Vaughan was sexually abused by a family friend when he was a child. Here he explains how restorative justice changed how he sees himself and helped him move on.
My father left when I was seven and I never saw him again, so there was this period without any male role model in my life. My brother’s a lot older than me, and when I was about eight he went to work in this garage where Dennis* was the manager.
It began with befriending – what we would call grooming nowadays. Dennis would come round the house, or we would go and see films at the local television station where his mum worked. We would all go out on his boat, with some of his friends as well. Mum would be working or off with my stepfather. He would take me out for drives and buy me ice-creams, a bit like what a dad would do.
I had no dad around and I had a very emotionally absent mum. She loved me and she did what she could, but I was left alone a lot. My father was very violent, not towards me because I was too young, but he’d beat my brother up - black eyes, bloody nose. In those days there wasn’t safeguarding in schools, it just got overlooked.
“So here was this man showing me kindness and attention…At 10 I didn’t understand it.”
So here was this man showing me kindness and attention, giving me pocket money, spoiling me, of course I went for it. I had no idea what was going to be involved. At 10 I didn’t understand it.
The actual abuse would start with these trips. He’d start taking me out in the boat on his own, or for drives in the car. He would take me back to his house and show me all this really horrible pornography, of adults having sex with animals, while he’d abuse me. I would go to the toilet as a way of stalling his abuse. I’d hide in there with door locked, just sitting there and waiting. He’d come and rattle on the door and of course I’d have to eventually come out to leave the house. As an adult I used to have a problem about needing the toilet all the time and real anxiety about having to ask to go to the toilet. In my therapy it came out that this was due to the abuse.
At first I was too scared to confront Dennis - that’s how abusers work. Then as I got a bit older, I tried to stop him in the only way I knew how. He’d get me to put shorts on and try to touch me. I would try to stop him by pushing his hands away and he would become like my dad – angry and swearing. I was terrified, I didn’t know what to do. I just froze. Then he would drive me home but not speak to me. He would completely ignore me, slam the car door. So of course next time I wouldn’t try and stop him, because that would be the result.
“That went on for many years until I was 15. At that point I just thought, it can’t go on.”
That went on for many years until I was 15. At that point I just thought, it can’t go on. It was actually more of a feeling than a conscious thought. When he used to come round to the house I would hide under the bed. That’s how it stopped.
I didn’t talk about it to anybody for a while, it stayed a secret. Then a couple of years later, when I was about 17, I disappeared for a whole weekend to stay at the house of my first boyfriend. I didn’t tell anyone where I was going and my mother freaked out. When I eventually went back home, everything started to come out. My mum didn’t do anything when she heard about the abuse, she was just blank, emotionless. My brother was great, he hugged and cried with me. But he felt really betrayed by what had happened.
“I carried a lot shame, guilt and blame because I felt like I’d brought it on”
Eventually I moved out and trained to be a psychiatric nurse. Then when I was about 24, I realised I needed to get some help as I wasn’t happy. I carried a lot of shame, guilt and blame because I felt like I’d brought it on. I was getting into lots of abusive relationships with very bullying, controlling men who were like my abuser and like my father.
I started having counselling and therapy. I went into psychoanalysis where lots of the abuse stuff and deeper memory stuff came out.
“Several years later I got a phone call from the police asking if I would give evidence about another case – a man at my Sixth Form College who had been grooming a teenage boy.”
Several years later I got a phone call from the police asking if I would give evidence about another case – a man at my Sixth Form College who had been grooming a teenage boy. At that point I knew that Dennis was in prison for other crimes he committed in the 90s because a friend of my brother had seen it in the local paper. So I told the police about what Dennis had done to me.
The police wanted me to press charges, but I knew I wasn’t ready to do something like that. I couldn’t bear to be cross-examined. I’d had enough trauma – a violent father, an emotionally absent mother, all this abuse and then abusive bullying partners. I’d also done so much healing through therapy already. I knew he was in prison and that he’d had a stroke. I thought, I don’t need to do that to him.
“I wasn’t aware of restorative justice until a friend of mine mentioned the idea of meeting my abuser. I sat with it for a while and decided I needed to do it.”
