(Warning – this blog discusses issues related to sexual abuse)
Under new laws being considered by government ministers in the UK, adults convicted of acts of emotional cruelty against children in their care will face the same threat of jail as those guilty of physical neglect.
These changes are amongst a number of updates to laws relating to Child Abuse which are being championed by the charity Action For Children.
Whist I think this is very laudable, I am concerned as to exactly how this would work. Does it mean that in future people will be able to report their own parents for the emotional abuse the suffered in childhood?
Could children, supported by appropriate professionals and the Crown Prosecution Service, instigate a case which sees their parents being taken to court?
Will it drafted in a similar manner to sexual abuse laws in the UK which have no statute of limitations?
Will victims be treated appropriately by the courts? In my view, the present system is woefully inadequate.
My own childhood was, at times, deeply unhappy. My mother was over critical and unloving. Nothing I did was ever good enough for her. This meant I grew up with little self-esteem and looked to adults outside my family for emotional support.
There are two particular episodes that I recall very clearly. The first surrounds incidents when I was sexually abused by two different men. I was aged about 11 or 12 at the time.
The first was the dentist who ran a practice next door to the house I lived in as a child. Back then, in England, dentists were allowed to administer their own general anaesthetics. A practice that was only halted after several child deaths. The pervert who molested me, did so when I was in the dentists chair, I only found out what he was doing because I came-to part-way though his abuse. Despite still bleeding from his dentistry, I managed to get out of his house and find a neighbour, who eventually elicited from me what had happened.
This lovely woman was a teacher, and she not only explained to me about ‘bad men’ but also spoke to my parents about the incident, so I did not need to relive my trauma.
When our neighbour took me home, my parents greeted me with blank faces and I was told in no uncertain terms that what had happened was never going to be mentioned again.
The dentist, by the way, was eventually struck off and jailed for attacks on other children.
The second incident was subsequent to my mother’s eagerness to save money where I was concerned. Because she thought that the hairdressers in the town where we lived charged too much she insisted that I went to a woman in a nearby village. This woman ran a hairdressing business above her husbands grocery store. (My mother continued to use one of the the ‘too expensive’ hairdressers in town.)
The hairdresser was fine, I quite liked her, but her husband was a different matter. He always insisted in giving me a cuddle when I arrived (straight off the school bus in my uniform). His hands wandered all over my developing body. As he was tall and well built I was powerless to escape. Whilst I was waiting to have my hair cut, he would lure me into the stockroom at the back of the shop with promises of sweets or magazines and then press himself against me. I could feel his erect penis through my thin summer dress.
Because of what I had been taught by my teacher neighbour after what had happened to me at the dentist, I told my mother what this other man was doing, and got told by both my of my parents not to make a fuss as it was saving my mother money!
The last time I went into the shop, I was literally ‘saved by the bell’. As my abuser pulled me into the dreaded dark stockroom, the shop door bell rang. The incoming customer called out to find out where he was, I yelled in response and in his surprise, my tormentor let me go.
I ran out of the shop, unheeding of any traffic as I dashed across the road to a house whose occupants I knew. Thankfully, they were in and provided me with refuge, comfort, love and support.
I remember clearly the reaction of Phyllis, she gently coxed out of me what had happened, explained that it was not my fault, and that my mother should have known better as this man was known to be ‘too friendly’ with young girls. Her husband John reacted with anger, not at me, but at my abuser. John was a relative of Albert Pierrepoint, one of the longest serving hangmen in England, and made it clear that he wished his ancestor was alive to hang ‘that pervert’.
Eventually my parents were telephoned and my stone-faced father collected me. Again, he exhorted me never to speak about what happened to anyone.
I was in my 40s before I could speak about either incident. Whist I find this difficult to write about, I’ve come to terms with what happened to me and have been able to support others who have had had similar experiences.
The second episode had a much longer lasting effect on both my teenage years and adulthood.
My first three years of secondary school (from 11 years old) education were at a small and select Girls Grammar School. I did quite well academically and flourished in a atmosphere where we were encouraged to debate, discuss and become rounded young women. Towards the end of my third year my father’s job meant that we had to move quite a distance. This meant a change of school. I did not want to leave where I was, nor move to a school which was mixed sex as the new one would be. I knew that other girls whose fathers had the same profession as mine could go to a particular boarding school, either on a scholarship or at reduced fees. Two girls from my Grammar School had recently moved there and my teachers suggested I do the same. I was really keen on this idea, and my father thought it would be good for me. I took the exam and passed.
I remember looking at the brochure and the uniform list and feeling excited at the new opportunities I would have. Also it would have the added bonus of allowing me to live away from home and out of the clutches of my mother.
She, however, had different ideas, she was adamant that I should not go. I’m still not sure if it was just because she wanted me at home to do all the chores I was expected to do or because she had worked out that I had gay tendencies (something I didn’t understand at that time), therefore thinking that an all girls school would give me even more ‘wrong ideas’. My father had no choice but to support, all be it reluctantly, my mother’s views. She could be very forceful and arguing with her was pointless.
So I landed up at a large mixed sex Comprehensive School. It was a real culture shock, absolute hell, I was desperately unhappy there. I was bullied both verbally and physically and suffered two broken ankles in six months. The first time I was deliberately tripped up when carrying a tray of glassware, the second was when I was pushed down some steps into a biology pond.
My academic work suffered too. The school syllabus was completely different from the one at my Grammar School. Whilst I caught up in English and other arts, the maths and sciences were so divergent I failed to pass any O levels in those subjects. Not good, especially as I was determined to train to be a nurse where such exams were usually a requirement.
In fact, partly because of this I was unable to train at any of the main London teaching hospitals and landed up at a provincial one.
If I had been able go to the boarding school I had so wanted to attend, the early part of my career would have been very different and I would have had many more opportunities.
In the end I did well in my profession and got some wonderful chances and experiences, but that was in spite of, not because of my education.
I could relate many more childhood events which have negatively impacted on me. For instance, I can never recall having the wonderful loving relationship with my mother that some of my friends have been fortunate to have with their mothers. But I know other people will have experienced far worse than I.
Will this new law help them? Will it help youngsters growing up today?
I really hope so, but I also hope that somewhere in the school curriculum will be space to teach the next generation of parents how to nurture and protect their children.
However, if this law is enacted I will not be seeking legal redress. My mother is long dead, and my father elderly. Also, the way in which such victims are treated by the courts in the UK means I would suffer further trauma, for me, a price not worth paying.
The situation may well be different for others in similar or worse situations. I wish them well and hope that the redress they seek improves their lives.