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.


#EVAWG


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

down.


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.


Guess what?


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 g