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All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Martina had an extremely difficult childhood. She was sexually abused by two men, but no one in authority picked up any sign of this.

Martina explains that she was born of an affair her mother had during her marriage. The only thing she knew about her father was that he was black, and as the only non-white child in her rural community she was bullied and abused. 

When her mother’s marriage broke up, she was told it was her fault and she says she felt guilty about this for a long time. 

Martina and her half-siblings lived with their mother, who was unpredictable – loving at times, but also violent. The children were badly neglected and often left alone while their mother worked and went out socialising. Social services were aware of this and involved with the family.

Sometimes Martina and her sibling were left with a neighbour and this man would take her to an outside toilet and sexually abuse her. She describes the abuse as ‘very dark and very painful’. She was about seven years old at the time.

Not long after this, her mother moved in with a new partner. They ran a business and regularly sent one of their male customers to Martina’s room to read her bedtime stories. He sexually abused Martina for about two years. 

She describes how when she was eight years old, she thought she would have to be a prostitute when she grew up. She adds that she struggled at school and tried to be ‘invisible’ because she was bullied. She did not learn to read or write until she was 10 and because of this she was said to have developmental problems. 

However, when she was moved to another school she made a friend who introduced Martina to her family. Martina says ‘They were a breath of fresh air’, and showed her ‘a whole different life’.

Martina thinks her friend’s family knew something was wrong, but she was afraid to tell them as it felt like ‘too much of a risk’. 

She began to do well at school, and was supported by some good teachers. She managed to get to university, and it was here that she first spoke about being abused. She says that having women-only spaces was very helpful in doing this. 

She feels it is vital that abuse is seen from the point of view of the child and says it is often impossible for a traumatised child to speak out. 

She is concerned about the stigma of being a victim and survivor of child sexual abuse and would like to see wide conversations taking place, that are not just focused on celebrities. 

Martina feels she has ‘put the abuse in its place now’, but she adds ‘this will always be a part of me for the rest of my life’.

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