Woman speaks out over 'years of pain' after abuser sentenced
A woman sexually abused as a teenager has waived her right to anonymity to encourage other victims to speak up.
Claire Hinton, from County Antrim, was 13 when she met her abuser, Thomas Thompson, who was 24 at the time.
On Wednesday, Thompson, now 41, from Constance Street, Belfast, was given a three-year suspended sentence.
He admitted inciting a child to commit an act of gross indecency and unlawful carnal knowledge of a girl under 11, between April and July 1998.
Mrs Hinton, now 31, said what happened to her as a teenager had shaped her life.
"I opened that box and dealt with the pain. I'm immensely proud of myself, I'm a strong woman," she told the BBC.
Antrim Crown Court heard that the pair, who met at a church youth club, had a sexual encounter at a derelict house.
'Reckless and dangerous life'
Thompson told her: "Don't tell anyone, my wife will come after you."
His barrister said: "The world of the victim has been turned upside down and so has that of Mr Thompson, although the court will have far less sympathy with him.
"He accepts what he did was totally wrong. At that time he was living a reckless and dangerous lifestyle.
"It was outrageous for him to take advantage of her in the way that he did."
'Young and vulnerable'
The judge said Thompson, a father of four, had "taken advantage of a young, vulnerable girl".
He added: "She was vulnerable not only because of her age, but also because she had run away from home.
"Sexual offences against someone this age will always be taken seriously, whether consensual or not."
After the court case ended, Mrs Hinton spoke about the impact of the abuse throughout her life.
"I was a very angry teenager, I would have depended on drugs and alcohol in the early teenage years," she said.
"As an adult it has affected my mental health greatly, suffering from panic attacks, depression, anxiety, sleepless nights, wakening up screaming.
"It has affected me from the age of 13, right to now, today, to the age of 31."
Mrs Hinton said the legal process was most difficult thing she had ever been through but felt it had been "rewarding at the end".
"The past two years my anxiety has heightened. I would be on high alert in public spaces. I would be paranoid.
"About a year ago, I even contemplated suicide. Having to deal with this every day became so much for me. Thankfully, I'm still here and I'm still fighting this every day."
She said she had chosen to speak publicly because she "got justice".
"I got the outcome that I deserved. There is so much stigma and so many people out there who do not come forward for fear of not being believed. They are living alone with this. There is support out there."
Nexus NI offers counselling and support to victims of abuse. There's more information here.