A woman who was sexually assaulted as a child has urged youngsters enduring similar abuse not to suffer in silence.
Abigail, whose name we have changed to protect her identity, was assaulted twice by another child – once when she was six-years-old and once on her 11th birthday.
She came forward after reading about the 282 youngsters who had fallen victim to sex crimes in Sussex schools over the past five years, the vast majority at the hands of other children.
Abigail described her ordeal at the hands of a family friend, who was several years older than her, and the effect it had on her as she was growing up.
The first assault happened at her home when she was six and playing innocently in her brother’s room, where his friend found her.
She said: “I was jumping on my brother’s bed and he came in and pulled me onto the bed and laid on top of me.”
When the assault was over, Abigail said the boy simply left the room and went off to play, saying nothing to her.
The same boy cornered her five years later, on her 11th birthday when some of the children were playing in a “hang-out place” in a loft.
Abigail said: “He was up there with my brother when I went up there. When my brother went down the stairs, the boy said ‘I’ll be there in a minute’. He loomed over me and he kissed me and was touching my breasts and then tried to go lower. I really wanted him to go but to protect myself I said ‘I love you’, which isn’t the sort of thing you say as an 11-year-old.
“I shot out of there and I felt so dirty and ashamed. He was kind of big and to have a guy loom over you like that is scary and you just want them to go away.”
When asked what advice she would give to children who had been through a similar ordeal, Abigail said: “I would say tell a parent, whatever has happened. If you feel uncomfortable with that, tell another adult. It doesn’t matter if it’s a teacher, your mum, your dad or the NSPCC.
“Don’t let it escalate into something where you find it unbearable. Get counselling. It’s not your fault – it’s on them.”
It was advice Abigail wished someone had shared with her earlier. She finally worked up the courage to tell her mum and received long-overdue counselling. But the damage had been done.
From the time of the first assault, she neglected her personal hygiene and did everything she could to ensure she wasn’t at the centre of attention at school. She even considered self-harming.
She said: “I dressed like a boy because I just didn’t want to be a girl.”
The situation wasn’t helped by the fact no police were involved at the time and the whole thing was kept “hush-hush” as the child had been a friend of the family.
When Abigail did reach the boyfriend stage of growing up, she was burdened with the belief that any kind of intimacy was “dirty”.
Little wonder given her tragically early introduction to such things.
Abigail said: “I was given things that a six year old and an 11 year old shouldn’t know at that age. My first kiss was horrible as it was done by someone looming over me and taking control. Not asking, just taking.”
She also found it difficult to understand why other boys didn’t force themselves on her the way her attacker had done, adding: “It was really strange to find boys who didn’t do that.”
As an adult, Abigail fell in love and became pregnant.
She said she had dreaded the idea of the baby being a girl as she was convinced she would abuse the child, having heard that abused children became abusers in turn.
Her fears – however unfounded they may have been – were all for naught as the babe was a boy. A boy into whom she has instilled a sense of decency, appropriate behaviour and the knowledge he should respect other people’s boundaries.
Abigail called on other parents to ensure their children were taught similar values.
She said: “Fathers and sons need to talk to each other about appropriate behaviour.
“Tell them about the respect of another person. If they have a daughter themselves, would they want their daughter being touched up by a boy, and crying their eyes out and wanting to kill themselves because of what that boy has done?
“We’ve got to teach our children.”
She also urged adults to take children seriously if they confided in them about an assault, saying: “You have got to listen, not brush it under the carpet.”
Life has moved on one difficult step at a time for Abigail. While acknowledging she still has “good days and bad days”, she said the bad days were becoming “less and less”.
She takes kickboxing classes, imagining her kicks and jabs are connecting with the face of her attacker. And, with the support of her family and the love of her husband, she has started to recognise her own worth.
She said: “I definitely feel much stronger now – more happier. I’m me. I not ashamed any more. I like me and I’m happy with me. I’m funky, funny, full of passion and I’m a fighter now. Some days I feel ugly, not worth any thing, but those days are getting less.”
Abigail’s message to today’s children was clear – they were not to blame for what happened to them, they needed to be brave and tell some one what had occurred. And, most important of all, they needed to get help. She said: “If I had a time machine I would turn back the clock and rescue myself.
“Don’t wait as long as I did. Get help so you can go and be the most fantastic person in the world.”
l Childline can be reached on 0800 1111 or online at www.childline.org.uk . If you are worried about a child, the NSPCC can be contacted on 0808 800 5000.
Sussex Police stress importance of educating children
Sussex Police has stressed the importance of good quality sex education and relationship education for children.
Recent figures released by the force showed that, since 2011, youngsters had fallen victim to 282 sex crimes in Sussex schools – and most were committed by other youngsters.
The figures only included actual crimes, not ‘incidents’ which police may have been called to attend but did not involve a crime.
A spokesman said: “The vast majority of these reports relate to children offending against each other, and each case is taken seriously and investigated appropriately.”
Police work closely with schools in several capacities, such as neighbourhood schools officers (NSOs), safer schools partnership officers (SSPOs), and school police community support officers (school PCSOs).
Detective Superintendant Jason Tingley, head of public protection, said education was “essential” to prevent harm not just in schools but also in homes and the wider community.
The crime figures indicated an increase in the number of assaults against girls of all ages. Boys aged 13 and under were shown to be the most targeted, with 90 sexual assaults reported since 2011/12 – 39 in 2014/15 alone – while there were 12 cases of rape. Unlike figures for the girls, the number of assaults on boys fell in the past year.
When asked why the figures relating to girls had risen, the spokesman said: “We believe the general trend of an increase in recent years might be, as with sexual offences more generally across the country, a result of a more rigorous police approach to crime recording, together with an increased confidence in children and young people to report. Another contributory factor is the enhanced awareness and better understanding of what constitutes an assault, in particular types of child sexual exploitation.”
Police said it was important not to draw too many conclusions from the figures as the circumstances in each case differed.
Detective Superintendent Tingley explained: “This is a complex area that covers a range of offence types sitting within the sexual offences category. These will include non-recent child sexual abuse reported by victims that are now adults, as a result of increased confidence to come forward.”
Compared to the number of crimes committed, the figures able to show the action taken by police were low.
Detective Superintendent Tingley said the contributing factors for charges not being brought included the abuser having died or, in the case of older incidents, the victims not wishing the police to take formal action.
He added: “We will also take a proportionate response where all those involved are of school age so that we do not unnecessarily criminalise children. Where there is sufficient evidence to consider charges of sexual offences we will do so.
“But it is still important to continue to encourage schools to provide good quality sex and relationship education for pupils, which is essential in order to help reduce the numbers of victims and to prevent harm, not just inside schools but also at home and in the wider community.”
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