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10 years old. I'd been to the local park in my village to meet up with some friends to play and to continue building our treehouse, but it was starting to get late, so I decided to head home. Getting on my bicycle, I started to cycle back - a route that would take me down a small passageway in between blocks of houses.
Being only 10 years old, and living in a very quiet little village, I thought nothing of cycling on my own down these little alleyways - after all, as I said, because the village was so small, most people knew nearly everyone else, and the sense of community in that little village was pretty good. So when I turned a corner and found two men standing in the alleyway, drinking and smoking, I was a little surprised.
I carried on cycling towards them, but they blocked the path in front of me. NOW I was starting to get worried. I tried to turn my bike round and turn back, but I couldn't.
And then it happened. They started to touch me, pushing me against the wall, and I was forced to touch them, threatened with being hit and with cigarette burns if I didn't. I can sometimes still hear them laughing and joking as they made me do these things - it was a terrifying experience, especially for someone as young as I was.
In the end, they let me go and I cycled off in a hurry. Did I tell my parents? No - I was worried that they'd think I was making it up, that I was just doing it to get attention. Looking back on it now I know they wouldn't have, but I still can't see myself telling them - it was a long time ago, and to be honest, there really doesn't seem to be much point.
So why am I writing all this down? Well, every year around this time, which is the time of year when it happened, I start to feel down, I can't help but thinking about it when I'm trying to sleep, I just can't block any of it out. I know what you're thinking: it was 9 years ago, it's in the past now, why is it so hard to forget? I was forced to do something against my will. I was subjected to threats and to jokes at my expense while the whole thing was going on. It made me feel dirty - and they made me feel like I deserved the humiliation and the upset.
I had no idea who these people were - I would have recognised them if I'd seen them again, of that I can be sure. But I didn't. Were they waiting for someone to come along, or did they just decide right there and then that they were going to pick on this defenceless 10 year old for their fun? I can't be sure - but either way, it's wrong.
So how have I been attempting to cope with this? For the first few years I told nobody - I was ashamed of what had happened and didn't want people to act differently around me or to think I was "dirty" - of course, this wouldn't have happened, but I had it stuck in my mind that it would. But over the years, when I realised how much it was still affecting me, I decided that opening up and telling someone about it would probably make me feel a lot better. So I confided in my best friend, the words and the tears flooding out - and this really did help, as I was no longer bottling things up.
Since that time, I've found relationships and building trust pretty hard - as a result, when I was around 16, I had a number of one night stands - because, I think, I wanted to show that I still had some kind of power over men. It sounds silly, but I felt I couldn't trust anyone, and I felt like I was going to be dominated by men for the rest of my life, and I wanted to prove myself wrong.
However, I am now in a long term relationship, and have, over the last one and a half years, gradually regained my ability to trust in the opposite sex. I sometimes still shy away when men touch me - especially around this time of the year - but on the whole, things are a lot better than they were for the first few years. I still get upset about things, and it still gets me down, but I've managed to block it out of my head for a lot more of the time than I used to be able to.
My advice to anyone in a similar situation, whether it be abuse/assault by a stranger or someone you know:
- Don't bottle things up. It's always best to talk to someone about what you're going through - it makes you feel so much better.
- Don't blame yourself. Whatever happened, and for whatever reason, it wasn't your fault. Many people who have been assaulted believe that it was, that they did something to make it happen. Don't believe this.
- Don't let it make your self-esteem suffer. I for one thought I was the lowest of the low after this happened - I really couldn't see how anybody could see me as a good person. People will not hold you in lower esteem because of this, you need to try and do the same for yourself.
- Don't do anything stupid. I went through a phase of self-harming after this happened, and although it may have felt like it was helping, it really didn't. Try and find something else to take your mind off it. I know it's hard, but it's the best way.
- Finally, if it really is getting to you and you're fighting to hold back the tears, then don't. Crying about things makes you feel so much better, and holding it back does nothing. Even if you're with someone else and you're worried about their reactions, then don't worry - just go ahead. If it makes you feel better, then do it.
I'm sorry for the rambling, it's just that time of the year again and it's starting to get to me, and writing out my feelings is helping me to feel better. I hope this opinion is helpful to anyone in the same situation.
Great advice. These men are sick. It is such a shame that children these days aren't allowed far from home due to people like this. What happened to the freedom we had when we were younger - are we just more aware of this sort of behaviour than we used to be, or has it really gotten worse? Goodness knows. Sam :-(
karen5416 22.04.2004 23:51
these people make me sick, they have no idea what damage they are causing, and all it is to them is a laugh, they will get what they deserve.. you are a very strong person to write this. good luck with your future : ] x
LeaofRafiki 18.06.2003 00:18
This kind of experience will last forever, but it's getting weaker and weaker as years go by! Love & strenght to you, Gr ♥ tZ, Lea