We are problems that want to be solved,
We are children that need to be loved,
We were willing, we came when you called
But man, you fooled us, enough is enough,
What about us?
P!nk – What About Us
For me, abuse raised a lot of questions in my head – and sometimes out loud! – which I often, couldn’t find an agreeable answer. Sometimes, my answers would be deemed as ‘wrong’ by professionals, and sometimes professionals would give me answers which I didn’t believe or agree with. So, here are some of my questions and the answers which I either ‘correctly’ came to myself, or which have been provided by professionals.
When did it even begin?!
The abuse I went through started so slightly and so quietly that hearing a ‘pin drop’ would’ve been a definite possibility. And it’s actually really strange that this is the case, because a part of me is really validated that since it had such a tiny start, it makes sense that no one realised what was happening to me.
When I eventually reported my abuse to the Police (which I’ll talk about later) they told me that the beginning of my abuse was ‘grooming’ so I guess I’ll start there…
Whilst I can’t tell you my abuser’s name, (which I’ll also talk about later!) I can tell you that he was in a position of power and that even without the abuse; he had a certain level of control and responsibility in my life. This meant two things: Firstly, that he was trusted and respected by so many people. Secondly, that those beginning instances of ‘grooming’ weren’t completely unheard of in others in his profession.
So, the trust and respect element meant that I actually questioned my own instincts that what he was doing was wrong because I thought ‘how could people put him on such a pedestal if he really wasn’t a person deserving of that?’ It also led me to the belief – which was mostly wrong – that if I was to report what was happening and he denied it, no one would be on my side because they would never have imagined him being capable of such a thing.
Now, to go into details which I’ve never talked about online… Those early grooming signs were that when I was attacked in November 2015, he assigned himself/offered to be, the lead person to provide me with support in his organisation. Some people might question whether that first step was grooming or whether he’d made the offer out of nothing but good intentions and then things turned bad. I believe I know him better than anyone, and I feel that I can safely say that hurting me was his intention from the very beginning.
How did everyone miss it?
During the abuse, my attitude and behaviour changed in a desperate attempt to leave the people in my life wondering why and with the hope that this would result in them either guessing or me feeling reassured to tell them. But no. One person noticed the change – my Mum – and I told her that I was too scared of being judged (something my abuser had put in my head) to tell her what was happening. Otherwise though, my poor behaviour actually made things worse because it meant that my abuser actually seeking me out to go to his office wasn’t at all strange or suspicious.
Funnily though(!), when the people who hadn’t questioned things were interviewed by the Police, every single one of them said something along the lines of ‘I didn’t see it, but I can believe it’ and ‘I did wonder…’ As though emphasising that they hadn’t witnessed the abuse was a pitiful attempt to try to excuse their lack of attention to all my behaviours which were notorious for being signs of abuse. As though saying these things would somehow mitigate just how terrible their failure had been. There was this quote on a documentary once about abuse and it said that the most blameworthy people in the abuse are those who have the power to do something to stop it but turn a blind eye and either deny or just pretend that it’s even happening.
Key signs of abuse to look out for:
ü Changes in behaviour
ü Avoidance of abuser
ü Inappropriate sexual behaviours
ü Physical problems
ü Problems at School
ü Giving ‘clues’
For more information:
Why should I report it?
ü It’s an attempt to put measures in place to prevent your abuser doing it to someone else.
ü It makes it possible that the abuser will then deservedly experience consequences.
ü It could help to make the abuse real and that can be essential in moving forwards.
ü Talking it through with someone else might ease any self-induced criticisms or blame.
ü It’ll bring the notion that you’ve done all you can.
What’s the process for reporting abuse?
The UK process for abuse reports:
The US process for abuse reports:
Do the Police really need all those details?
Regardless of how little knowledge and understanding I had of the process and system the Police use in the UK, from the very beginning I knew there’d be some really difficult questions. And when I say ‘from the very beginning’ the prospect of those questions was actually a reason for me not to report the abuse! I was so terrified of how upsetting and intense the Police interview would be that I kind of wanted to avoid it.
However, a lot of things changed over the years from the abuse and until I reported it to the Police, and I adopted the belief that the idea of my report resulting in him receiving consequences for his actions, and an increased chance that he wouldn’t hurt anyone else, was worth going through some difficult questions.
In the end, ‘difficult’ is probably a too light and insignificant of a word… Raw and brutal might be more appropriate. And I’m obviously not trying to dissuade people from reporting abuse; I just think it’s important to be as prepared as possible for what might happen when they do. I mean, I think that if there’d been someone there telling me what to expect, I would’ve felt a bit more reassured and whole lot less frightened.
