginning, I believed Amy, and she showed so much courage in coming forward.
“It is never too late to tell us if something has happened to you, as Amy’s case shows. I hope other victims will be inspired by her bravery and speak up too. We will be ready to listen.”
Arvinder Leroux is one of our Victim Engagement Officers, also working in our Public Protection Unit, and met Amy once the charges had been made against her grandfather.
Arvinder’s role was to work with Amy to find her support, such as an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA), and ensure Amy was updated with important information as the case progressed.
Arvinder said: From my past experience working with victims, I know that being accessible at any time for Amy, and ensuring that her voice was being heard throughout, was vital.
“Working with her through any issues with the court process, as well as being present in court to support her was also important.
“There were some frustrations around the court dates and venue being changed due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, and Amy was not always kept up to date personally by the courts, but we were able to bridge this gap, and give her the support she needed to see this through.”
To report concerns around child sexual abuse, or if something has happened to you, please call police on 101.
Our team of specialist investigators are ready to listen and believe you, and you will be supported throughout the case and beyond.
Parents can visit the Parents Protect website, which is run by the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, for lots of useful resources to help prevent child sexual abuse. https://www.parentsprotect.co.uk/
Children experiencing abuse may not always be able to explain what has happened to them, or tell you how they feel. The NSPCC has a wealth of information on how to spot the signs of child sexual abuse, and how to speak to your child about staying safe, including the PANTS underwear rule and song.
P – Privates are private
A – Always remember your body belongs to you
N – No means no
T – Talk about secrets that upset you
S – Speak up, someone can help
*Amy asked us not to change her name.