Breaking My Silence
CONTENT WARNING- Contains accounts of childhood sexual abuse, sexual violence & trauma
A foreword from the Caucus
WE present this written testimony from a WEP founding member and Caucus campaigner. She was involved in the recent WEP Members Assembly on self ID and has asked to remain anonymous.
WE would like to extend our love and deepest gratitude to her and to all the women who continue to share their testimonies with us. We are humbled and honoured.
This blog does not make for easy reading. It is longer than our usual blogs and deeply personal. But the personal is political. Campaigners like Karen Ingala-Smith of The Femicide Census have shown us the power of naming women, so we must also learn the power of naming our abusers.
Women don't tell their stories through a misplaced sense of shame, because they have no one to tell them to, and frequently because we feel undeserving. WE don't access services because we know they operate on a shoe string. WE feel that other women deserve them more. WE feel that we should not take up space and we have no space to take up.
WE hope that as a Caucus we can use our platform to amplify the voices of our sisters who now find their voice. That WE can personally and politically represent those women who feel unrepresented.
WE also thank you for joining the conversation and in solidarity, we share our next blog.
Breaking My Silence
For most of my life I have struggled to understand why I have had such a disposable and ‘open’ attitude to sex and relationships. Why I was so ‘promiscuous’ in my youth – and starting from such a young age. As freighted as the word is, promiscuous was the way so many of us thought about and talked about such sexual activity in the late 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.
It’s taken me years to write about my experience. Years in which I have mostly felt: ‘Its not important enough’, ‘It’s over now and who would be interested anyway’, ‘It will be boring to others’, ‘People won’t believe me’, ‘What will people think about me’, ‘Other women have had it much worse than me’.
So why now?
Well, my activism has had me collide up against the memories of my personal experience of male violence in a bigger way than previously. I have recently set up a support group with a couple of other women who have clearly done a lot of their own personal healing as survivors and who have a shed-load of emotional intelligence. This has never happened before and I had never really considered it was something I needed or could even make good use of. But as a result of being able to talk with my sisters int he group I realise that a significant part of my healing process is speaking my truth.
None of this is particularly linear, but I’ll start with when I was 10 years old, because that is where I can remember it started.
We lived on a council estate and 2 doors down along from us was a doctor, working from home: one of those single person practices of the time, with no nurses and just a secretary/receptionist. He was Dr PGS Davies, an old man who I later learnt was a semi-retired paediatrician who had previously been a secretary of the BMA. Yes, he knew all about children!
At that time it was not unusual for children to be out and about, go places, and travel, on their own – unaccompanied by an adult. So it was common for me or my siblings (3) to be sent to the doctor on our own when we were sick. After all, in our case it was only 2 doors away. What could possibly happen that was untoward???
Well, one thing that could happen is that you could get abused.
I was abused by Dr Davies. I am not sure if it started as me having acute cystitis or this happened as a result of the abuse – which took place many times. It all happened under the guise of being medically ‘examined’. Of course, it all happened without a chaperone. What I remember the most is standing between his open legs, seeing an adult erect penis for the first time and also lying on the examination couch and constantly doing that out-of-body thing of looking out of the French windows and studying the overgrown grasses gone to seed in his garden, whilst looking down from the ceiling at what was happening.
One time his receptionist came in whilst he was abusing me. He shouted at her that she had been told to never enter whilst he had a patient with him, and to get out. I thought I’d done something wrong... But I was good - I didn’t tell anyone.
My Mum never asked why. Nor did she ask what happened with Dr Davies. She never suggested she came along with me. It’s taken me a long time to forgive her for this ‘negligence’. It took for me to recognise that I can’t be sure she was just unknowing, or negligent – which takes knowledge and information.
When she was pregnant with me and my twin sister my Mum thought babies were born from the belly-button, so I know she was very unknowing about a lot of things at that time – as were so many other women.
