What nobody tells you after you have been sexually assaulted
When I was a child, I had what seemed to the naked eye, an ordinary life. I had the same sparkle in my eye as every other child my age had. I took on every day with curiosity, eager to learn more about the fascinating and at times, terrifying world around me.
I adored Bear in the Big Blue House. I wore sparkly hair clips and treasured my favourite teddy bear, Kenji. My days involved running around in the garden and scribbling outside the lines of my colouring book.
The most exciting thing that could happen was having turkey twizzlers and potato smiles for dinner. I was full of life, energy and innocence.
My life, my future, was only just beginning. I was in my first year of Primary School. I had only just learned how to write my own name. I could barely read a book or count passed the number 10. I was 6-years-old. 6-years-old when my life was changed forever.
I didn’t know I was being groomed and then abused by a person I trusted, looked up to and indeed, loved. I don’t remember when the first time was or how many times in total — in fact, it happened so often that each time now seems blended into one. One horrible memory imprinted in every aspect of my life.
I never spoke about the dirty little secret he forced me to keep. I was scared, ashamed and convinced that what was happening to me was somehow my fault. He manipulated the trust I had in him. He exploited my body to satisfy his twisted impulses. He stripped every inch of my innocence away from me and there was nothing I could do about it. At least, that’s what I once thought.
I vividly remember the day I finally plucked up the courage to tell my Dad. 7 years after the abuse began. July 1st 2011. I had just turned 13 the week before. It was the first day of the summer holidays. After the summer, I would be going into my second year of high school.
I had no idea that telling anyone would turn the world as I knew it, upside down.
Within an hour of confessing what he did to me, the Police were called and before I knew it, I was giving a statement. I was expected to tell all, just like that, having kept it all to myself for such a long time.
Understandably, I was reluctant. I was still making sense of what had happened to me. I was only just figuring out the extent of what he did and how serious it was — it was the first time I’d realised it for what it was, a crime.
When he violated me, he stole away a part of me I will never get back. I never imagined being truly happy ever again and now I had to go through the pain of exploring and sharing with others the horror he perpetrated against me.
No-one ever told me that reliving the abuse would be just as hard as being there in the moment. Every time I was catapulted back there, I felt the exact same way I did the first time he abused me.
Broken, afraid, alone.
Within weeks of my formal Police interview, my abuser was charged. My case was going to court and I was supposed to feel a sense of relief. Justice was beginning to be served and this would make me feel better. I would be able to continue with my life.
Like nothing had ever happened.
I tried to keep it together for the people around me, I did my best to don my bravest mask. I went back to school as if nothing had happened.
But inside, every inch me was shattering. How could I possibly stand in court, in front of the man who did what he did, albeit behind a screen, and share the repulsive things he did to me, knowing that the Jury might not even believe me?
I was never told how his lawyers would dissect every inch of my Police interview, every sentence, every word I would utter in the witness stand. I didn’t know that not knowing exact dates, despite being a child when it happened and still a child standing there in front of them, would make my testimony less credible.
I was not aware of the verdict that is not proven and I had no expectation that this would be the verdict handed to my abuser. I did not know how much this verdict would crush me. I could never have anticipated the absolute resentment I would direct at myself as a result of this.
No-one could predict that what he did to me would lead me to carving the word “help” into my arm with a broken razor blade, whilst I desperately tried to make the thoughts in my head silence.
Not one person told me that I would relive the abuse in my nightmares for the rest of my life and that every single relationship I have will be impacted by the fear instilled deep within me, because of him.
And of course, nobody would have ever imagined me swallowing all the prescription pills I could find, aged 14, with the hope that the pain would end in the second that my life did.
Reflecting back, I feel deep empathy for the sad and lonely wee girl who was craving for someone to tell her that what happened wasn’t her fault. That she will still go on to be a success in her own right and that life, although it feels impossible, will get better.
You see, no-one was there to tell me that one day I will wake up and feel liberated. That the clouds will clear and happiness will return.
Nobody ever told me that I would take back the control and the most satisfying justice I could ask for is sharing my experience, knowing that one day he may stumble across it. Knowing that if he does, he will feel like the pathetic man who thought he could destroy me, and was so enormously proven wrong.
No-one will ever be able to understand the immense self love and appreciation I have for myself, because I now know that I am unbreakable. Human, often lost and at times scared — but I can not be broken.
I am so much more than the abuse I suffered as a child and no one has to tell me that.
I am successful, driven, intelligent and most importantly, I am alive. I am here, breathing and I live everyday thankful that what happened to me has opened my eyes and taught me valuable life lessons.
My name is Charlotte Armitage and I survived child sexual abuse.