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Even after one of his adopted children was taken into care, Bessie’s uncle fostered another

All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Bessie was sexually abused by a relative who was employed by a local authority and was an active church member.

He was allowed to take her in and foster other children, with apparently little scrutiny from any agencies. 

Bessie was a baby when her mother died. Her father was not able to care for her and her older half-siblings, and it was agreed that relatives on his side of the family would take the children.

Bessie describes the couple, Drey and Jennie, as ‘fiercely religious’. They belonged to an evangelical church where they worshipped several times a week.

She says ‘My uncle was very involved with children’, explaining that he ran sports clubs and organised residential trips through the church for ‘underprivileged children’.

Drey and Jennie were foster parents for the local authority, which was also Drey’s employer. By the time Bessie was seven years old, there were a lot of children, adopted and fostered, in the house. She comments that they were ‘looked after …. rather than part of the family’.

Family life was harsh. The children were discouraged from being close with each other and were not allowed to have friends in the house. Bessie says that Drey only spoke to them when he was telling them off. She says ‘Not once throughout my whole life did I have a normal conversation with him’. He was physically abusive and beat them frequently.

The house was dirty and unkempt, apart from the front lounge, which was immaculate. Bessie observes that this gave a respectable impression to any visitors. 

The girls shared a bedroom and Bessie remembers seeing one of them using the en-suite shower as a toilet. Drey often stood outside the girls’ bedroom if he heard them getting up and Bessie thinks this made her sister scared to go and use the toilet.

Bessie’s first memory of sexual abuse by Drey is from when she was 11 years old. He took her from her bed and she remembers crying and him telling her she had been having a nightmare. But, she says, the reason she was crying is that he was penetrating her with one hand while stroking her hair with the other.

The next day, Bessie told one of her school friends, who told her mum. Bessie later discovered this mum alerted the school, and she now realises this is why her teacher became very kind and attentive towards her. She says at the time, this worried her. ‘I thought maybe he had an ulterior motive, because of what had happened.’

Bessie thinks the school must have told the police, because they came to the house. She heard them asking for her and being told by Drey ‘She’s out with her friends’. Her aunt then locked her in a room.

Later, she realised the police had gone, and so had one of her half-sisters, who was placed in care for about a year. Drey and Jennie immediately fostered another child.

As the children reached their teens, they spent more time away from the family home. Drey and Jennie showed very little interest in them, but Drey continued to be very active with group outings and weekend trips for other children that he organised through the church.

Bessie left home when she was in her mid-teens. Drey and Jennie continued fostering other children.

More than 10 years later, the police contacted Bessie after another girl disclosed that she had been abused by Drey. Bessie says the approach by the police was ‘sensitive’, and she and some of the other children in the couple’s care were cited as witnesses against Drey.

He denied the allegations of abuse, claiming to have no memory of several events that he was questioned about, and was acquitted.

Bessie believes that Drey stopped running residential trips for children and that the church told the local authority that his role in these outings had been solely administrative. However, she later discovered that he had transferred to another church and was also involved with the Scouts.

Bessie says that after she left Drey and Jennie, she gradually started to understand that her childhood was abusive and abnormal. She was promiscuous, got involved in abusive relationships and became pregnant. She abused drugs and alcohol, and has suffered with severe depression, stress and anxiety. At times she has felt suicidal.

She comments that NHS mental health services need to be ‘less old fashioned’ and more understanding of young people. She wishes she had known that promiscuity is a common impact of child sexual abuse. She says ‘No one told me it wasn’t my fault until I was in my 30s’. 

She would also like professionals to be aware that pregnancy can trigger traumatic memories for victims of child sexual abuse. 

Bessie loves being a mother and she is now in a supportive relationship. She comments ‘Becoming a mother changes your perception of child abuse and you become fiercely protective’.

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