I know how long this went on for, when, and what the results were because I obtained a copy of my medical records a few years ago. Each time I was sent to Dr Davies I came back in more pain, and soon I couldn’t pee without screaming. It was at this time that I started wetting the bed.
In the end, our family switched GP practice and, following 3 days with a temperature of 104.4 degrees, lying on the sofa all day, even though it was Christmas, my Mum took me to the new doctor. It was a quarter of a mile walk and I was in such pain in my abdomen that I had to keep stopping to sit on garden walls. I was really weak when we arrived. A quick examination and a phone call led me to being whisked off to the local hospital at 8pm with
suspected appendicitis. I think I would have remembered being in an ambulance, so I suspect the GP took us. I was in hospital for nearly a week and the diagnosis was a ‘kidney infection’, even though there was trauma to my vulva and it was painful for me to sit
A follow-up appointment at the hospital a few weeks later and the consultant examined me and then proceeded to have ‘a chat with Mum, while my students finish up’ as he ushered my Mum to the other side of the curtain. While they were ‘chatting’ the students both pushed a finger into my vagina and asked if my clitoris hurt when they touched it. Obviously, I was young enough (certainly in those days) not to know the names of these body parts.
This was all quickly followed by many other men abusing me.
The older boy next door, John Peck, took to inviting me into his house when his single-parent Mum was at work and his sister out. He’d take me upstairs, tell me to take my knickers down and do what he wanted to me. I knew this was wrong. I knew I didn’t want him to do it. But I also knew I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone – including telling him not to.
I was about 12 or 13 when I had to go to the dentist after school, on a bus ride, on my own to the nearest town to a dentist because I had tooth ache. He took my tooth out, using gas to sedate me. When I came round he was really angry with me. His forehead was bleeding quite profusely. Evidently, I had kicked him whilst I was under the gas. At the time I couldn’t work out why my vulva was uncomfortable as I walked to and from the bus stop...
It took me years to realise – how come his head was low enough for me to be able to kick it whilst sitting upright... No absolute confirmation – but I’d clearly been abused.
Then, years later, another dentist would put the chair so you were lying down. He would rest a tray of implements on my chest, and then touch my breasts underneath it... He did it to my sister as well.
My parents were in the Communist Party, and my Mum ran a Women’s Group, whose meetings were regularly held at our house. One of the members husband, Charlie Fulbrook, took to coming to the house when he was on his way to work, and he knew my Mum would be out at other meetings – both he and my father were printers working nights - so this would be about 7pm. He’d knock on the door, get me chatting with whatever his pretext was
for coming at that time, and then ‘fondling’ my emerging breasts. Such an inoffensive word that – ‘fondle’. I never told anyone. Nothing happened really...
My secondary school was a girls school - the boys school was separated by a 20 foot strip of grass! It meant I never had to withstand the daily humiliation and sexual abuse from boys - and there were no male teachers to have to be concerned about either. The absence of male dynamics meant we could focus on our deep friendships as girls, without an onslaught of ‘lezzie’ jeers and threats. Staff could focus on us as girls and not get diverted by a whole range of male behaviour demanding they get prioritised. Single-sex schools have since been largely abolished. It was widely accepted at the time that one of the benefits of co-ed was that the girls would ‘civilise’ the boys.
All that happened is that girls became daily targets of male violence, abuse and rape. No-one put their attention to actually ‘civilising’ the boys. the bad thing about single-sex school at that time is that we got domestic science and needlework, whilst the boys got technical drawing, physics and chemistry...
What a loss - to all of us.
By the time I was 13-14, and going to ‘dances’ at The Shack, the most popular guy – a mod with all the gear and a Lambretta – asked me to go for a ride. Being just average in looks and younger than most of the other girls I was amazed and flattered at the attention. He only drove a quarter of a mile, round the back of the (closed) youth club into the car park. He proceeded to ‘snog’ me, and he asked me to lay on the ground. I was completely aquiescent, not knowing what would be coming...
Of course that was my first non-medial 'fuck'. Did I feel anything? A bit sore, and a concern that my coat would be dirty, and that my Mum would notice.
