“BEING ABUSED AS A CHILD IS A LIFE SENTENCE” – FIVE SURVIVORS SHARE THEIR STORY. More than 4,000 survivors have shared their experiences with the Truth Project in England and Wales
October 22, 2019
Almost half of child sexual abuse victims were under the age of eight when the abuse began, according to research.
More than 4,000 survivors have shared their experiences with the Truth Project in England and Wales and, of the 3,265 accounts analysed for research, some 46% said they had only been eight when abused for the first time.
The inquiry has heard that many victims were warned by those in authority that their accusations could "ruin" the lives of their abusers.
Others were dismissed as "attention seekers".
Some 86% said they were left with long term mental health problems and over a third said they had experienced depression.
Sky News looks at some of the report's most harrowing accounts. Some of the names and identifying details have been changed.
:: WARNING: The accounts below contain details which may be upsetting to some readers
Ruby was given away at a young age, being "pulled from pillar to post" until her mother snatched her back at the age of five.
"My stepfather was loud and aggressive and our house was overcrowded; this made his cruel behaviour even more unbearable, and it felt impossible to escape from. Also living with us was my step father's sister and husband; he was the first person to sexually abuse me.
"I still remember flashes of it to this day. At age five, my step uncle took me to the bedroom and assaulted me. There was blood on the bed, and I remember hearing so much shouting.
"My stepfather called the doctor, but before he arrived, my mother made sure I washed the blood away. It felt like she wanted me to get rid of any trace of what had happened.
"I think people find it difficult to understand why I didn't tell anyone, but honestly I was too terrified to say anything, mostly because of what my stepfather might do. We all lived in fear."
Then Ruby's stepfather began to abuse her, telling her that if she spoke about the abuse she would rip the family apart.
At the age of 13, she became pregnant to him, and her mother arranged an abortion to cover up the abuse.
Ruby said: "I remember sitting in the doctor's office and struggling to get my head around what was happening. It was clear the doctor knew something was wrong, yet she didn't say anything. I had the abortion and everything just carried on as if nothing had happened.
"I had never felt more alone. The words of my mother were constantly going round and round in my head. I only knew the version of myself that my parents knew, and that was a person who was unworthy and would never be good enough."
Ruby left home at 15 but the abuse affected her relationships, with many ending in violence. When she went to a doctor for help, she was given pills - "like a way of telling me to be quiet", she said.
In 1990 her stepfather was put on trial and, despite being released after 20 months on remand, Ruby said she was pleased to know the case had set a precedent and that her life could move forward.
Now 61, Ruby has gained a degree, started seeing a therapist and is using her experience to help other abuse victims.
Philip was mentally, physically and sexually abused during his time at a children's home.
"Some of the older boys, we called them prefects, used to take orders from the teachers to do things. They would get special rewards and privileges when they obeyed the teachers and the more they did, the more they got. The teachers would say jump and they'd ask how high.
"Once, a teacher said to one of the prefects to say that I was needed on the school stage. That's when the sexual assault took place. All I remember is thinking that if I spoke about it, or told anyone, I would get beaten - so I didn't. Even though I've blocked out so much of time at school, my abuser's name is one I'll never forget.
"I carried the burden for such a long time. I wanted justice, but when I went to the police station I felt like the perpetrator myself. I found it so difficult to deal with, and even thought about taking my own life twice. I've spent most of my life on antidepressants. Once you get to that point, I think it's time to look for help."
Philip said the Truth Project "enabled me to open up". He added: "Before I spoke to them, I did my bit in life as a husband, father and grandfather, but it just wasn't my best. Going to the Truth Project has given me my life back."
"My life has changed so much. The memory of the abuse will always be there, but I have grown to learn how to live with it. I love spending time with my children and grandchildren and going out with my wife, she's supported me throughout everything."
Krista, 47, says she grew up in an affluent home with well-respected parents but she always felt like they did not want her. She was eventually given to her father's parents.
