'Keep it quiet': The family that covered up sex abuse

Girl covering face (model)
Image caption 'Sarah' is still traumatised by the sexual abuse she suffered as a young girl

In a church-going, happy and loving family was a seven-year-old girl.

But then, through a weekly ordeal of sexual abuse at the hands of someone she thought would protect her, her life changed forever.

Now 23 years old, the torment of the years of her uncle's abuse remains strong, along with the anger over how her family covered it up to protect their reputation and that of the Church.

Sarah (not her real name) said: "I was woken up from my sleep and carried downstairs... he pulled up my dressing gown and told me to be quiet.

"His chest used to lie on my forehead. It was all quiet and then a hand would be over my mouth.

"He used to tell me to be quiet and if I tell I'd never see my family again. 'If you tell police they'd take you away', he said to me."

Despite being reported to Nottinghamshire Police the perpetrator remains unpunished.

Downward spiral

Sarah has recently asked the force to reopen the inquiry in the abuse that went on for three-and-a-half years.

She said on most occasions it had just been fondling, but at other times more serious sexual assaults took place.

"After about 10 or 15 minutes he carried me back upstairs", Sarah said.

The abuse only stopped when her uncle's actions were discovered by her brother, who then told their mother.

Before it all began, and despite her parents being separated, Sarah recalls regular visits from her father and the happiness of her early childhood along with a sense of feeling loved and supported.

Her father's family were very much part of her early life and she spent time with them while on weekly visits to her grandmother's home.

But that house was also where her uncle started to abuse her.

Talking about when the abuse was uncovered, she said it had been the start of a downward spiral.

"Mum burst into tears," her brother said, after he told her what had happened. "She was distraught.

"Dad's family said 'we'll sort it'.

"They [her father's family] thought though, that for the sake of the family and the Church it would be best 'to keep it quiet'."

He said he was prevented from speaking to police officers about the abuse.

For Sarah, events then saw her being placed into care, expelled from school, self-harming and categorised as a "vulnerable teenager".

She remembers calling ChildLine and saying "I want to run away".

Her subsequent rebellious behaviour has resulted in her being convicted of assault, affray and serving jail terms for drugs offences.

"When it was covered up it just made me think I had to deal with it," she said.

"They didn't want the Church or family damaged.

"I put it to the back of my head but then I'd have flashbacks... I go into destruct mode.

"I turned into a tomboy, boisterous... it was deliberate, to protect myself from being attractive to a man."

'Very closed doors'

According to children's charities, young people are often more at risk of abuse in their own home.

They say most child sexual abuse goes unreported and undetected.

The charities have written to Tim Loughton MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families, to discuss the issue of intra-familial sexual abuse.

Peter Saunders, chief executive of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC)said: "The experiences we hear every day from callers make your toes curl.

"Abuse goes on behind very closed doors and often goes unpunished and sadly, [is] very common.

"The wider problem is still within the family. Too many children are in danger today.

"Child abuse, and particularly child sexual abuse in the family, is something people don't want to talk about, but they must."

A police spokesman said: "In relation to the individual case, I can confirm Nottinghamshire Police was contacted last week and asked to look into this historic case.

"We will obtain the documents relating to it and assess whether there is sufficient new evidence available to reopen the investigation."

In the past five years, Nottinghamshire Police has recorded 407 familial rape crimes.

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