After giving a written statement of what happened, I had to have a video interview. And I think I remember the room I had to go in and it being exactly like it looks in movies and things, with the child-friendly décor and toys in one corner to provide a lighter, more comforting touch for young children. I remember there being some tissues and I had to reach for one before I’d even sat down. I was already crying just at the fact that I was in one of those rooms you see on TV. And then I cried because of why I was in that room. And then I cried when I saw the toys because it gave me a stark realisation that there are such young children going through this experience too. Then I cried at the thought that there are people in the world who are so terrible that me – and all those who’d come before, and all those after – have to be in a room like that.
From the moment my abuser first hurt me, I became awkward around all things related to anything even remotely sexual. So, going through the Police interview… well, the second they began asking questions along that theme, I felt actually nauseous and overwhelmed with tears and a red face from embarrassment of talking about those details. Thankfully, I had a very lovely Officer who firstly, explained why these questions were essential to the case and the evidence they would have against my abuser. Secondly, she allowed me to use which ever words I was comfortable with and then would just confirm they meant what she thought.
Will people care whether I fought back?
This is an aspect of the abuse I experienced which I’ve actually very rarely spoken about because in all honesty, it makes me kind of uncomfortable. Not because it’s triggering of upsetting memories; but because it’s an aspect of abuse which can end up being the defining aspect of it. Like, no matter who you tell about the abuse, chances are you’ll be asked whether you fought back; and I think that the answer to this – very wrongly – gives people a reason for their opinion on the abuse.
Basically, it can seem to be a big deciding factor on whether you are believed. As though punching and kicking your abuser in a bid to escape, defines the reality of the abuse. As though whether or not you hurt your abuser in some way makes you deserving of being believed. And this could go both ways – some people are more likely to believe you if you defended yourself because they believe that symbolises you had given no consent for what was done to you. And sometimes, if you haven’t fought the abuser, it can promote a sense of you truly being a victim in the heads of others.
I think that the most important aspect of this, are that absolutely no one is entitled to form an ‘opinion’ on the abuse based on your response to it. Like, they don’t deserve to voice their thoughts on that because it’s not their story. It’s not their journey, it’s yours.
Self-defence movements everyone should know:
What if no one believes me?
I think that every case of abuse is different – even where it’s the same offender, so it’s hard to find something which all survivors might have in common or be agreeable on. I think that thoughts around being believed as to whether the abuse even happened, are definitely something which survivors will all mutually consider at one point or another.
The persistent promises from my abuser that if I were to report it no one would believe me, were kind of pointless because I already really felt that way. A big reason for this, was that I knew how respected he was, and I knew I was just thought of as a ‘trouble-maker’ or ‘attention seeker.’ I also knew – even at that age – that there were so many instances of rape or abuse survivors reporting their experiences and not being believed – particularly by the Police.
Knowing this, and two years later, making the decision to report the abuse to the Police, was terrifying but over those two years (and I’m in no way recommending someone take that long to make a report!) I had a lot of time to think through the possible response I might receive and how I would cope with that. At the time of reporting it, I had already attempted suicide and been detained under the 1983 Mental Health Act and was in a Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) so it was kind of a case of ‘how could it possibly get any worse?’
There are so many reasons why I’m glad I reported the abuse, but one huge reason was that I was literally believed by everyone! Of course, my Mum believed me(!), but there was also all the psychiatric hospital staff, and then the Police, and then the colleagues of my abuser (whose response I talked about earlier). And when the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided that there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute my abuser, I found some comfort from the Police saying that it was frustrating for them because they believed me but couldn’t do anything else about it.
No one doubted me or questioned the validity of what I was saying. And that comforting, reassuring notion of being believed? Well, I think it really contributed to saving my life because every time I thought of suicide in response to memories of the abuse etc, I would tell myself that at least I was believed and often; that was enough. And in being so trusted, I still remember all the statistics of those who are not, and so I recognise how… lucky and fortunate I am to have been believed.
Will everyone think I’m responsible?
I think that people consider responsibility around the abuse because aside from whether they believe it to be true, it’s the most obvious, questionable aspect of abuse.
Responsibility is something which is very focused on by so many different people both during, and after, the abuse. I think that it’s mostly about the survivor considering during the abuse whether they’ve done anything to be deserving of it; but it can also involve the thoughts of the Police and any witnesses or other people who were even just around at the time.
