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Billie thinks she successfully hid the fact she was being abused, but she self-harmed in an extreme way

All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Billie was sexually abused by a neighbour when she was a small child. 

Later, a teacher who was grooming her made her feel she had disappointed him when she told him about this, and he still went on to abuse her.

Billie describes her family life as ‘very settled’. Although her mother suffered from depression, she says her parents cared for their children and encouraged them to do well at school. 

They lived in a friendly community where it was usual for people to go in and out of each other’s houses, and she had several ‘aunties’ who were actually friends and neighbours of her parents.

Between the ages of 4 and 7, Billie was sexually abused by Gil, the son of one of the neighbours. He was in his mid teens and had learning difficulties. Billie has several distinct memories of the sexual abuse, and she knows it happened regularly.

The abuse stopped when Billie’s family moved house so the children could go to a school where her parents thought they would do well. She did not tell her parents what Gil had done because, she says, there was an ‘unwritten rule’ they should not do anything to upset her mother. 

Soon after the family moved, Billie started to self-harm and have episodes of rage. She thinks this was probably related to the sexual abuse she had experienced, and also because she was bullied at her new school. 

She sometimes used broken glass to cut herself. She always managed to explain away the injuries to her parents. 

At school, Billie became very close to a male teacher. She was good at his subject and he encouraged her and said she should study it at university. She had extra lessons when he would come in and talk to her and she says their conversations became flirtatious. Sometimes he would drive her home.

When she was in her early teens, Billie confided in him that she had been sexually abused. She still remembers the look on his face; she says ‘he looked crumpled’ and she felt bad that she had somehow ‘shattered his image’ of her. 

For a few months after her disclosure, he hardly spoke to her and it seemed he deliberately avoided her. Billie says she was very upset by this and worried that she had somehow ‘disappointed him’. 

Some time later, Billie was called in to see the headteacher. Her subject teacher had told her what Billie had disclosed to him. Billie’s mother was called in and a social worker came out to see Billie. 

Billie recalls the social worker telling her it would be pointless to pursue a complaint about Gil, as there was no evidence and it did not ‘seem’ to have affected her as she was doing so well at school. 

After this, Billie says, ‘things slowly returned to normal’ with her subject teacher. They began talking again and he told her he was having some personal problems with his wife. One day when she was upset, he gave her a hug, and she says their relationship changed from there.

They began meeting in the pub, and he started taking her to a room in a ‘grotty hotel’ near the school where he would sexually abuse her. This began before she was 16, and continued after she left the school and went to another sixth form. 

Billie never told anyone what the teacher did, but at school her friends and other teachers made jokes and references about their ‘relationship’.

She says she has conflicted feelings about the teacher now. She feels that he was the one who pushed her to do as well as she has in her life. She wants to believe she was ‘exceptional’ to him, but she now recognises that she was abused by an older man in a position of trust.

In her late teens, she discovered that Gil sexually abused several other girls. She also found out that the social worker had told the police that Billie was ‘unwilling’ to go forward with a complaint against him. She successfully pursued a criminal injuries compensation case in respect of the abuse by Gil. She has struggled with a sense of guilt that she could have done more to prevent him abusing others. 

Billie feels she hid the fact she was being abused ‘very well’ but she believes that professionals need to be more aware that there are not always overt signs when a child is being sexually abused.  

She emphasises the importance of professionals understanding that victims are often vulnerable to further abuse. She says that when someone discloses, it can be seen as ‘permission’ by some people for further abuse. 

Billie continued self-harming regularly into her 20s, and still does it occasionally when she is under stress. She suffers with depression and post-traumatic stress, and has therapy to help her manage this. She has entered into abusive relationships and finds it hard to trust older men in positions of power.

She says she did not realise for some time how much she was affected by the abuse because she has always excelled at everything she put her mind to. 

Billie did well at university and has a successful career. She is passionate about protecting children and young people, and is involved in training professionals about sexual violence. 

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