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J's Experience with CSARP

I am a mother, daughter, sister, clinical psychologist, dog owner and regular runner. I lead a rich and fulfilling life. I am also a survivor of Child Sexual Abuse. The abuse I endured doesn’t define me but it’s part of my story, and I hope that sharing it will be helpful for other survivors and those who support them.  

The man who abused me hasn’t shown any sign of taking responsibility for what he did, but in 2021 he was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison for the abuse he inflicted on me and two other vulnerable girls. This case wouldn’t have reached court without the support I received from the Child Sexual Abuse Review Panel (CSARP), and I am so grateful I made contact and succeeded in bringing this man to justice.

Aged 14 in 1991, when the grooming started, I had no concept of what was being done to me. If I’d have been raped by a stranger in an alley way, I’d have known what that was, but because I hadn’t heard about this sort of abuse, I had no understanding of what was happening. I thought it was my fault - I hadn’t spotted the signs; I hadn’t put boundaries in place in the early stages and so I couldn’t say no when his behaviour escalated. I felt backed into a corner, and that I should have said no earlier. I blamed myself.

This man groomed and abused me at a time in my life when I was hugely vulnerable. I was 14-years-old when it started and aged 15/16 when the physical abuse happened. Life at home in Devon was turbulent for a number of reasons and this man, who came into my life as a drama coach – which was a passion of mine – saw my need for an adult that cared about my situation. He exploited this need for support.

The grooming started subtly. He told me I was beautiful and that I could be a professional actress. I felt flattered by his interest in me, and his offer of additional drama lessons outside of the group.  He gradually manipulated me towards inappropriate behaviour, telling me that I had to be comfortable being naked if I was going to be an actress, and initiating physical contact between us. It progressed to sexual assaults on multiple occasions. I trusted him and tried to ignore my negative feelings about what was happening.

I confided in friends about it. In my mind this was a way of gauging if it was wrong. They didn’t act shocked or concerned by what I said (looking back, I realize they were clueless 15-year-olds too) and so I decided that there was no value in disclosing to other people. When I was 16, my family moved away from the area where this man lived, and I moved on with my life, starting sixth form in a new town and then going on to university.

In 1999 when I was 22, I was contacted by Devon and Cornwall police and asked to give a statement. A friend from school had reported offences against her by the same offender and identified me as a possible victim.  I gave my statement during two gruelling twelve-hour days, just after Christmas and then went back to university for the New Year. I felt utterly broken, a shell of myself. After several years of confusion and denial, I was forced to realize the extent to which the abuse had affected me. I was in a bad place, but I continued with my post-graduate studies and also began therapy to start working through everything that had been brought to the surface.

The investigation took nearly two years before eventually it was marked ‘no further action’ (NFA). I remember feeling relieved, I didn’t have to go to court, it was done. I had no thoughts at that time of challenging the decision. 

Through studying for my psychology degree, I learnt more about grooming and child sexual abuse, and I developed a clearer understanding of what had happened to me, specifically the extent to which I had been manipulated, and that it wasn’t my fault. When I reached the age that he would have been when he came into my life, and my children approached the age I was when the abuse started, my perspective changed again. I couldn’t fathom how an adult could inflict do such things to a child. The #MeToo movement helped me to feel more confident that the world might also recognize what happened to me as wrong. I spent a couple of years wondering what to do.

In 2017, I contacted the Crown Prosecution Service who told me about the CSARP.  The panel supports victim and survivors who reported allegations of child sexual offences which were then marked ‘no further action’ before 5 June 2013. If it is felt the decision to take ‘no further action’ in the case was in-correct, the CSARP may be able to help.

I contacted the panel immediately and got a response really quickly. It was such a relief to feel that someone was listening and taking my enquiry seriously. Ian, my contact at the CSARP, throughout this time was just awesome every step along the way. He kept me up to date, gently asked me questions, offered me support and explained the processes throughout.

The panel met and discussed my case deciding that that it should go back to the investigating force to be reviewed. The review resulted in a re-investigation and in September 2021, the offender was charged with four counts of indecent assault and went to court. It had taken a long time (partly due to delays caused by the pandemic), but after my experience in 1999, I was prepared for this.

My motivation in challenging the original NFA decision was mixed. As a victim I felt a responsibility to disclose to protect other people and stop further abuse. As I got older, I had more of a sense of standing up for myself, saying ‘this isn’t right, you shouldn’t have done this to me’. It felt like a powerful message for someone to be charged and taken to court, and it felt really validating that the police and CPS were taking this stand.

Following the trial, my abuser was found guilty of all charges – three against me, and one against my friend, which was massively vindicating and made me feel really good. He went straight into custody. It was so empowering and validating.

Before I went to court, I might have given my abuser the benefit of the doubt…maybe he didn’t really mean it, or he got caught up in it and didn’t think about the implications of what he was doing. But hearing the stories he’d fed to his defence Barrister; I am certain that he was calculated and knew exactly what he was doing. He chose not to admit what he’d done, or say sorry, and put myself and another victim through giving evidence and re-living what happened. Somebody said to me that sexual offending is about ‘want’, not ‘need’ and this really resonated with me. He made a choice to abuse me and two other girls. He didn’t need that sexual gratification, he wanted it. That is his shame to carry, and I am not to blame. No victim should ever carry that burden.

Now, two years on from the verdict, I accept that my life has been irrevocably altered by this man’s selfish and abusive behaviour. It affected my self-esteem, my self-confidence and self-worth, and made it very difficult for me to have healthy and fulfilling relationships with partners. I have worked hard on myself, I have had lots of therapy, and my life is happy and productive. There is life after trauma and my life is brilliant. I’m happy, my kids are thriving, I have positive relationships with my family and great friends, and I love my work. I’ve worked hard to get to this place.

The Child Sexual Abuse Review Panel has made a hugely significant difference to my life, and I will always be grateful for the support provided by the team. If you’re reading this as a survivor of child sexual abuse, trust me when I say that even if your case has been marked as no further action, there is hope, and there is support. Please contact the panel and see how they can help.