Krista says she was first abused by her great-grandfather, who put his hand up her skirt and shoved his tongue into her mouth.
"Before I could get my head around what had happened, my grandma burst into the room. The next thing I remember was an almighty row, and grandmother telling me she'd never leave me alone again. One thing I couldn't understand was why she told me not to tell anyone about what had happened. Later on, when I did speak to dad and his mum about the abuse, they couldn't care less, telling me that 'I should be so lucky'.
"By this point, I felt even more isolated and I still didn't have a proper place that I could call home."
Krista was eventually sent to a boarding school in the countryside, where the teachers decided she was difficult.
"The matron regularly held me in a room next to her office, ostracised and away from everyone else. She told me I wasn't like anyone else, that I could never fit in and regularly sold me by the hour to men who further abused me. I had never felt more alone."
Krista escaped by getting expelled from the school, moving to live with her mother instead.
But Krista's mother was an alcoholic who took her anger out on her daughter before giving her to the state care system.
"When you go through things like that as a child, it changes you forever," Krista says. "It shows you what the world can be capable of at a very young, impressionable age. I've come a long way since being that isolated little girl, and have built a successful life for myself, with children of my own. But that girl is still there, just beneath the surface.
"I think the entire system needs to be shaken up and intervention should happen at the earliest stage. When you look at the impact that abuse can have on children, it isn't just for a few years, it's a life sentence. We seem so strong to everyone else but we can be knocked down by the littlest thing."
Elliot was 11 when he was abused by a family friend who was lodging in his home. The older man exploited his insecurity, intimidating, controlling and sexually abusing him.
The abuser was a student so was sometimes at home when Elliot returned from school. He asked Elliot sexual questions, gave him alcohol and - on one occasion - a tablet.
When Elliot was having a bath, the lodger would walk in and stay talking to him, and when he returned from school the abuse would begin with comments from the lodger such as "you'll have to take your uniform off".
Elliot was told that, if he reported the abuse to his parents, he would probably be sent to a "special school", something that Elliot found "terrifying".
Elliot said the abuser was very good at playing on his weaknesses, and would say things like: "Who do you think they will believe, you or me?" and "you're nervous about everything, you're not normal".
After some months, the abuser moved out and Elliot thinks that his father sensed his discomfort, despite not knowing exactly what was going on.
The abuse continues to affect Elliot's life and he says he separated from his wife because he felt he "didn't deserve a happy, decent relationship".
He has used alcohol as a way of coping, has had frequent contact with mental health services, has problems trusting people, but never felt supported enough to talk about being abused.
He has not reported the abuse to the police, still worried that he would not be believed and that his abuser holds more power.
Tina was groomed and abused by Roy, a married teacher at her school, when she was a teenager.
She developed a crush on him and he encouraged this, telling her he liked her a lot, taking her out in his car, singing love songs, holding her hand and kissing her.
One day he parked the car and got Tina to touch him sexually before doing the same to her. This moved on to further sexual abuse and rape.
Tina said that when Roy first paid attention to her, she felt superior and different but later she found a notebook detailing what he had done with other girls and women.
Tina's parents thought Roy was helping her revise for exams but after she left school, Tina would continue to see him every night.
She said he was controlling, deciding which social events she could attend, and that "sex became a real chore".
She felt she was leading a double life and suffered panic attacks, anxiety and even thought about harming her family.
Roy eventually left the school after police were told of his conduct with other girls. Despite being interviewed by officers, he was not punished and Tina says this led him to believe he was invincible.
It took Tina a long time to establish her sense of self following the abuse and she still suffers from anxiety, low self-esteem and a fear of losing control.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is examining the extent to which institutions and organisations have failed to protect children in England and Wales from sexual abuse.
Message from Executive Director Laura A. Ahearn: Please visit our website at www.crimevictimscenter.org for news, information and resources in your community.