The conviction rate for rape is dismally low (Guardian article September 2019). The conviction rate for historical child sexual abuse (BBC News article 2016) is even lower. So why did I report to the police three times? Not really with any hope of convictions, I have to say. Although it would have been very satisfying to know that some of my abusers would spend some time, perhaps the rest of their lives, in jail.
The main reason that I went to the police and spent hours and hours going through the many, many incidents of sexual abuse and other abuse that I went through, was to aid my own recovery. I'm not sure that that was clear in my head the first time, when I reported in 2008.
I had had counselling through Safeline for about two years and was in a solid place of feeling relatively recovered. I spent February half-term away in Clevedon. I love being by the sea. Growing up there, it's in my blood and I miss the smells, sights and sounds of it. While away, I read an article in a Sunday magazine. It was by a woman who had been sexually abused as a child. Although she made it clear (as I do) that it is not an essential part of healing, she had found that reporting had really helped her.
I decided that I too, would start the process of trying to get some justice for that little girl who had been so badly used. I was supported in the interviews, which took place in a windowless room in Atherstone police station over one and a half days, by an Independent Sexual Advisor or "ISVA". It was very comforting to have the support of the ISVA in the room with me.
As part of their investigations, the police team in my home town interviewed my father under caution. The detective who spoke with him told me at a meeting some eighteen months later that my father had commented, "That didn't happen", to all of his queries about what I had said. The police sent a file on him the to Crown Prosecution Service but it was decided that there would be, "No Further Action".
This was disappointing, although not unexpected. The point was that I knew and the police knew what had happened to me. My father knew that we knew. He had had to face the fact that the police had taken me seriously, even if he did not. It was another piece in the jigsaw which helped me to believe myself and to move a little further away from the horrors of my childhood.
A sad consequence of reporting in 2008 was that I was cut off from my family. I particularly miss my brother and his wife.
In the summer of 2015, I was feeling well, strong and settled. Over the summer, various events nudged me towards reporting once more. I had been moved at work, now being based at a unit for pregnant school girls and their newborns. This was triggering for me (My story and My Three). The manager had a flexible approach to confidentiality and I did not feel able to ask for her support.
I went on holiday abroad with my best friend, Mary. We went to a hot place, where there were lots of men wearing very little, further triggers. One day when we were in the pool, my friend playfully grabbed my ankle. This was highly triggering as it sent me back to an incident in the sea when I was 11 or 12.
There was a report in the paper about Greville Janner that summer. I found myself reading it, which was unusual, as I avoided anything on the news about child sexual abuse. That night, I woke up at 3 am with a name in my head. Then, more names. I got up and wrote the names down on a scrap of paper. As I wrote them, I realised that they were the names of men who had abused me when I was a child. Some other names were those of some of the other children who had been at the Norwich house.
Later that day, I emailed my home town police to tell them that I wanted to report further incidents of abuse.
More pieces of the jigsaw
It took a few weeks to get the interviews set up. They were to be held by Warwickshire police. The resulting videos and written documentation would then be collected by officers from the sexual abuse unit in my home town. The detective who had led the investigation in 2008 was still working there, although my case was allocated to a different officer.
This delay gave me the time I needed to set up support from Safeline, including counselling and ISVAs, in case it ever went to court. I was allocated two ISVAs, one who remained separate from my evidence, so that she would be able to support me in court without the defence alleging that she had coached me in any way. The second ISVA came with me to the first two police interviews.
I was allocated a counsellor who had previous experience of working "pre-trial". This meant that we could not discuss any specifics about any incident, again so that the defence could not say that I had been coached. In a way, having to work like this made me feel even more isolated, being unable to tell my counsellor about what I was telling the police. It didn't stop my counsellor supporting me though, through what were extremely difficult times.
It was strange how the memories re-surfaced. While I was waiting for the next interview with the police, I would often wake up in the early morning with a name or two in my head. I would get up, sit at my desk and, starting with the name, or sometimes a place, I would begin writing about an incident of abuse. As I have said elsewhere, I have found writing an extremely helpful way of communicating when the words and memories are stuck. (I have no words)
Each time I was in the interview room in Nuneaton police station - we had upgraded to a vulnerable person suite, with comfy chairs, a settee and an opaque glass panel behind which sat the second officer with the video equipment - I would read about an incident from my A4 book. After I had finished, the wonderful female police officer who had to sit through all of this would summarise what I had said and would ask me questions to clarify or confirm points.
The police needed detailed evidence from me. This meant using words that I would not usually use, mostly to do with male and female bodies and sexual acts. I would practise saying these out loud as I walked my dog along the fields in the morning. "It's just an arrangement of letters, Janet", I would tell myself. "It's only a word, it can't hurt you".
I would go through two or three incidents during an interview. We would then make an appointment for the next one. It was exhausting but I always left feeling slightly lighter, too. I had told a bit more of my story, picked up and placed another part of the jigsaw. The most important piece was that I was being heard. And believed.
There was a wait of around two years before it was decided by the police that, again, there would be No Further Action. This two years was hard work (The weight of waiting). I sent many emails to the police asking, sometimes, it felt like, begging, for updates. It was very frustrating that I had no control over what they were doing with the investigation. This, of course, was triggering in itself, as I had spent the first twenty years of my life not being in control. I used every opportunity to try to raise the awareness of the officers about the perspective of the victim in the process.
Despite the cost to me in lost sleep, stress and anxiety (including the belief still held of some of my young me s that the people I had named would somehow "come and get me", as they had told me so often would happen if I told) I am glad that I reported to the police. I had spent decades denying the fact that my father had sexually abused me. It was too horrendous to believe. I was also trapped with him, as I had nowhere else to go. To survive, I had had to tell myself that it didn't happen. Hearing the police officer saying, "We know it all happened, Janet. We believe you", helped me to believe my own story.
Going to the police took a lot of courage. It meant breaking the silence of the threats by all those evil and manipulative people of my childhood. It meant a shifting in my own denial that I had held for many years. Talking out loud about the assaults, the perpetrators, the locations, was something I had never done before, and have done very little of since, even in therapy. I put my faith in the police as individuals and as an institution to believe and to investigate my accusations.
I was also going against the deference to those in power which is held by most of the population. The idea that those (usually privileged white men) in power should not be challenged is partly why we are policed "by consent". If there is a challenge to the establishment, the person or people who are standing up are often belittled or attacked. Even made to appear as being in the wrong themselves.
The use of public money on the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, or "iicsa" was described as being like spraying male ejaculate up a wall by Boris Johnson in March 2019 (Guardian article, March 2019)
High profile abusers were (are?) protected, the voices of their victims (if they were raised at all) ignored. Organised sexual and other abuse of vulnerable youngsters in care was ignored for years.
And yet. There have been some successes. Although some have been defamed after death, some very high profile abusers have been revealed as the cruel and manipulative law-breakers that they were in life. Some clergy and employees of children's homes have been convicted, as have some sports coaches. Even some "ordinary" people have been investigated.
Coverage of investigations and the (occasional) conviction have helped other victims (in the law sense) feel encouraged that they are not alone and step forward to tell their own stories, as I did, following the Sunday magazine article and the piece about Greville Janner.
The #MeToo movement has encouraged millions of women to come forward and to tell their experiences of the abuse they encounter in their daily lives. A recent article in Marie Claire highlights the fact that more young women are now more likely to report abuse.
We must make sure, by using our own voices, that everyone feels empowered. That everyone may be able to do their own, "Speaking truth to power".