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Cornelia was abused by the woman her mum trusted to care for her child while she was at work

All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Cornelia says that in some ways her early life was ‘nice’ – she was not neglected and she always had a clean school uniform.

But her mother’s relationships left her vulnerable to abusers – male and female.

Cornelia’s father, whom she describes as a ‘nasty piece of work’, was largely absent from her life. Because her mother worked long hours she needed help with childcare. A woman her mother had met at college, called Sue, often looked after Cornelia. Sue worked in social care.

When Sue first sexually abused her, Cornelia did not know it was abuse. She remembers Sue pulling her onto her lap, and that the woman’s hands were ‘all over’ her. She felt relieved when her mother came to pick her up.

The abuse began when Cornelia was about four years old, and continued for about 10 years. She doesn’t know how many times it happened, only that it was ‘a lot’. She found it particularly upsetting when Sue abused her in front of other people.

She remembers how Sue would follow her to the toilet and put her hands all over her. Sue also tried to make Cornelia touch her in inappropriate ways. Cornelia says ‘Sue would try and make this out to be a game, and after the abuse, she would carry on as if nothing had happened.’

Throughout her childhood, Cornelia’s mother had various boyfriends. One boyfriend was violent to her mother and ‘horrible’ to Cornelia when no one was around. He sexually abused her twice; the second time he raped her. At the time, she did not understand what was happening and thought that this was ‘what all children went through’. 

When Cornelia was a teenager, her mother married an emotionally abusive man who constantly threatened Cornelia. Social services became involved and Sue took it upon herself to interfere, which Cornelia says ‘made a bad situation much worse’. She would go and stay with Sue sometimes, and Sue continued to sexually abuse her, telling her that no one would believe her if she spoke about it.

Cornelia says that when she was younger she always did her homework, but her behaviour at school started to deteriorate. However, no one at school picked up that anything was wrong. Her social worker showed no compassion and she feels she was badly let down by social services.

She ‘blocked out’ the abuse for many years. She told her mother about it recently, after Sue died, but did not go into detail. Her mother did not seem to know how to react but she did comment that Sue was an emotional bully.  

The impact of the sexual abuse still affects Cornelia. Every time she thinks about it, she feels ‘dirty’ and she gets in the shower and scrubs herself.

Cornelia is now a health professional. She struggles to understand how a person like Sue could have been in a position of authority over vulnerable people and thinks that vetting needs to be improved.

She is concerned about having children and passing on her worries. She says ‘I want to get better, so I can be a good mother’.

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