Anne’s story: Still carrying this 47 years later

Anne’s story: Still carrying this 47 years later

AT A TIME when women are asking to be believed when they disclose sexual harassment, rape and abuse, I have decided to finally tell my story but I was still paralysed by the thought of going public, being identified and the consequences that might have on me and the others involved. Thank you to “When you’re ready” for providing an anonymous place to share.

My testimony is around a child who experienced inappropriate touching and genital contact (without penetration). It’s about how, within a family of 8, living in a house with thin walls, I learned to stay quiet while he came into my room and put his penis against my vagina.

I knew that what was happening was “rude” and most likely wrong but not why.

He was an angry young man and I was trapped by his threats of exposing a minor theft that he had caught me in, (stealing a shilling from my aunts purse) and sadly my fear of my mothers wrath was greater than my sense of self protection.

I was a totally naive and innocent 11 year old being touched sexually by someone years older than me. I learned how to zone out until it was all over. I tried to just block it out but many nights I would feel like my head was going to explode; I used to hear a menacing deep gravelly voice in the back of my brain that terrified me, telling me that I was bad, dirty, unclean, horrible and unlovable. I used to cry miserably under the covers in my bedroom late at night, I would fantasise about finding a gun and placing the cool muzzle against my temple and pulling the trigger… and only then would all the pain in my head be gone, and the voice silenced.

People noticed I didn’t like him, especially my mother but she never asked why,
I didn’t tell anyone but I hoped my unhappiness would signal to someone that something was wrong. Instead I was told not to have “a face that would turn milk sour” and “you’ll never have friends like your sisters while you are such a misery” and finally the worst, whenever I was in trouble as a teen I was told I was “as bad as …” , the perpetrator of my misery. While I knew I wasn’t a bad person I did believe that I was ugly, miserable and unlikable, my self esteem and self belief were shot.

I can’t remember when it stopped or why, but it did.
As I got older, in true Catholic style I learnt only bits and pieces about sexuality, my head spun as I put fragmented pieces of knowledge together and imagined possible outcomes; was the sperm still alive inside me, would I be pregnant once I stared menstruating, could I have a venereal disease? I was petrified but I didn’t have anyone to rely on for advice or help. I constantly felt terrified, soiled, dirty and guilty yet inexplicably I still didn’t tell anyone. Instead I threw myself into sport so that I could find approval and because it helped me to fall into bed exhausted every night.

As the years went by I tried to hide my feeling of disgust towards him but as there was still that dirty little secret hanging there I ended up turning those feelings inwards towards myself instead. I despised myself for not having the courage to expose him for what he had done and I hated him even more for having done it.

I left home as soon as I could and moved overseas. I tried to bury the memories once and for all. It felt so freeing to be thousands of miles away from it all and my life was so much better for a long time. I fell in love and got married. It was when I had my first child and was returning home for Christmas that it all resurfaced again. It was a difficult time and details I had tried to forget kept haunting me. He was there at family gatherings and I felt sickened if he showed any signs of familial affection or closeness towards me. It made my skin creep!

Finally I disclosed what had happened to my older sisters. I wanted to warn my family not to leave their children alone with him. I never let him near my beautiful baby girl. But it went no further, my sister said she would support me around him and she did but I was still left carrying the burden, there were no disclosures. I guess it was implicitly decided to keep it quiet. Today I wish my sisters had encouraged and supported me to tell. They were probably concerned that it would upset our ageing parents too much, ruin his family life and destabilise our own family. Maybe they were so ashamed that this person molested their little sister that they didn’t want anyone to know. So at the end of the day it was all still there for me to hold. I don’t think it was the right decision; I guess we were a dysfunctional family after all.

After more counselling I realised that I had to do something myself and it was then that I confronted him about what he had done. Initially he denied it but he knew it was out there in the open now and I could expose him if he put a foot wrong. Since then, though never formally admitting to it, he has issued a sincere written apology for “any hurt” he may have caused me.

Despite all the hurt and trauma he had caused me I don’t want to destroy his life and there is nothing to be gained in trying to expose him or take him to court on a case of historical sexual abuse.
But I worry when I hear that he is working with vulnerable children despite everyone’s reassurances that he is a good upstanding citizen. I try to believe that he is a different and better person now, I try to forgive and move on but I guess I will never lose that distrust.

So why am I telling this story now?

I’ve learned so much from this whole ordeal but the most important thing is that tit is not enough to silently let it go, no for me anyway, to release the corrosive poison in the veins it needs to be released, written or ideally if one has the courage, spoken. And the whe world must learn to listen.

Until we all begin to listen victims will not have the courage and strength to stand up and declare their truth, the perpetrators will remain empowered and will continue to wrack harm and pain.

My biggest fear for over 40 years was that I would not be heard or believed, that I would be somehow guilty by association. I knew it could destroy families if people knew what had happened and so I continued to disregard my own needs. Now, finally, I’ve learned that as I speak about it, the sadness, anger and guilt that has burdened me for as long as I can remember is moving off my shoulders.

I’ve learned that fear is crippling and we must encourage our children to be brave enough to trust that someone will listen, someone will help, if they can only persist. I’ve learned that we as adults must be open to listening for fear, to validate children’s attempts at sharing or disclosure, to encourage our children to value themselves and their bodies. But another important thing I’ve learned is that one must let go of secrets and talk about a trauma to be able to fully heal.

I have done everything in my power to protect my children from a similar fate and try to stay aware and listen in the hope that I can help any other potential victim.

So if anyone out there is burdened with something similar, try to find the courage to WRITE IT DOWN AND PUT IT OUT THERE, TELL SOMEONE, if no one listens then tell someone else, again and again, keep telling someone until you are heard and believed.




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