Warning: The following article contains graphic descriptions of sexual abuse which some readers may find upsetting. Readers are advised to continues at their own discretion.
As the Indenpendent Inquiry into Childhood Sex Abuse (IICSA) continues, the Truth Project is offering survivors a safe space in which to tell their stories.
In our new July issue, we hear from gay survivors of childhood sexual abuse as they attempt to use their own experiences to shed light on a horror that all too often goes unspoken. This is Chris's story...
Chris has a dual heritage. As a baby he was placed in a Christian children’s home where he says the perception of staff was that the children came from parents with poor morals and needed ‘saving’. In fact, the environment the home provided caused enormous harm to Chris.
His mother’s parents were furious when she became pregnant and sent their daughter away to give birth. Chris’s father had returned to Africa and his mother felt that it was in Chris’s best interest to place him in care.
Until he was three years old Chris was in the nursery, then transferred to another home under the care of the same housemother. Chris describes her as a devout Christian who had no warmth and did not show the children any affection.
The sexual abuse began when Chris was about eight years old. An older teenage boy who said he was ‘in charge of punishment’ would take him out of bed, touch him and masturbate over him.
This went on for two to three years, with the older boy using coercion, threats and grooming, and then the abuse became more serious, involving penetration.
Chris did not understand what was going on at the time. He believes that the housemother knew; on one occasion she saw him leave the bedroom of the other boy and gave him a look of what he saw as disappointment. The sexual abuse stopped when the boy left to go to college.
Chris describes how he became disengaged and isolated. He started to urinate in his room, to the point that it stank, but no one did or said anything. He was having nightmares but was told to go back to bed when he went to the housemother.
A social worker was assigned to the home, but Chris says he was ineffectual and he advised the housemother to punish Chris. She would hit him with her shoe and threaten him with being taken away. He found this terrifying as he had been with her since he was born.
On two occasions, when the vicar of the local church visited, he invited Chris to sit on his lap and molested him, while the carers and other children were present. The housemother’s only reaction was to comment to Chris: 'That’s the second time you have done that.'
Chris also recalls a new male carer came to the home. He would visit Chris’s room at night and touch him sexually. After the carer left the home, Chris reported the sexual abuse to his social worker but was simply told: 'You are not the first.'
About a year later, he suffered further sexual abuse, this time by a teenage girl who came to the home. He says she was disturbed and feels she must have had some sort of personality disorder. She would go into his room and sit on him and try to get him aroused and she once forced Chris’s hand inside her. He found this the most distressing of all the abuse he had endured.
When the housemother retired a few years after, Chris says he could not cope and became disturbed. The new house parents seemed eccentric and unstable; the female was psychologically abusive towards Chris, embarrassing and humiliating him. He started to run away but was inevitably brought back by the police who on one occasion pushed him around with their truncheons and threatened him with prison.
During puberty Chris realised he was gay. The scene was less open than today, and he met contacts in toilets. He says he went with a lot of undesirable people; something that he now regrets.
He recalls parties where up to ten older men would queue to have sex with the young men, including him. He said it was difficult and confusing, as he enjoyed the attention and the contact, but he was brought up with the message that being gay is wrong and he carried this message with him.
Chris began charging for sex which led to a threatening situation when a knife was pulled on him and a demand made for money. On another occasion he was brutally raped but did not report it. At this stage he says, he ‘disappeared into madness’ and became psychotic.
When he left the home, his life began to improve. He joined a youth training scheme, got a job and was encouraged to apply for specialist training, which he did.
Chris says that he feels positive about the awareness raising of sexual abuse that has happened in the past decade or so, but for him the lifelong impact has been exhausting.
He has a criminal conviction and has been in rehab due to substance abuse. He has never managed to settle or own his own home. He says he has had two relationships with wonderful men, but they did not last. When he split with his last partner, he got back into substance misuse and, he says, his life collapsed.
Being admitted to a treatment centre and having therapy has helped him to get back on his feet and made him realise he doesn’t want other people to go through similar experiences.
He has tried to make sense of what had happened by talking with those he grew up with and considers family. About four years ago he went to see the housemother to talk about his experiences in the home, but she shut down and would not acknowledge it.
Chris wants someone to be held accountable for what happened to him. He feels that private care organisations have unhealthy practices and their historical records should be checked.
Men who appear disturbed and angry need support and people should not be frightened of engaging with them. Fair access to services is required for all, and more male staff are needed to work with young disengaged males.
Words: Owen Myers