This is something I thought about numerous times, but it’s important to recognise that it wasn’t just about me blaming myself, it was also about what my abuser was telling me at the time. He would regularly and sincerely, tell me that my bad behaviour was the reason for what he was doing. That he was ‘asking for it’ from every time I argued with him or disrespected him in public. As though this made us even. As though what he was doing to me was revenge in some way (something which I’ll talk more about later in the post), like he was getting his own back for all the times I questioned his authority in front of others. As though my rudeness was changing everyone’s opinion of him, so he was doing this to have the opinion of me changed too.
To me, him doing these things to me for all the reasons he told me, illustrates he had the capacity to know what he was doing. He knew it was wrong too because it was as though he was trying to reason with himself and convince his self that what he was doing was totally reasonable when you considered everything, I’d supposedly done to him. And for him to have that capacity, and to still commit the offence, should say everything about whose responsibility the abuse was.
Why didn’t I tell them sooner?
The incredibly supportive response I received from the Police and my friends and family, were just one contributing factor to me questioning myself as to why I hadn’t reported the abuse sooner.
The thing which not many people know is that after six months of the abuse, my abuser’s employer caught us both having a very personal argument and when he began scolding me, I finally told him what had been happening. He branded me a ‘manipulative liar’ and had me leave the building. So, I think that bearing that in mind, it’s pretty reasonable and understandable why I would wait a further two years before talking to the Police and making the abuse more common knowledge.
Whilst I believe it was an obviously valid reason to keep quiet, I do wish that I’d found the determination to still speak to the Police. I was going to say that I wished I’d found the courage or bravery, but I don’t think they’re the right words; because I believe that whilst it’s so important to recognise the strength it takes a person to report abuse/rape etc, it’s equally important to recognise that those who don’t speak up, aren’t in any way failures or weak.
Whist I remained quiet, I later found out that my abuser had gone on to hurt two others (in addition to the one person before me); and the thought that if I’d spoken up sooner maybe those people wouldn’t have been hurt, will stay with me forever. However, I try to look it as that I can’t be responsible for what he has gone on to do. If he’s chosen to use my silence as motivation to continue with his behaviours because he wasn’t receiving consequences for them, then that’s on him. I blamed myself so much during the abuse and I saw the damage that could do to my life, so I’m not interested in going back down that road again!
What if he says he’s innocent?
Aside from being believed, I think the terror of the uncertainty around whether your abuser will claim to be innocent or plead guilty, can be a very important aspect in reporting the abuse.
When I was first told that he had denied my allegation and claimed to be innocent, I think after feeling really, really, really angry(!), I felt embarrassed. From the beginning of the abuse, I obviously considered reporting it, and my usual decision that he would deny it if I did, was a pretty strong, firm, foundation. However, when I actually reported it, it was different. Out of nowhere and without even realising, I found myself with a very naïve, hopeful feeling that maybe he would admit it. And I could have almost laughed at myself for it. Like, was I really that stupid?!
Feeling so worthless at the thought that he wouldn’t even admit to it meant that sometimes, once the abuse physically ended and I had reported it, I used to consider whether his denial was actually worse and more insulting than all the things he actually did to me and all the physical pain he had caused. I mean, at least during the abuse he was acknowledging what he was doing. Whereas him denying it ever happening? It’s actually kind of infuriating because it left me thinking ‘I wish I could pretend it hadn’t happened!’
In a bit of a… unique way; for him to actually say he didn’t do all the things he did, it was kind of a slight against me. As though what he’d done was worth nothing to him. As though he didn’t care. He could disregard it completely. I mean, whilst the abuse was happening, he persistently assured me it was ‘ok’ and that he would leave his family… And I obviously didn’t believe him, but for him to be so callous as to deny that? It was just more evidence that he really had never cared about me at all. It wasn’t the abuse which was fake, it was him and his mouth!
It took – what feels like – forever for me to learn to cope with his denial and claims of innocence. In the end, I think the most monumental change came from adopting the thought process that what goes around comes around. Karma. It felt as though it meant that him denying it and seemingly ‘getting away with it’ would lead him to ‘slip up’ and be witnessed or caught out some time, and then he’d be in even more trouble for all the lies he’d told.
What response do I actually want from the people I’ve told?
ü “You didn’t deserve it!”
ü “You’re allowed to feel this way!”
ü “I’m here if you want to talk.”
ü “I don’t care what he says, I believe you.”
Will any punishment ever be good enough?