I wasn’t aware of restorative justice until a friend of mine mentioned the idea of meeting my abuser. I sat with it for a while and decided I needed to do it. There was something that I hadn’t quite resolved and I just knew I wanted to meet him and tell him. I contacted the prison and they put me in touch with the probation officer who then connected me with the restorative justice facilitators, Ellie and Daniel.
Initially I wanted to scream and shout at him, to show him my pain. But I think that changed over time. It wasn’t about making him go back into prison, I didn’t want to do that, I didn’t think it would help me. My aim for the meeting became about taking my power back - disempowering him.
Daniel and Ellie said that I might not get what I expected from the meeting - the apology I was hoping for. We worked through some scenarios. What if he laughs at me? What if he says, ‘so?’ What if he denies everything? I thought that if he does that I will challenge him. I will challenge his fantasy.
“He said that he had been a dad to me and that he loved me, and that it had only stopped because he’d become too busy.”
He’d been in a lot of denial in the preparation meetings. He said that some things happened, but that he didn’t remember others, and there was no ownership of any damage it might have done. He said that he had been a dad to me and that he loved me, and that it had only stopped because he’d become too busy. I was incredulous when they told me he had said that. It was good to be angry and swear at that point, because then I could challenge him and be fully present in the meeting.
I was asked if I wanted to see a photo of him beforehand. When I saw it I went very quiet. I can be quite a forgiving, compassionate person and I had a moment of that then. But then I thought no, I don’t have compassion for him at the moment. He did do this to me, he was a grown man at the time and I was a ten-year-old child. Seeing the photo helped me to distance myself from what had happened.
On the day of the meeting I wasn’t as anxious as I thought I was going to be. The meeting was a remarkable experience. At first he tried to make me feel sorry for him by talking about his ill health and his cancer scare. I’ve got friends with cancer and I just said that good people get cancer and bad people get cancer, that’s how it is. I saw that he was trying to make me feel sorry for him. The preparation helped me deal with that.
“I said you didn’t love me. Loving a ten year old, that’s not what it is. It’s called sexual abuse.”
My aim was to look him in the eye and tell him exactly what he’d done and the impact it’s had on me. And that’s exactly what I did. I said you didn’t love me. Loving a ten year old, that’s not what it is. It’s called sexual abuse - you abused me. I did all of it without getting angry with him. I told him about why it stopped, because of me hiding under the bed. He said he stopped seeing me because he was so busy, but I just sliced through it. I said no, that wasn’t the reason: this is why it stopped.
Then he said sorry! At that point, I remember a tangible shift in the room. I think all of us, even his probation officer, were surprised. It felt genuine. He said he didn’t realise just how much pain and hurt it caused me. It completely threw me.
Ellie picked up that we needed to take a break because I didn’t know what was going on. I went out and I just broke down. It was a huge release. I wasn’t expecting an apology, but I’ll take some credit for it. I do think it happened because of what I said. I didn’t want to attack or abuse him. I just wanted to tell him what happened and how I saw it.
When we came back in I still kept my position. I said, “I really hear your apology. That means a lot to me but you still really hurt me”.
In the time after the meeting, Dennis asked if he can leave me in his will. That was something I didn’t expect. I gave it some thought and then decided to accept. I understand that he wanted to do something for me. He’s worked it through, if that’s what he feels he needs to do and that helps him, I’m fine with that.
“Since the meeting, I feel like my life flows easier.”
I no longer see myself as a victim or a survivor. I won’t be using those terms anymore because that’s not who I am. Being abused for so long, I felt I was a toxic person. There was so much shame attached to it. It also gave me a real fear of life.
Since the meeting, I feel like my life flows easier. It’s like something has really lifted out of me. I feel lighter, I feel freer in myself. It’s given me a confidence. I’m beginning to get more work. I’m drawing kinder people towards me. It’s very exciting, I’m enjoying the place where I am.
The RJC would like to thank Restorative Solutions Hampshire, Restore:London and Vaughan for sharing his story with us.
© Restorative Justice Council 2018 – do not reproduce without permission.
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