‘As children we were locked in a bedroom with a bucket for a toilet’

A Co Antrim woman, who suffered horrific sexual abuse and neglect as a child, is sharing her awful experiences to encourage adults to speak up if they have concerns about a young person.

By Helen McGurk
Thursday, 3rd December 2020, 12:07 pm
The Childline service will be available over the Christmas period
The Childline service will be available over the Christmas period

Home was a frightening place for Newtownabbey woman Michelle, 42, and her siblings growing up. She first disclosed sexual abuse by an adult close to her family at the age of seven. Following this disclosure, she received support from the charity NSPCC - National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

She said: “Growing up as the oldest sibling, I spent most of my time looking after my five younger brothers and sisters. We weren’t allowed out of the house much and were regularly locked in my mum’s bedroom with a bucket for a toilet, while she went out on alcohol binges for days on end.”

She added: “My parents had split up when I was young, but my dad stayed present in our lives, coming and going to the house. My siblings and I were afraid of both of our parents. If you made a noise when you weren’t meant to in our house, the reaction was terrifying. I remember small things, like my brother eating a tomato from the fridge without asking or me losing something while playing, having severe consequences for all of us.”

During her childhood, Michelle was sexually abused by four men known to her family.

She is now a Letting the Future In (LTFI) practitioner at NSPCC’s Craigavon Service Centre.

LTFI is a service for children who’ve experienced sexual abuse. It helps children rebuild their lives so they can overcome the past and look forward to the future.

According to the NSPCC, child cruelty and neglect crimes in Northern Ireland are on the rise, with 605 cases of adults neglecting, mistreating or assaulting children in last year - more than three times higher that previous figures.

It issued the findings as part of a warning that more children may be at risk of abuse this Christmas and that everyone needs to play their part in keeping young people safe. The charity has also launched its Here for Children Christmas Appeal and a new TV ad to raise awareness of abuse and neglect this Christmas.

Michelle added: “Christmas is always associated with being happy in films and on cards but not every child’s experiences of Christmas are positive. For me, it always brought a sense of dread. Alcohol consumption increased. For us as children, this meant increased neglect and increased exposure to violence.”

Peter Wanless, ceo of the NSPCC said: “This year it is even more essential that children have a place where they can seek help and support. Our Childline service will be running every day over the Christmas holidays, but we need the public’s support so we can ensure vulnerable children are heard.”

*Adults concerned about a child can contact the NSPCC helpline seven days a week on 0808 800 5000, or email [email protected]