The following is an account of child sexual abuse. It still affects every aspect G’s life 45 plus years on. I’m not a journalist, or counsellor, but I felt a great duty to tell her story with respect, honestly and do her words justice. What the words alone cannot convey is the great emotional effort and courage it took G to tell her story, tears flowed.
As ever with our interviews, at the end it was read through and approved by the interviewee. From the start, G was positive that she wanted her story to be shared. That in sharing it might in some way help others, other survivors of sexual abuse - and invite a wider public to bear witness.
We also felt this account was an important one for the Homeless Library, because this unsaid story is very often mentioned by other homeless people we have met, who haven’t felt comfortable to describe it further. This is some of the unkindest history of all. Even as she told this account, G was trying to protect the reader, saying that some people might find this difficult to read.
|G's printed triangles, for the project 'The Homeless Library'.|
What happened to me- a lot of people in my situation would turn to drink or drugs.
As a small child I was sexually abused by my birth father. When it happens you’re controlled, manipulated by that person. You don’t know any different. Those are the people who are supposed to teach you right from wrong, trust as well. For decades growing up it was a taboo subject, you couldn’t discuss it.
I don’t know what my mum knew. I must have been when I was 6 or 7 when I tried to tell my mum- my dad was playing with my bottom- found it hard to articulate. My dads excuse was as I wet the bed (common in those being abused) he had to wash me down before school. I suspect she knew but didn’t want to face it. She wasn’t strong enough, didn’t want to face it, didn’t want to rock the boat. When I was 8 or 9, my mum was pregnant, he was still doing it to me then, My dad was quite good at manipulating.
I first asked a friend of mine when I was 9 years old if her father did these things to her. The abuse continued till my periods started.
There was a time in my teenage years that my father said ‘if you come home pregnant, I’d be out of the door.’ I went a little bit do-lally in my teens, did it to get back at my dad.
My dad never showed any affection. I never remember hugs, anything from him at all. No praise. He projected his own low self esteem, everything was negative.
Part of me is immature. My survival instincts must be greater than other survivors though, I have always been responsible. There are two ways you can go as a survivor, over responsible or fall apart and take drink and drugs to block the pain. Decades after the abuse you can’t recall the physical pain, it’s the emotional pain. I suspect that 100% of survivors have anxiety and depression.
If your self worth goes, if you have negative input about yourself about the way you look, that nobody believes you, your self worth becomes non-existent. A form of self protection, weight gain and not wanting to be attractive- not wanting to draw attention to yourself in a sexual way.
My husband dumped me in 2002, from abroad over the phone. I was in shock, in denial. Subliminally I did expect it, but I was still in shock. My family deserted me, my siblings, they didn’t want to know as soon as I mentioned anxiety and depression. Depression it’s a normal thing for survivors to have. Mental health issues. From then on I’ve had to deal with everything myself.
In 2010 when I was 54 I went to a specialist place Aurora Health Foundation. When I had my counselling, I had it explained to me that I over trusted people- since I didn’t have a trust model- I didn’t know who to trust who not to. Since then I discovered a report called ‘Survivor to Thriver’ that’s helped me enormously. It discus’s your character and personality that remains under-developed because of what’s happened to you. Relationships are effected, understanding about relationships, parental relationships. People view me as someone who has got it together, but that’s a mask. Part of my character is underdeveloped- conditioning and taught behaviour, its nothing to do with intelligence.
I am fighting now to get my life back. Professional people saw me as careless, I wanted to be carefree and think in a different way, I had never taken risks till 2004. So for me at the moment I’m fighting to get my life back- and learning the hard way.
All the fights I have at the moment are with the big organisations, everything I did between 2004 and 2008 was a complete disaster, I lost 50 thousand of my pension. Had problems with my mortgage, it was as if I was trying to be a different person and it backfired. I cant give up. I’m doing it, I’m doing it.
Because it was a taboo subject people felt ashamed. But its not your fault. But there’s not the help you need. All the focus is on the offenders not the survivors.
When he was dying I used to go round and care for him. People said why? I was hoping he would bring the subject up and say sorry- but he never referred to it. I never felt like a grown up whilst I was around him, I always felt like a child- he was a figure of absolute fear for me.
I have had an overwhelming sense of responsibility that stopped me taking drink and drugs, but I cant let go- live life. I have to control my life, have to have self control.
If people are drinking an taking drugs because of abuse they don’t just need help with the substance abuse, but the abuse. There are charities to help, for instance ‘Unity and Hope’ and ‘NAPAC ’ but they are short of funds, and given the scale of whats appearing in the public domain… Its not just counselling, its learning to live, be tactile, learning to touch. People need to experience positive affirmations of touch.
Historically this goes across every level of society, the strong playing on the weak. I believe my father was abused, but I could never do it to anyone else. The damage that it does when its happening and the emotional scars that last all your life. Even surviors that have become successful people are driven by it- deflect their emotions.
When I read this- the realisation- its acknowledging what I’ve been through, it brings emotions to your head, part of the healing, acceptance, moving on.
The present attitude towards perpetrators is much better than when I was a child.
The Homeless Library is a project devised by arthur+martha to document the heritage of homelessness using interviews, artworks, poetry. It is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.