Abused need not suffer in silence

24th September 2004 at 01:00
I was raped when I was a teenager by a man whose kids went to school with me.

I remember creeping in, so my mother would not see my bloodstained dress.

It didn't occur to me to tell, partly because I thought it was my fault - but also because I didn't really know what had happened. He was a nice man, who made me feel cared for.

The reality struck years later, when I worked for the local rape crisis centre. I knew I'd said no, I knew that I had cried - but I didn't have the knowledge or language to understand that it should not have happened.

A few months ago, I was touched inappropriately by someone who should have known better. I told him that it was not welcomed, and certainly not the friendly gesture he claimed it had been. He did it again a little while later, muttering about how attractive he found me; I very clearly told him how revolting I found both him and the touching.

It was only after the third incident that I, a grown-up, found the words to tell someone. I was given time, support and understanding. Everything was done that could be done to remedy the situation. And I am grateful for that.

My friend's grown-up daughter has told me she was abused as a child. And I, shamefaced, had to admit that if she'd told me then, even I wouldn't have believed anyone would do that to a little girl.

Being touched in the way I was recently is not comparable to a child being touched. Nothing is worse than abusing a child - whether sexually, physically or emotionally. I look round my women friends, and so many of them suffered in silence as my friend's daughter did, as I did, and so many of them have never really fully recovered. The damage done is so much deeper, and greater, than you would think possible.

All schools now have a trained child protection officer, who creates a safe place for children to go and talk, and for staff to take their concerns. I don't think it will ever stop. No matter how wide our knowledge, abusers will always find a way - because in their hearts, they don't really think they are doing anything wrong.

The police can't keep up with the numbers, the internet is now an easy place to begin grooming a victim, and the law can be an ass. Remember recently, when a 12-year-old was deemed to have instigated sex with a man she met through a chatroom?

Unwanted pats on the backside are no longer acceptable. But the incident let me see and appreciate just how much things have changed since I was in school.

Being a protection officer must be hard - often there is no easy answer and sometimes it is the child who is removed, not the abuser. But at least it offers safe space to talk. And it could save a child's life.

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