TRUE OPINION: As more people publicly disclose accounts of child sexual abuse through the media, how does that affect adult survivors who may relive their own traumas, wonders True Crime News Weekly correspondent and child abuse survivor, Gary Johnston
A regular, dispiriting facet of modern life is the seemingly daily news highlighting past incidences of child sexual abuse and the consequent negative effect it has had on its now adult victims.
Revenge – known nowadays as ‘closure’ – seems to be an important component for many of these innocents, closure only apparently achieved when elderly men, no strangers to past ratbaggery they, are led away to jail, a venue which to no-one’s regret, they’ll almost certainly only leave horizontally, encased in a wooden box.
It’s depressing to read and hugely traumatic for the victim, I get that. I get the concept of revenge too. Who wouldn’t?
However, I don’t want revenge. I never ever wanted that for my guy. I just never wanted to see him, or feel that sort of terror, ever again. And whilst it may well have provided me with mental scars that in their own peculiar way have shaped who I became, who I am, I refuse to accept that childhood sexual abuse has intractably defined me. I’ve got other scars, including one on my head where a drunken maniac hit me with a broken bottle and that wasn’t a lot of fun either.
I’m lucky – I realise that. I don’t lie awake at night, trying to come to terms with it, I don’t drink excessively in order to drown the memory and can truly say I’ve never seen myself as anything other than unlucky that it happened, but more importantly lucky that for whatever reason, I’ve been able to accept the experience and the memory.
It was a lazy summer’s day in the 1960s, The five-year-old me was fishing for baggy minnows at a pond in the east end of Glasgow. It’s irrelevant to the story, but the pond has a name. Hogganfield Loch. A lovely spot, scenic, recommended. ‘Fishing’ might be talking it up a bit actually, because all you did was drag a small net around the perimeter, taking care to avoid the fag ends and condoms, whereby the minnows – small fish of various mongrel species – lamely surrendered themselves to a subsequently short but selfless life inside an old jam jar.
Glasgow is known as a friendly city and such was the case that day, as an elderly chap was helping me out, showing me how to do it properly, relying no doubt on his many years of prior experience. I can’t remember if I took him for an expert angler at the time or if he genuinely knew his fishing; I can barely recall any specific instructions he offered up, being as I was, too focused on the fact that whilst he showed off his net twirling prowess with the one hand, the other one was down my knee-length, school uniform serge shorts.
He was enjoying himself, the old boy, judging by his unconcealed grunting and profuse sweating. I’m pretty sure it was enjoyment, I guess it could have been relief, though and, I suppose, the distinction barely matters. In between the grunts and the sweats however, the guy continued to offer practical advice on the fishing front, his expert suggestions and recommendations mingling with regular spasms of muffled, heavy breathing, gasps and pants.
For the sake of decorum, I won’t be too specific, it serves no purpose, but given that it went for some time – and felt much longer – I’m sure you can use your imagination to envisage how the situation transpired.
Terrifying, it was, hideous and terrifying. And I can say that categorically. It wasn’t, in any way, fun. If I try – and to be honest I rarely do – I can still remember the feeling. Terror. Breath taking, heart stopping, terror. Just that.
He’s probably dead now anyway, the old bastard. He seemed old then and it’s nearly 50 years ago, so the chances are, he disappeared up a crematorium chimney long ago.
A horny old narcissistic, depraved predator who got his rocks off raping kids. I just got in the way of him. I don’t feel guilty because there’s nothing to feel guilty about. I’m not a victim, I’m a survivor, a survivor of this incident, in the same way that I survived various other traumatic events of my childhood and indeed adult life.
Incidentally, I’m not offering this anecdote by way of advice or to enhance my credibility as somehow who has experienced sexual abuse. In subsequent life I have worked with and met numerous other people who had similar stories to tell, some of whom in fact, have gone to become abusers themselves, in accordance with the myth – and it is a myth – that all abusers have previously been so abused.
We’re given the life we get. It’s easy to say – less easy to do – but we have to get over it.
Find a way. Blame the perp if that makes it easier, but don’t blame yourself.
Don’t be ashamed that it happened. You had no choice in it. Be proud you survived it.
You did nothing wrong.
Don’t let him – or them – or anyone – make you feel that you did.