"The penny dropped in my head that I am one of them."
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has published a further 80 accounts shared with its Truth Project.
This is to provide an opportunity for child sexual abuse survivors to share their experience and put forward recommendations for change.
In many cases, they described the barriers they faced in coming forward as well as the lifelong effects of the abuse.
By sharing their account with The Truth Project, they hope to help others and to raise awareness of the significant and long-lasting impact that abuse can have on someone’s life.
Survivors described abuse taking place in residential care homes, sport settings and religious communities.
They revealed that they had nobody to talk to about what was happening. Authority figures turned a blind eye or when victims were able to report abuse, they were encouraged to stay silent, ignored or threatened.
As an example case published by the Truth Project is that of Lathika (name changed) who is of Indian heritage and was born in the UK. Her case highlights the impact such traumatic abuse has on a child from it starting and right into adulthood.
Warning: the following section contains details of child sexual abuse which readers may find distressing.
She says her parents were hard-working, religious, very strict and traditional.
She was sexually abused by two of her relatives and one other man.
Lathika was not allowed to go out much but she used to look forward to going to her aunt’s house to play with her cousins.
She says her aunt’s family was more “laid back”, and although her aunt worked very hard, her uncle Zibnath (name changed) never worked. He claimed benefits, smoked, was overweight and had mental health issues.
When she was about seven, Zibnath started sexually abusing Lathika and exposing himself to her. He often did this in front of his children and always said to her: “Don’t tell anyone.”
Lathika describes herself as a very obedient child, and although she knew this wasn’t normal, she didn’t feel able to say anything. The abuse lasted for about a year until her father decided they should all spend time in India.
During their lengthy stay, Lathika was sexually abused by two adult males; one a family member and the other an employee.
She says that at the time, she “just presumed it was normal” because of what had happened to her previously, although she knew that she hated what was happening.
Looking back, she believes:
“I was a target because I was fresh from the UK and the perception was girls from there were ‘up for it’.”
The abuse ended after she returned to the UK.
A few years later, when she was a young teenager, she saw a media campaign about Childline and coverage of victims of child sexual abuse. She says:
“The penny dropped in my head that I am one of them.”
She says she found this realisation overwhelming and was overcome with tears.
Lathika told a teacher at school about the abuse she had been subjected to.
She was interviewed by a social worker and medically examined, but this did not show any signs of abuse. It had happened a number of years previously and had not involved penetration.
She remembers feeling completely unsupported by the professionals involved, and that it seemed they expected her to say whether she wanted to pursue the allegations against her uncle.
The social worker called her mother, who called Lathika a liar.
The matter was dropped and from then on, she says, she “mentally blocked the abuse out” and went through “a slightly rebellious phase”, smoking and not wearing her school uniform.
Her home life became more difficult, as her father was abusive to her mother, and her parents separated.
Lathika says she took inspiration from stories about celebrities who had survived abuse, and she became determined to not allow her experiences to define her.
She resisted family and cultural pressure to get married, went to university and got a good job in a male-dominated sector. For a time, she says, she had a number of unhealthy relationships with men.
Lathika suffers from flashbacks of the abuse “out of nowhere” but she doesn’t see herself as a victim.
She says: “It is just something that happened to me.”
She believes that culture was a major factor in the way her mother responded when she heard about the sexual abuse of her daughter.
Lathika says that her community never discussed abuse and it would have been “shaming” to have been associated with someone who had made accusations.
Lathika believes it is possible for victims and survivors to lead a productive life in spite of their experiences, and she would like that to be shown in the media.
She would also like to see more awareness that sexual abuse can affect children from any background or ethnicity.
She has not married but she is now in a “normal healthy relationship”.
Others who went through a similar experience to Lathika said that by sharing their account, they hoped to help others.
Survivors who would like to share their experience with The Truth Project can do so in writing, over the phone or by video call.
If you or anyone else you know needs help, please visit the IICSA support page. Alternatively, you can contact:
The Truth Project – 0800 917 1000
Childline – 0800 1111