Another important aspect in reporting abuse is the wonder and question around what you’d actually like to come from it. I think that this consideration is completely understandable, but it can have a huge impact on your decision to report the abuse, and sometimes that’s not for the best…
For me, whilst the abuse happened, I didn’t put much thought into punishments, but probably because I was pretty firm on the idea that I wouldn’t be reporting it. So, when I did find myself reporting the abuse, it was mainly through my anger and hatred towards my abuser that I started to wish really nasty, horrible things on him. But I felt validated when I thought back to at least one instance of something he’d done to me. As if two wrongs make a right!
Will the anger ever go away?
I thought that this question perfectly fitted to the punishment one… Especially, after saying that a huge motivation for my ideas around punishment were based on my anger around the situation.
Even from the very early days of the abuse, I had this white-hot anger deep inside of my head and my heart. I mean, it was burning. Seething in there. I mean, looking back; I’m honestly surprised it didn’t win. That it didn’t eat me – and him(!) – alive! Like, how did all the professionals actually manage to tame it, and to make it so that I could live through it?! Or at least so that I could live long enough to find a way to change it. I mean, when I used to self-harm, if I didn’t put much thought into it then the wound would be far less likely of needing medical treatment than it would if I kept my abuser in my mind.
I honestly believe that the anger didn’t become manageable or anywhere near positive until I created, I’m NOT Disordered in 2013 (six years after the abuse physically ended). I had always found writing cathartic and therapeutic so it probably shouldn’t have been such a big surprise as it was when I found the sudden ability to direct my angers and frustrations into my blog posts. Into the format of them, the images for them, the lyrics and quotes I would use, the creativity of the entire pieces… All of that was fuelled by the anger and hatred.
Finding a positive, safe release, really illustrated that it could be ‘ok’ to experience whatever feelings you held around your abuse; because it wasn’t about experiencing them – it was about coping with them. It was about discovering their purpose and really utilising that for your own good. And believe me, I’m not saying that’s something which is easily done – by any means! – I’m just saying that it’s possible. There’s every chance that you can turn that dangerous, negative, uncontrollable, and overwhelming anger into something good. Because I did it.
Five ways to cope with the anger:
ü Scream into a pillow (sounds stereotypical, but it can help!)
ü Write out literally all your thoughts and feelings as they come to you.
ü Play angry songs as a means of validation.
ü Engage in a calming activity e.g., breathing exercises, mindful colouring in etc.
ü Talk it through with someone.
Would my suicide mean he won?
I figured that talking about the possible end of my life – which I made it happen more than once – would be an ironically appropriate question to end on!
Each of my four most serious suicide attempts were largely a result of the constantly derogatory auditory hallucinations, but through my recovery, it has become clear that the abuse played a much larger part in it than I recognised. After years of assessments, it was finally realised that I should be treat for two different diagnosis: Personality Disorder and Transient Psychosis and that meant that professionals acknowledged they each needed different treatments. So, when the medication worked for the hallucinations (and yes additional medication also helped with some of the Personality Disorder symptoms), it was time to turn to Dialectical Behaviour Therapy because the memories of the abuse and the unbearable triggers were still there to motivate me to continue self-harming and to attempt suicide.
Every time I would self-harm or do something which landed me in an Accident and Emergency department, so many people would tell me that my abuser wasn’t ‘worth all this!’ As though I would suddenly stop feeling that way if I believed that to be true! And it wasn’t about me thinking he was worthy of basically taking my life… It was more about arguing with those people who – I felt – were diminishing and dismissing the importance of the impact he did have on my life. It was an impact which I wanted everyone to comprehend. And self-harm and suicide felt like the only ways to illustrate the gravity of it.
With my recovery, I have finally learnt though, that I don’t need to prove anything to anyone. I don’t need to have someone who doesn’t even know me or my abuser, sit there and say they ‘understand’ or that I don’t deserve to die, before I can believe it. I just have to know those things for myself. And in this realisation, I also discovered the belief that no, he didn’t deserve to have the ability to say that I was dead because of him. And in this, I reached the conclusion that I would not let my abuser rob me of any more years than he already has. Because no, he will not win.
Five ways to stay safe when you’re feeling suicidal:
ü Engage in a self-soothing activity to remind you that you’re worthy of nice-ness!
ü Use a distraction to get you through until the feelings have at least eased.
ü Seek help or support (UK helplines below).
ü Avoid unprescribed drugs and alcohol.
ü Consider the impact and repercussions/responses of you making a suicide attempt.