W/CW Rape and assault.
“My thoughts are that much of what makes it so hard to report is other people’s tendency to dismiss anything that is not open physical violence. People’s experiences are not so straightforward and that makes it harder for them and the authorities to take action.”
Romara [*not her real name] says, “I DON’T want to discuss my abuse. I feel it is 20 years too late because nobody at the time, even though I tried to talk about various incidents for years with friends, family and colleagues took it seriously. Sometimes people said assuming that the abuse in my teens was ‘only’ bullying] that I “just needed to ‘stand up to them’, and of later sexual harassment or assaults that I should just try to ‘put it behind me’. Sometimes they were sympathetic, but no-one ever did anything or suggested it was a crime. I was repeatedly sexually harassed at my mainstream school by two boys in my class probably from the time I was 11-it’s hard to say when it began.
I don’t remember when picking on the ‘spastic’ became sexual abuse but I remember vividly the sort of things that were done. Being disabled, I was probably one of the worst affected by the harassment because I had no friends to back me up and the teachers were used to my struggling to get on with my peers, so a lot of it was put down to “teasing”.I spent a lot of time in tears and complaining to teachers, but nobody ever seemed to listen. All the teachers knew that these two boys used sexually explicit language and many of the girls were treated to gestures and suggestions in a really aggressive manner. Even some of the teachers came in for sexual innuendo and threats.On one occasion, I had only just spoken to the Deputy Head about what the teachers termed my ‘bullying’ by these two boys. The next day they were misbehaving in class and the Deputy Head who was taking the class, split them up and sat one of them next to me. I was furious and upset because I knew that he would start touching me or saying things, so I stood up and walked out of the classroom. I was told off for ‘defying her decision’.
My parents knew I was bullied, although they did not realise it was sexual until I was 15 or so because I simply did not have the vocabulary to describe what was happening to me and I don’t think that people talked about peer sexual abuse in those days. The school never did anything. Even when my mother told them what was happening, they told her that she ‘wouldn’t want to get the police involved’ and so the issue was never pursued. When I was 18 and had left the school, I discovered that my sister’s friends who were still at school were experiencing the same abuse because the two boys were still getting into the school and lying in wait for victims. They are, for all I know, still at large and the last I heard had been reported to the police for an assault on an eight year old girl. I’m frustrated that if someone had listened to me, it might have been stopped before that happened
I learnt then, that it was no good trying to complain, the victim is always blamed for the abuse and that taught me just to accept that whatever happened to me, it was my fault. When I was 18 someone whom I trusted invited me to a party. I did not know that she was involved with people who used drugs, she was my parents’ age and I had been taught to trust adult judgement. This woman knew that as a child I had had a brain injury and that I had had seizures, yet she invited me to a party where she knew there would be drugs and the drinks and food spiked with marijuana. By the time I realised that i was not safe, it was too late and I had been drugged and assaulted. When I told her, she said, “It has to happen to everyone sometime.”
“For years, I blamed myself. I did not realise that what had happened was as a result of lowered inhibitions through drugs. I lost my faith, my confidence and my memory which had always been good up until then seems to have been permanently affected. I wonder now, was this a ‘mate crime’? I wonder whether she invited me because I was the only one of my peers whom she knew to be innocent. I know she should not have invited someone who was far more innocent and vulnerable than most 18 yearolds. Was she thoughtless, or did she do it because she knew I had a brain injury? I later spoke to someone who said she had been nagged by her to ‘loosen up and smoke’, [cannabis] but I cannot understand why anyone would not understand the risk to someone who has had grand mal seizures. I have recently discovered that this person is now working as a carer for people with severe learning disabilities and I am concerned that once again her charisma could be fooling people who are vulnerable and their families into trusting her. I want to report the original incident to the police (I have tried to in the past but it has been ignored) but hope that now perhaps my concerns about her will at least not be ignored. She should not be working with vulnerable adults or children, but in the past, nobody took any notice. I don’t want history to repeat itself!”