Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris photos 2016

No matter how long ago it happened the truth must come out

Through harrowing tales of historic sex abuse, and revelations about high-profile figures such as Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris, we have mourned for stolen childhoods and shattered lives. But some who have never experienced such things may have quietly asked: after so many years, why not let sleeping dogs lie? Sue Crocombe wants to answer that question. Her story doesnt make for easy reading, but she wants you to hear it and understand

I am a wife and the mother of two grown-up children. I live in Dorset and have a fulfilling job as an intensive care nurse. My me-time is spent watching programmes like Doc Martin, or walking and cycling. I’m also a survivor of child sex abuse. It has taken me a long time to be able to say that. For much of my life, I put a lid on what happened to me during my childhood, believing that it was my fault. I hoped I could keep my secret forever, but experience has taught me that isnt possible. I feel my story needs to be heard.

My childhood was turbulent. My father was not around much, and my mother was unloving. I couldnt do anything right in her eyes. My mothers brother visited often and he became like a parent to me. My earliest memory is of lying in my cot at night when I was about four. I had eczema and, to stop me from scratching, my mother would tie my wrists to the bars. I remember my uncle coming into my room to see me. Hed say it was a game, that it would make my itchy skin feel better, and when hed finished hed untie my wrists and sing me to sleep. He made me feel loved and wanted. There were treats, too. Hed take me on shopping trips and to the zoo. Once he had a shiny blue dress made especially for me. But the rewards went hand-in-hand with the abuse. Had someone asked me what was happening when I was young enough to let it slip out, then they may have been able to put a stop to it, but nobody ever did. As I got older, I started feeling ashamed of what was going on, and there was a creeping suspicion that it was all my fault. I began to bury the secret deeper and deeper inside me. By the time I was 11, he was introducing me to his friends “ sharing me with them in return for [continued from previous page] money. They told me my uncle had debts and that if I didnt help him pay them, he would have to move away. I couldnt bear the thought of losing this man whod come to mean so much to me, so I went along with it. Just before my 13th birthday, I had a miscarriage. I didnt understand what was going on, and even now its a blur. I hid the evidence in a bin. The authorities tried to find out about the father, and I lied about having a boyfriend. But my mother never asked. I think my uncle knew the truth. I think he got frightened that he would be found out, as that was when the abuse finally stopped for good. He never came near me again “ not even to our house. Although it may sound shocking, I missed him. Instead of hating him for what he had done to me, he represented love and afection. Without him I felt abandoned.

I tried to put my uncle out of my mind and, after doing well in my O levels, I got a job at my local hospital, pushing a trolley around the wards selling sweets and magazines. I enjoyed it so much that, when I turned 18, I applied to train as a nurse. I moved into a house with some of the other girls on my course and one of them introduced me to Christianity. I believe it helped me survive and gave me a fresh start. I also met my husband and we fell in love. We married when I was 22 and had two children. Id thought I could lock my feelings away, but becoming a mother triggered a wave of emotions that knocked me sideways. I felt angry as I began to have flashbacks to my own childhood. I really wanted to be a good mother, but I felt like I couldnt. It was only then that I sought help from my local church. One of the women there was incredibly sensitive and asked the question nobody had ever asked before: had anything happened to me in my childhood? I was floored. Disclosing my secret after all these years was an incredible relief. Later, I went home to tell my husband. He felt angry on my behalf and powerless to help me, but he did his best to support me. I hoped I could finally close the door on my past and move on with my life.

For many years I did just that. I raised my children and built a successful career in nursing. But over the years, the trust I felt towards my husband morphed into something diferent altogether. I became dependent on him to the point of being needy. It put a lot of pressure on our marriage and I began to worry I might lose him, so I decided to seek help. I started seeing a psychosexual counsellor “ a woman who was trained to help people like me. I started, slowly at first, to unburden my deeply buried secret. Talking about things Id hidden from the world for so long was incredibly diicult. But with time it became a form of catharsis. Though I was in my 50s, I still saw what happened to me from a childs perspective. She helped me see that Id been groomed, that I had nothing to feel guilty about and, crucially, that it wasnt my fault. I also got in touch with the support group CISters (Childhood Incest Survivors). Talking with other women who had similar stories to tell helped me see that I wasnt the only one whod been sufering in silence all these years. Being a survivor of child sex abuse is still a taboo subject. When I told a work colleague that Id been a victim, she asked why Id never told anyone. It was as if she was blaming me for keeping quiet. Its the reason I speak out now. I want to shine a light on the shame, the self-blame and the fear you feel as a child whos convinced that nobody will believe your secret. As disturbing as they are to read about, I believe the Jimmy Savile case and others have actually helped survivors. Today, we cannot be ignored, disbelieved or swept under the carpet. Our stories have shattered a corrosive myth: that you feel better once youve grown up. Abuse simply wasnt talked about when I was little. Now that it is, we must teach our children basic body safety, and let teachers and carers ask the diicult questions.

Two years ago, I joined Twitter, under the name @shinybluedress. It refers to a picture of me as a child, dressed in the beautiful satin gift from my uncle. It is my statement to the world that I’m reclaiming my childhood innocence. Through social media, Ive found other survivors. Ours is a network that could never have existed before “ nobody would have admitted what had happened to them. Some survivors are looking for justice. Not me. My abuser is dead. When I heard the news, I was so grief-stricken that I wept, and the strength of my reaction left me feeling sick “ how could I possibly mourn someone who had treated me like that? But now, with the help of my therapist, I have a deeper understanding of what happened to me, and Ive gained some freedom from the secrets that, for so long, held a power over me. Im not totally fixed, but Im learning not to let my issues rule my life. And after so many years of silence, its an incredible relief.Rolf Harris: Footage emerges of him laughing and joking with Jimmy … Ltf

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