I not only knew not to say anything, but also knew I couldn’t say anything. It was my fault, after all. No?
Then came the much older Barry Gilfoyle at the Young Communist League camp, and later at his Mum’s home (on the floor) in Streatham.
My sister’s boyfriend, Pete Purnell took us to his mate Stan, in Ilford one Sunday afternoon. My sister and Pete were snogging and Stan led me into his bedroom and proceeded to 'fuck' me.
What did I feel? I was afraid my sister would hear, and relieved that he used a condom – thinking he must really like me... But I felt humiliated and guilty.
Had I just been importuned, as Pete seemed to expect this would happen? Then John Maldon taking me home after a YCL meeting and me ringing my neighbour from a call box to tell my Mum I was staying at a (girl) friend as I’d missed the last bus.
These were all men.
They were all in their 20’s-30’s. I was possibly 15, no older than 16. I never told anyone about any of this. I was ashamed at ‘what I had done’. What I’d already learnt was that men want sex from me – no more, no less. I also soon realised they were unable to refuse if I suggested having sex with them. I used to say ‘let’s get the sex over with then we can be friends... It was an attempt to try to create my own agency and feel powerful...
I entered into a relationship with the man who became my husband. When he asked me to marry I was taken aback. I’d never even thought of that as a possibility – just as I’d never thought of having sex with these men as a possibility or something I wanted. However, I said yes, and in that one word a whole new world opened up for me. In those days working class girls didn’t leave home unless they got married or left home to train to be a nurse, I chose the former. All I could think about was that I’d have my own flat, 3- piece suite, dining area and standard lamp...
I said ‘yes’ as realised the upcoming change to the divorce laws meant I’d be able to leave if I wanted. I reckoned he would never hit me or make me have sex if I didn’t want to. I felt like I’d won the jackpot.
However, I wasn’t ‘protected’ and the unwanted sex continued. I started work in the City of London (later in Tottenham Court Road) and endured the rush hour. Crushed in, mostly standing, I was sexually abused almost daily and often more than once a day. My daily commute took in a bus and 3 trains, followed by a walk up Tottenham Court Road. The only time I could relax on the hellish journeys was when there was room in the tiny ‘Ladies Only’ compartment on the overland train. In fury, I soon learnt to shout out ‘fuck off and die you dirty old bastard’, ‘take your hands off me’, and ‘get your prick out of my back, chest, armpit’ (I am 4’10”).
All that happened is that other commuters (mostly men) would tut tut about my ‘obscene’ language. I never reported it. There was no-one to report it to.
During this time, and ever since, until I became ‘old’ I have have regularly been catcalled, flashed at, kerb crawled, followed. So many times, I have no idea of the exact number.
Then there was the sexual abuse at work. My boss and his wife took Ray Date who worked at Fords to dinner. The 4 of us were at a dinner/dance and Ray asked me to dance. With my boss there, I didn’t feel able to refuse. The client had an erection. We had to travel home on the same train. By the time I left the train he was kissing me. He made it clear he wanted sex with me and told me not to mess him around. He booked a hotel and we stayed a night there.
I didn’t feel able to say no. Did my boss know? Was I being importuned again? I knew not to tell anyone - not least, if I wanted to keep my job.
The time I was on a local government residential training course and the trainer, Ian Cunningham, came to my bedroom, told me how bright I was and would go far, and then started kissing me. Coerced sex took place. I felt unable to turn him out of my room. I didn’t tell anyone. After all, it was over, and I would never have to see him again.
My ex-lodger, and friend, Richard Larkins, who one hot summer night when shared friends were round for dinner and I’d gone out in the garden, crept up behind me and started to kiss me, told me he loved me, and wanted a relationship. He invited me over to his place and I did not see the danger there, in fact I thought his partner, my friend would be there – we had sex and the whole time he was calling me a bitch...
I was embarrassed and humiliated. I knew not to tell anyone.
