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All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Mercy grew up neglected in a violent home. 

Social workers and teachers did not listen or believe her when she tried to tell them about the abuse.

Mercy grew up in a large family where ‘dad ruled the house with his fists and my mum was occupied with keeping him happy’.

When Mercy was about six years old she met a man called Anders, who was a family friend. Anders was in his early 20s, and she says ‘He was very kind to me’. She was not used to receiving any attention or affection and the relationship became very important to her. 

After a little while, Anders asked Mercy if he could be her boyfriend. She didn’t understand what this implied, and she agreed. She says that Anders began asking her to ‘do things to him’ that she didn’t like. ‘He said that he was my boyfriend and that was what people do’ she recalls.

Anders promised Mercy a surprise for her seventh birthday. He had bought her nice presents before, so after school she went to his house.

She says that at first, he was ‘all smiles’ and wished her a happy birthday. He then suggested they play a game. He tied her hands behind her back and took her into a room where there were other young men. Mercy was terrified. She remembers them talking and drinking.

The men raped Mercy. She was in tremendous pain but Anders and his friends were ‘laughing as if it was one big joke’. 

Afterwards, Anders told her that if she ever told anybody he would kill her. Mercy walked home alone in the dark. All the family had already gone to bed.

Over the next four years, Mercy was regularly abused by Anders and different men. She was told to ‘keep to the rules’, which included not crying or ‘letting Anders down in front of his friends’. But she says, she still got beaten. 

A social worker often visited Mercy’s family and Mercy tried to talk to her. When the social worker asked about the bruises on Mercy, her mother said she had ‘stepped out of line’. 

Mercy also tried to tell two teachers at school what was happening to her but they did not believe her. She says ‘I was seen as a problem child’.

The abuse stopped when Mercy was 11 or 12. Her parents separated and she was sent to live with her father. 

Mercy says she felt ashamed of what had happened, because she had enjoyed the kindness that Anders showed her at first.  

In her adult years, she has suffered from poor mental health and lack of self-worth. She describes feelings of fear, even of ‘my own shadow’.

Mercy says that no matter how much she tries to forget her memories, she feels she is living a ‘life sentence’ because of her traumatic experiences. She wishes that people had listened to her and believed her. 

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