I had always known what happened to me as a child. I was eight when the abuse finally stopped but I had vivid dreams reliving the experiences for years. When I realised their significance at 15 they quickly turned to nightmares, turning my life upside down. Now, at 32, I have secured the conviction of the man responsible and finally found some measure of peace. By telling my story, I hope to help other survivors do the same.
I grew up in a happy, middle class home; the son of a doctor and a nurse, loving parents who worked hard to provide for me. I was a precocious child with a wayward streak, never shy about vocalising my thoughts or confronting figures in authority. One early school report read ‘Tim will make Prime Minister, if someone doesn’t shoot him first’. Although my campaign for high office never quite took off, people who know me will sympathise with that sentiment. Given that, I often wonder why I kept the abuse I suffered a secret for so long.
It happened on weekend visits to a relative’s house during the early 1990s. The woman, who I called ‘auntie’, made sugar mice as treats for me. Her adoptive son Neil, an overweight, moustachioed man then in his mid-twenties, would withhold the sweets and use them to entice me to perform sexual acts on him, as well as keeping quiet about the assaults he would carry out on me, behaviour we would today label ‘grooming’.
The abuse occurred on multiple occasions over a period of a few years. For a long time I told myself, ‘it wasn’t that bad, other people have been through far worse’. What is important to me, more than any salacious details, is the profound devastation it caused.
Many survivors go through decades of their lives blocking these memories or are unable to process what they mean, only for the realisation to emerge suddenly and unexpectedly. For me, it took the rape of a friend when I was 15 to understand that what had happened wasn’t a normal part of growing up. This revelation turned me, almost overnight, from a happy-go-lucky class clown to a deeply troubled young man.
My mental health deteriorated rapidly and nightmares stopped me from sleeping. I experienced depression, anxiety, overwhelming emotions and elements of psychosis, kick-starting a pattern of shame, self-loathing and self-destructive behaviour that continued to follow me throughout my life.
I drank heavily to cope with my waking thoughts, which verged on suicidal. I couldn’t cope with being around former friends who I felt had abandoned me and started playing truant from school, eventually dropping out altogether.
My parents had no idea what had happened to their once happy, if argumentative, little boy. They couldn’t cope with my increasingly unhinged and unexplained behaviour. They eventually took the heart-breakingly difficult decision to kick me out of the family home when I turned 16, in 2000.
Reading about other survivors was a huge source of support for me over the years, which is why I want to share my story as widely as possible.
I found myself homeless in a working class seaside town where I had no friends or family to call on, flitting from Bed & Breakfast accommodation to sleeping rough. I spent my time with all manner of ‘characters’, from asylum seekers who were fleeing wars in Kosovo and Sierra Leone to a teenage girl who made her living selling herself.
My world was increasingly filled with violence and chemically induced escapism and I knew I wanted out. The only way I could see how was to get back into education. This was no easy task, juggling work, renting a home and my unstable mental health proved challenging, but eventually I got myself back on track and progressed from GCSEs to a masters degree and training in journalism.
When I wrote to my parents to explain what I had been through as a child, their attitude changed immediately. They finally understood what had caused my breakdown and we were able to start building back the bridges that had been torn down between us.
I began to function again within society, but the legacy of abuse continued to follow me. One of the most troubling aspects was the idea that I might myself become an abuser. So often we hear that offenders have been abused themselves and in the grasping and twisted logic of my young brain I assumed, like some vampiric infection, I was doomed to eventually become a monster myself.
This stopped me from wanting children and was one of many factors resulting from abuse that contributed to the breakdown of romantic relationships. Maturity has since taught me that this is nonsense and I know that my experiences will help me to prepare the children I will one day have for the challenges they may face, while protecting in them the innocence that was stolen from me.
Male survivors are a group that has been unrepresented in the past, which is surprising given what we know. ONS figures show that around 11% of boys under 16 have experienced some form of sexual abuse. There are thought to be in excess of 2 million adult male survivors of abuse in the UK, according to Survivors UK. Over 1,000 men report being raped to the police every year and this is likely to be less than 10% of the real number.
Figures also reveal that three quarter of suicides are by men and it is the single biggest cause of death for men under 50. Men are nearly three times more likely than women to become alcoholics, are more likely to die from illegal drugs and less likely to report mental health issues. All of these issues tie in with the experiences of male survivors and make it imperative that we discuss them openly and honestly.
When men do speak out, one often avoided subject is arousal during acts of abuse. This is a purely physical response but something which many survivors experience, including myself, and something which can make even our closest loved ones uncomfortable. In the case of male on male abuse it presents a particular set of difficulties, tied up with notions of masculinity and sexuality.
Some of the shame for men also stems from being unable to stop the person who assaults us. Men are brought up to be strong and to fail to fight off an attacker can feel like we have ‘allowed’ the abuse to happen, and therefore deserved it.
Thankfully more and more survivors are talking about their experiences, including men. The revelations around child abusers in football coaching that were sparked by Andy Woodward are one sign of this. Reading about other survivors was a huge source of support for me over the years, which is why I too want to share my story as widely as possible.
I strongly believe that the more we are heard, believed and understood, the less power there is for abusers to stifle and coerce potential victims. We need to be sending the message to people who have survived abuse that they aren’t alone and are not damaged, disturbed or in any way abnormal.
Nothing will ever take away what has happened to us and I will forever have to fight the urge to spiral down into the well of negative feelings and thoughts abuse has left me with, but while the war may continue a defining battle has been won.
Neil Day of Park Lane in Ropley, Hampshire, was found guilty of six counts of gross indecency with a child and one count of indecent assault against a child at Guildford Crown Court in January. He previously pleaded guilty to three counts of possessing indecent images of children uncovered during his arrest.