When I worked at the National Association of Youth Clubs my line manager, Rod Moore, asked me to dance at the disco at a residential for young people. Unfortunately, a slow dance came on. At over 6 feet tall, his erection was almost at the height of my mouth. When I tried to pull away, he held me in advice-like grip. Despite my feisty reputation, I felt unable to ‘make a scene’, as I was scared of what the result of such a scene would be. When I reported what had happened, the Chief Executive moved me out of the Projects Team to be managed by a (wonderful) woman.
Weeks later the Chief Executive of the organisation announced that one of the
Patrons, Jimmy Saville, had been “asked to step down”. I asked him what had been happening and was told it was “all over now”.
I was the first Girl’s Work Officer and I felt so ashamed that I’d let the young women
down I was meant to be watching out for. But I didn’t take it any further within the organisation. How could I? I might lose my job. Years later though I did report to the Saville Enquiry, but of course it was too little too late.
The 2 men who ended up having sex with me when I was in Greece with my friends; the 2 men from Turkey and USA I had sex with, in Prague when at a youth travel conference.
I don’t remember their names - and don’t want to -my mind is already a crowded place of male abusers.
This is no roll-call of honour. I haven’t mentioned the intimate relationships I had with good men. This, however, is a list of men who abused me. It’s also a journey of putting myself in dangerous situations with men I didn’t know, or hardly knew. For what? There was no sexual excitement or gratification.
This period of my life I was regularly known to spout ‘oh, I wanted to get the sex over and done with. Then perhaps we might become friends.’ With each ‘conquest’ I felt so powerful. For about 10 minutes. Before the humiliation set in. How could I tell anyone about it all when I felt such shame and embarrassment.
Fortunately for me, I started to identify as feminist and at about the age of 17, set up run a women’s group, and jumped in with both feet into the emerging Women’s Liberation Movement. In addition to consciousness raising and activism, I took to heart the growing understanding amongst some feminists that having intimate relationships with men was fraught with danger and that ‘sleeping with the enemy’ was always going to be problematic.
After years of wondering if I might be interested in women for intimate relationships it was an easy decision for me to decide to become a political lesbian – what we then called Radical Feminism. Like only reading books written by women, looking at art by women - to reset the balance - I would not have intimate relationships with men anymore.
It was only after I came out that I realised that I’d removed myself from dangerous situations – damaging and (mostly) joyless sex, potential violence, and damage to my soul and self esteem.
It turned out to be a life-saving decision.
For the final 40 years of my working life I made sure I didn’t work for men. When I set up my own charity, I only employed women – they were better skilled and qualified anyway.
In my whole life, I have never been sexually abused by a woman and nor has one ever tried. All the people who have abused me are men. This shocking statistic says it all really, and it doesn’t take much thinking to identify there is a pattern here.
The only time in later life that I have knowingly been at risk of abuse was the occasion I went to a gynaecologist without my partner or another female friend.
The hospital is nearly an hour away, and there was heavy snow – on the only day we had snow that year. I was a bit late but I managed to get there, only to find that the consultant had been unable to get in. I was advised of this and that a locum could see me. I asked if the locum was a woman or a man. Dismayed to learn it was a man I took a few minutes to think about whether to proceed with the appointment or not. After such a challenging journey that took twice the time than usual I went ahead, as I thought I was ‘making a mountain out of a molehill’.
What a mistake. He abused me digitally – he rammed fingers inside me, right up to the hilt and with no lubricant. As a 70 year old, and all that that means in terms of an atrophied vagina and lack of lubrication so long since my body stopped producing oestrogen. Iscreamed out in pain as I nearly hit the ceiling.
The nurse left the room and did not return. She was supposed to be my chaperone...
Bloodied, shaking and unable to walk very well I had to drive myself home. Prior to examining me, the gynaecologist asked me if I was sexually active. On a need to know basis, I told him I am lesbian, with no penetration. His cultural homophobia and misogyny is what had him think he had the right to abuse me. He could not bear knowing I was a woman who let him know that he would/could not have access to my body in that way.
