**Trigger warning** This article is about child abuse. Please don’t read if you thing it might trigger you
I picked up the phone and called the NSPCC. “I want to report a case of historical abuse” I said. I was terrified. I had been shaking for days just thinking about making that phonecall.
For years I had wanted to do this. I didn’t even know if he was still alive. What I was almost positive about was that he’d abused others. What I was really worried about was that he still was, and would be in the future.
But up until a few years ago, I couldn’t even tell anyone what had happened, let alone publicly admit it. I always felt guilty for that. When I blogged about my Cognitive Hypnotherapy journey, I never said what had happened. Although most people could read between the lines and guess.
But I’ve come a long way in the last few years.
I was ready.
In May 2015 I travelled to North Wales for a trial that I was told would last 2-3 days. It spanned 4 days in the end. It was the culmination of 2 years of hell as the police gathered evidence, submitted through the CPS, got court dates and moved things forward.
He was found Not Guilty.
No one expected that. He even turned up in court, on the day of the verdict, with a large suitcase.
I had failed in everything I set out to achieve. It was not high enough profile to get publicity. Nobody except him knew what went on in court. He is free to continue whatever he wants to do, unchecked and un-monitored.
It was a horrendous process, but I changed a lot because of it – often, believe it or not, in a good way. I would like to share with you 5 key lessons I learnt from taking him to court.
1. It takes a lot for an abuse case to get to court.
Most of the 2 years was spent waiting.
Waiting to find out if they would progress with the case.
Did they have enough evidence? How could they possibly take someone to court on my word alone?
I initially gave a verbal interview where the police officer took notes. It was then passed to a specialist unit and they said I could have done a video interview that would be played in court so I wouldn’t have to read out my statement. A way better option it seemed! So I travelled to Wales and spent 3 hours re-living every painful detail while being questioned, on video. It was horrendous, but possible, thanks to all my help from Cognitive Hypnotherapist, Trevor Silvester.
I thought that was going to be the worst part, but I didn’t realise that I would have to watch the video, in court, with the jury and judge watching the video and me. One of the worst experiences of my life!
I did a written statement interview, a video interview and answered a number of follow up questions.
I did it alone. My mother’s friend, who I originally told about the abuse, refused to give the police any statement.
My mother, who knew all about it but had never believed me, did not corroborate my story.
And yet, the CPS accepted it as a case based on my evidence. The CPS prosecuting barrister reckoned it was a very solid case with over 90% certainty of a guilty verdict.
It took 2 years to get to court and had to go through many checks to make sure there was enough to work on.
So now, when I watch TV and here about high profile people in court for abuse, what I know is that it doesn’t happen lightly. It takes a *lot* for a case like this to get to court.
2. We need a better jury system.
Before I went to court I met with the CPS barrister and the police officer who was leading my case. They talked to me about behaviour while I was on the stand.
They said that although the barrister was asking me questions, I should answer to the jury. I should make eye contact with the jury and speak to them. They said there are usually a couple of jurors that will engage with you.
I wasn’t worried about this. I am used to talking to audiences and picking someone out to connect with.
My trial took place the same week as a major drugs trial. There were armed police all round court. It was quite dramatic. That trial got first dibs on the jurors as it was scheduled to last at least 8 weeks – way longer than usual.
My trial was delayed because my jurors were what was left after the drugs trial had its pick.
Of the 12 jurors, 10 were about student age. Over the few days, every single day at least one of them slept in and the start of the day was significantly delayed.
The jury was bored and indifferent through the trial. They had to listen to some pretty harrowing stuff but seemed totally indifferent to it. I managed to only make eye contact with 1 juror – a middle aged lady. The others were looking down and some were even yawning.
How are these people supposed to make a ruling in a case such as this? How are they supposed to separate evidence from subjective opinion? How are they supposed to know what abuse is?
In my opinion, a jury should have a court official that helps them with interpretation of evidence and statements during their discussion point. Or we need a more American system where a jury is selected. It is supposed to be a cross section of your peers. My juror was far from that.
It is because of this particular make up of the jury that he was found Not Guilty. Everyone was certain. Even the judge suggested he was guilty in the summing up. The police officer could barely bring herself to tell me the result. No one could believe it. But it was the jury’s choice.
3. I was believed.
In the early days, after I reported it, I was amazed that the police interviewed me. I always questioned the truth of my story, even though I lived with the memories and their impact every day. When they submitted to the CPS for approval to take it to court, I was sure it wouldn’t be accepted.
I was ready to not be believed. Again.
When it got to court I was stunned, and thrilled. They believed what I said. For the first time I had spoken out and been believed.
By the time I got to court I no longer needed any validation of my story. I knew how much I’d had to go through to get that far. I realised court was just a technicality. Everyone was just doing their job.
In the end, the defence barrister was pretty clever. He used a minor molestation situation with my grandfather (something that has caused me no problems in later life). He asked the jury to believe that it was actually my grandfather that had done all those horrible things, not my abuser. The jury didn’t have to say it didn’t happen (my evidence would have made that impossible) they just had to say it wasn’t him.
And the only person who could have proved that to be incorrect, my mother, chose not to show up in court for me.
I came out of the trial knowing I was believed for the first time in my life. And for the first time in my life I felt sorry for what the younger version of me had been through.
4. Your story does not have to haunt you forever.
I have carried my story in my head for many years. It plays over and over again. It was almost like it need to be told. It pushed against the edges of my mind. It became more graphic and detailed as I learnt more. It gained depth and meaning.
When I told it in court, in all it’s horrific detail, it let the story out.
Other stuff from my childhood, stuff described by prosecution and defence as horrific, added to the depth of the story.
But after the trial, the story no longer served a purpose. It had been told.
And because of the Not Guilty verdict, I could fully let it go.
If it had been Guilty, I would have used my story to help others. I would have lived it again and again each time I told it.
But now it’s on a shelf and not in my head. I don’t need to add anything to it or ever need to read it again.
It is possible to be free of your story, no matter what happened.
5. I have the best friends.
When I went to Wales to record the video, my friend came with me, just to keep me company. She was brilliant. She asked nothing of me. She just was there for me. She wandered round for hours while I was in with the police.
She came with me again when I visited court a week before to see how things would work. Due to the nature of the case, I had special measures. I had a screen so he couldn’t see me and I couldn’t see him. I was kept in a special private room in between appearances so there was no chance of bumping into him.
Another friend, who has 3 kids, came down with me for the week of the trial. She stayed with me while I sat in a private room and watched the video of my testimony. She sat through the rest of the trial and told me what he said and what happened.
Another friend, who I only know online, attended his initial plea court appearance and then sat through the whole trial, giving me feedback on what was said. She even attended the day of the verdict when I had to head back home, because the trial had overrun and gave me the verdict before the police.
Another who lives all the way down the south of England, and I haven’t seen for many years, offered to leave her daughter with her granny and come with me to court.
If wealth is measured in friendship and the people around you, I am by far the richest person alive.
From my hubby, to my real life friends, to my virtual friends, everyone was phenomenally supportive. I often found myself in tears from the depth of support and love I felt
It was, by a million miles, one of the hardest things I have done in my life. I wanted to be the voice for others he’d abused, because I could be. I wanted to save others from his abuse in the future. Because the verdict was Not Guilty, it meant that I achieved nothing I set out to achieve.
I should have been permanently damaged by the experience.
But the opposite was true.
I was freed up by the experience.
I stood up for myself and others.
I was believed.
I was loved.
I am free of my story.