PAUL Scates describes himself as a survivor now but remembers vividly the first time he was abused by a trusted family friend.
At just eight years old, he recalls waking one night and being “frozen” while the man subjected him to the first of many acts of sexual abuse.
- “Eventually, when the individual left my bedroom, it felt like an eternity before I could feel safe enough to walk out and go into my parent’s room. I didn’t speak out because I didn’t understand what had happened,” he explained.
Likeable, charismatic and well-respected, Paul said the man spent two to three years grooming not just him but his entire family. He then exploited his position of trust in order to physically and psychologically abuse a young boy.
It continued well into Paul’s teenage years, culminating in rape. After suffering for years in silence, his coping mechanisms could not prevent him from attempting suicide.
He described the ‘tsunami’ moment he told his parents and the journey to recovery which then followed.
“A lot of survivors and non-abusive parents carry an unfounded guilt and shame. I carried mine until I was 30. I’m now 36, and I’m still living it.
“But even my parents, wrongly, felt guilty because they felt they should have been able to notice it –but sometimes you don’t know what’s happening beneath your eyes.”
Now a mental health campaigner and trustee for the Ringwood-based charity Acts Fast, Paul said what helped him come to terms with his ordeal was talking – namely to other victims. But the recent national campaign #ItsNotOk highlighted the fact we are not talking about sexual abuse enough.
“In society, we tend to close our eyes and shut our ears and pretend or hope these kinds of things aren’t going on,” he said.
“There’s a clear lack of understanding that it’s not just the child that goes through it, it’s the parents and the other siblings. And a bit like any kind of natural disaster, the storm happens and you’ll have the aftermath, but there’s always the potential for the storm to return, psychologically.
“There’s no support once the court case is over. From a criminal justice point of view, there is closure, but for the individual and their family, there isn’t closure.”
This is where organisations like Acts Fast step in and offer support. Mandy Gulliver, the charity’s service director, said giving victims and their families that support and understanding sooner reduces the impact on their mental health.
“These things do affect the whole family. That’s why it’s really important for the non-abusive parent to talk to us and understand it isn’t their fault and, sadly, they were part of the grooming process themselves.
“Knowing you’re not alone and having people understand what you’re going through helps enormously and brings healing in itself. It also helps people to manage their mental health to help them support their child better,” she added.
Paul said he was eventually able to move forward and become a “purposeful member of society”. He now has the courage to talk openly about his experiences and be a spokesperson for change in the way sexual abuse victims are treated by the legal system and society in general.
“The gravity gets lost of how much this really affects people, and I worry people don’t take it as seriously as it is. I feel as a nation we have to stand united together and strong to enable change.”
He added: “When I look back at my journey, I had massive body dysmorphic disorder, and I eventually became my own abuser through drugs and alcohol.
“With organisations like Acts Fast, it’s about giving people a safe platform to explore and take away the psychological distress. You’ll always be scarred, but the hope is you can move forward.
“That’s what drives the passion behind what I do because I’ve lived it and I’m breathing it and we want to help other people through that journey.”
Tweet Paul @paulscates or visit www.actsfast.org.uk
Copy Jade Grassby / Sunday 21 February / Bournemouth Daily Echo