I really didn’t want to, but I put in a complaint. All the old feelings of shame, guilt and humiliation came flooding back - along with the memories, faces and names of so many men. I couldn’t sleep, I was anxious - but trying to keep that hidden. But I knew I had to report him, for all the other women who need protection from him.
The complaints team at the hospital wouldn’t tell me his name, but I understand he had to go before a ‘fitness to practice’ panel. Knowing it would lead to no action, I nevertheless reported him to the police - who could take no action because there was ‘no evidence’. I wanted to ensure that as a minimum he might be so shaken he might never do this
My healing process has taken my whole lifetime and has been just that - a process. In addition to spending my time with loving and nurturing women and, mostly being in loving and nurturing intimate relationships with women I also made another good call.
Following years of being sceptical about counselling and growth therapies I got involved in Re-Evaluation Co-Counselling. This peer counselling not only has liberation theory at its heart, where sexism, racism, classism, homophobia and other oppression is both worked on and practitioners make interventions and changes in their own lives, there are also support groups for those who survive oppression – including survivors of sexual abuse.
That this caucus group exists was an enlightenment for me, and eventually I went to a
weekend workshop for survivors. Continued counselling from time to time on my experiences has helped me remember and take seriously the abuse I have experienced, and enabled me to develop a more emotionally intelligent attitude towards myself and other survivors.
It has also helped me make sense of my experience in relation to men. I no longer blame myself for my earlier ‘promiscuity’, and I no longer carry the shame this had brought me.
As a result I have felt able to report historical sexual abuse to the Jimmy Saville enquiry the access he would have had to young women, and to the police the sexual abuse I witnessed by the manager of a children’s home on the night he admitted a 16 year old young woman.
Also, I reported the sexual abuse perpetrated on me by the gynaecologist locum.
This blog gives the names, where I know them, of the men who have abused me. I don’t care anymore about potential repercussions. They, or their survivors can sue me. I have nothing to lose but my sense of self and my dignity. I will no longer stay silent. I owe that to myself, and to all women and girls, because at this stage of my life - unlike so many women - I have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, as well as my sense of my self respect.
To summarise, I have had a lifetime of abuse and violence from men because of my sex. I was sexually abused by male neighbours and friends of the family. I was sexually abused by our male GP when I was 10 years old. It was ongoing and only stopped when I was hospitalised for a week because of my injuries. No-one at the hospital asked how the injuries came about. The GP was a semi-retired leading paediatrician. I was raped 3 times by men I
knew. I was coerced into having sex with two male bosses because I couldn’t afford to lose my job as a result of refusal or calling rape.
In the 60’s I was sexually abused by men - almost daily, and often more than once a day.
I have never before told anyone of the full extent of the abuse, violence and rape I have experienced, not least because many/most wold not believe such an exhaustive account.
I wear a wedding ring in the hope it gives me some safety. When I am alone at night I triple check that all external doors and windows are locked. I learnt to drive as soon as I could because I thought it would afford me some safety as I wouldn’t need to be on the streets or public transport so often. I don’t wear revealing clothes. When I am not with my life-partner I ensure I never have too much to drink. I never place myself anywhere that I think my drink
could be spiked. However, every time I arrive home at night I am very scared and anxious
getting to my car, getting from my car to inside my home - so I don’t go out at night on my own.
Several times I have needed to access the service of a Rape Crisis Centre, but each time I have thought - my experience is not as bad as other women’s, and I know the resources are run a shoestring, and anyway, I am a professional woman who knows her way around - I’ll be
My experiences of male violence have scarred me, and my mental health has been badly affected. I did not report any of my experiences pre-2019 because I knew I would not be believed by authorities - and I would not have felt able to report to men. I would never access any facility that did not have a women-only policy.
