By Anonymous - Adult Survivor of Child Sexual Abuse
When I first disclosed my sexual abuse to my friend and asked for help, I realised I was not on my own. I had people who cared about me; I had family and friends who believed me. Sexual abuse is a pandemic that needs to be addressed and talked about. Cases like Saville and the #metoo movement have brought to life the horror of sexual abuse that has been happening to victims like me. Finally, women feel able to talk about the horrors of their abuse and how adults and institutions have let them down. I too wanted to get justice.
I was sexually abused when I was prepubescent and it lasted up until I was around 10 years old. I donít remember exactly when it started, but I believe it was when I was around 6 years old or maybe even younger. I grew up believing it was my fault that I allowed it to happen. I should have stopped it. Why didnít I tell anyone? Will anyone believe me? The simple answer is no it was not my fault. I was an innocent child. The person who abused me Ė he was the one who was responsible. Itís his shame and his dishonour. Not mine. He was the adult. I was a child.
ďThe very people you respect and trust can be the very people who sexually abuse you. I therefore never spoke about the abuse until my mid-late 20s.Ē
Growing up in a typical Pakistani background it was not common to have any chats about sexual stuff, consent, and personal boundaries. One thing that was always drilled into me was respect your elders and do as you are told. This is so dangerous because sometimes the very people you respect and trust can be the very people who sexually abuse you. I therefore never spoke about the abuse until my mid-late 20s. I am pleased to say that I did also end up reporting it to the police and that the perpetrator was eventually convicted of the sexual abuse. Unfortunately, this is rare.
Sexual abuse is often brushed under the carpet. In my case, extended family members knew, and no one said anything; itís the mindset of if I pretend itís not happening then itís not happening. But not doing anything is enabling perpetrators to feel they are invincible and gives them the green light. So the abusers continue with the abuse which also includes targeting new victims because they are able to operate with impunity because everybody carries on like nothing is happening.
ďI didnít have the vocabulary to describe what was happening. I was a 6-year-old child and because the abuse started when I was so young it just became part of my childhood.Ē
I often get asked why I didnít tell anyone. My answer is, I didnít have the vocabulary to describe what was happening. I was a 6 year old child and because the abuse started when I was so young it just became part of my childhood. When I did eventually make the decision to go to the police, I was nervous, scared and highly anxious. So many questions started buzzing around non-stop in my head. I didnít know what it would entail, what is considered Ďevidenceí? Would anyone believe me? Is it worth me going through reliving the trauma and for it to go nowhere? What would people say? What about the community? Can I do this on my own?
If you have been sexual abused, please know that you are not alone and there is help out there. I thought it would be helpful to share some pointers that helped me through this journey. Please note this is one example of my experience with the criminal justice system and itís always recommended to seek specific advice about your particular circumstances.
1. Getting in touch with an ISVA Ė It was the best thing I did. My Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA) supported me from before, during and after the report to police. She guided me through the criminal justice process as well as providing emotional support.
2. Managing my expectations - My ISVA helped me with this. It was important for me to not get my hopes up. The report may not result in a court case. My ISVA reminded me to take it step at a time and not think about the end results. It was difficult but it helped me keep my sanity.
3. Understanding thresholds for prosecution - It is important to know that just because a case does not progress it does not mean the victim is not believed. It just means that based on evidence provided it does not meet Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)threshold for a likely conviction.
4. Itís ok to continue to ask for help - The criminal justice process is extremely long and exhausting. I had many ups and downs over the 3 years, and I kept asking for help and seeking support both from my ISVA, friends and family.
5. Understanding the process- I read the book ĎFrom Report to Courtí which explained everything in detail. For me, Iím glad I did because it helped me understand the criminal justice system and what I should expect from it. It is important to note that the version available online is not the most up to date as there have been changes in law and practice so itís important to read up on updated material.
6. Understanding the doí and doníts Ė There was some information about the process that I was surprised to learn so itís important to understand and ask questions. For example, any therapy that I receive from making a police report must be under CPS guidance. The law that was in place at the time of the sexual abuse is what counts. When reporting to police itís helpful to know you can report to any police station but the allegations would get passed onto the police force in which the abuse took place.
7. What is evidence? - These could be testimony of the first person you told, anyone else you disclosed to, counselling / therapy records, GP records and more. Talk to police / ISVA about this who will support you.
8. Itís okay to not remember every detail about the abuse - CPS, police, ISVAs, judges and barristers are all trained in historic abuse cases and know how memory works. Itís okay to say I donít remember something rather than filling in blanks. I can only say what I know. If I donít recall, then I will say so.
9. Mantra - The only thing I need to do is speak my truth and this does not require rehearsing or memorising the abuse.
10. Special measures Ė There are measures to help you give the best possible evidence. My statement was a video interview with a female police officer in a comfortable room and plenty of time and in a safe space. Because my statement was a video I did not have to repeat all of this in court. This was played in court and I was asked questions about it. I asked for a screen so I didnít see the abuser or the gallery. Taking breaks when I needed it. I only left the court once but the other4 breaks that I had, I stayed in court and took a moment to sit and take deep breaths.
The best thing I did was talk about the abuse I suffered. Itís extremely difficult for South Asian women and girls to come forward - the shame and honour plays a big part. In my experience, the more people that I told the more I was believed. In the end, it didnít matter what the community thought I simply stopped caring. It was the mentality of the community that allowed men like this to continue abusing because everyone else turned a blind eye.
If you are an adult survivor and would like someone to talk to, please contact the MWNUK Helpline
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