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Gerard says ‘You only get one chance to be a kid. If that’s ruined, it ruins your life’

All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Gerard was placed in care when he was about 11 years old. His mother was a single parent and struggled to cope with caring for her children and Gerard said he had been a bit “naughty”. 

Decades later, he is still haunted by the sustained emotional and sexual abuse he suffered in a children’s home. He is highly aware of the effect his past has on him, and says that talking about it to the Truth Project has given him some relief.

Gerard was the only one of several children to be removed from the family home, and this made him feel isolated and abandoned. 

In the children’s home, emotional and physical abuse was routinely inflicted by staff. Children were intimidated, humiliated and hit.

Gerard says the staff would listen outside the dormitories at night, to catch children talking. The youngsters would then be taken from their beds and put in a ‘punishment room’ in the basement – a bare space, with wooden benches.

He relates how the children were allowed back to bed one by one. He was frequently the last one remaining, sometimes until the wake-up call in the early morning, when he had to put on his uniform and go to school having had no sleep.

Gerard did not go into detail about the sexual abuse, but it first occurred when he was 11 years old, and was perpetrated by a member of staff, in the punishment room. He knows that other children, boys and girls, were abused in the same way.

After an incident of sexual abuse Gerard ran away, but was picked up by the police and taken to social services. He spoke about the abuse and tried to explain how he was feeling – alone and unloved.

He was taken back to the children’s home, and it was clear from the way that staff spoke to him that his comments to police and social services had been relayed to them. He describes, with obvious pain, someone in the children’s home mocking him, saying ‘Aaah, Gerard, nobody loves you …’

This betrayal and humiliation by adults in authority had a profound effect on him that he still feels to this day. He says at that point he decided he would never try to tell anyone else what was happening in the home. He adds that he doesn’t think the police or social services believed him about the sexual abuse anyway.

After this incident, Gerard says, the sexual abuse ‘died off ... possibly because I’d spoken’. But the intimidation and humiliation continued.

When he was in his mid teens Gerard was taken out of care and sent back to his family, but he still felt disconnected from them. He says ‘I was taken away from everything I knew … I grew up without anyone to be part of.’

Gerard gives an insightful account of how his childhood experiences, including the sexual abuse continue to affect him, saying ‘I tried to escape it, but things in your life keep repeating themselves … you really can’t escape what happened’.

He has suffered with depression, anxiety and low confidence. He has difficulties with relationships and intimacy, such as holding hands. He knows that the way he behaves has made girlfriends think there is something wrong with them, but, he says, ‘I never blame my partners … it’s not them ...  it’s my inner self’. He adds ‘I’ve never had kids because I was scared they could end up in care. That finished my last relationship’. He said he had never told any of his partners about the abuse because he was frightened that they might tell others.

He says he is often told he is very quiet and he finds it hard to be assertive, which has caused him problems at work.

He is homeless, and comments ‘My housing problems with the council remind me of how I was treated as a kid’, but he does not feel confident enough to deal with the issue. He is not aggressive to people, but says that inside he feels angry and resentful that his life could have been better.

Gerard has recently talked to a counsellor and found it helpful to understand how much his early life has affected him. But being moved by the council into different temporary accommodation meant he could no longer access the service, and he decided to speak to the Truth Project. 

To makes things better for children in the future, Gerard emphasises how important it is to ‘listen and believe’, and crucially, to never betray the confidence of a child. He says ‘Words can be as hurtful as being abused … it still echoes in my mind “nobody loves you” … it made me scared of talking to people’.

Notwithstanding the sexual abuse he suffered, he also still feels haunted by the cruelty of the punishment room in the children’s home, saying ‘As a kid I was terrified. Later I thought – who would take a child out of bed and make them sit in a room alone?’

Gerard concludes that this is his reason for speaking to the Truth Project: ‘They were in a position of power. It is so hard to think of it happening to me and to other people. I have to do my bit for other kids by doing this’.


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