The other thing I have done that has and continues to be part of my healing process, is that I showed considerable interest when the Independent Inquiry into Sexual Abuse (IICSA) initiative was set up. I finally went and gave my testimony of what happened to me as a child.
The whole process has been completely growthful. Great care was taken to get it right for survivors, and there is not one thing they hadn’t thought about –locations available for testifying; confidentiality; the chance to change your mind; the time span needed between first contact and the actual meeting a survivor has with their staff; what is needed to build confidence in survivors; support pre- and post-testifying.
However, the travel and joining information for me to give my testimony was problematic. They mentioned that the person who might be taking notes (in case the audio recording failed) could ‘be of any gender’.
I was horrified at such sloppy use of language and pointed out that they had conflated sex with gender sex-stereotyping – which is after all what we mean when we use the shorthand term ‘gender’. I contacted them about my concern and told them that I was now thinking of
pulling out of giving my testimony. I absolutely would not give my testimony to, or be in a room with a man whilst giving it.
To their credit, IICSA took this on board and changed the joining instructions - for everyone.
Since then I have been a member of The Forum – a group for people who have testified, that receives updates about the work of IICSA and are invited to advisory events.
Why am I writing this now?
I have sat on it all for most of my life, however it has become a much bigger and more urgent issue for me over the past couple of years – way bigger than I might ever have imagined.
This is because of the silencing extremist trans rights activists are currently engaged in terrorising women into not acknowledging, saying or writing that only adult human females are women;. It is because of their no-platforming of women and threats of, and actual violence, towards women.
I will not defer to men who think they are, or would like to be, women. Trans women are not and never will be women. Because they are men, not women. At a cellular level they have always been men and always will be. Further, they have been raised to be men, with all the conditioning and privilege that brings, as well as the misogyny they are socialised to replicate.
Further, in my whole life, I have never come across a man who is actively trying to dismantle sexism and misogyny – whether they wear traditional men’s or traditional women’s clothing.
To do so would take for men to do much more work on themselves in their role of oppressor, than they seem to be prepared to do right now.
I could not have anticipated how healing it would be to give my testimony. It enabled me to feel my anger at how distorted my life has been because of male violence. It’s led me to think about how different my life would be without the onslaught of male violence.
I am exhausted by it all.
Giving my testimony has also led to me being able to be more open with friends and family about my experience as a survivor. I also did an audio recording for the recent Women’s Equality Party conference session on abuse.
As a long time feminist, I have campaigned all of my life for women’s hard won sex-based rights.
I am horrified that WEP has eschewed all attempts to strengthen and campaign for the implementation of women’s sex-based rights.
To many members' horror, WEP leadership spoke to tell conference delegates to vote AGAINST tabling the motion the Sex-Based Rights Caucus put forward.
This motion was purely about the need to support & strengthen women’s hard-won protections under Equality Law.
(note: Read more here.)
As part of the conference timetable, WEP had asked me to lead a session. I had painstakingly pre-recorded this as well as giving my own testimony. This was on the agenda for immediately after the debate and vote on our motion.
Following the outrageous intervention by WEP leadership I withdrew permission for WEP to up load my presentation on their website as a resource.
That a political party called the Women’s Equality Party would not want our protections of the right to single-sex services and spaces implemented and strengthened has had me lose all respect for it.
WEP does not work to protect women’s sex based rights and has therefore made itself redundant.
Then Sarah Everard was abducted, probably raped and dismembered (she
was only identifiable by her dental records) and murdered. The only person being treated as the alleged perpetrator is a serving police officer engaged in personal protection! It has just about summed up what is so wrong in society for women, and it has served as a catalyst for me and so many other women in the UK.
I am one of the women who have had an outpouring of grief and rage about our own experience and that of our sisters.
This pandemic of male violence has to stop.
It is time.
Now is the time to break my silence.
#EVAWG #SexMatters #MeToo #WomensReality #SafeSpaces #TimesUp #BelieveWomen #EnoughIsEnough #EverybodysInvited
Childhood Sexual Abuse: