Co Antrim abuse survivor pens letter to her 7-year-old self
Michelle Duffy, 42, from County Antrim, works for NSPCC Northern Ireland and is a survivor of neglect and sexual abuse.
She has written a heartbreaking Christmas letter to her seven-year-old self to encourage other young people, who are experiencing similar abuse, to speak out and seek help.
This is a letter of hope because Michelle did get the help she needed and has a happy life, a fulfilling career and is the mother of three children.
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I know Christmas is fast approaching. I also know you will be anxious and afraid. I really want to wish you a Happy Christmas. I would love, more than anything, to be able to tell you that it really will be magical this year. I would love to reassure you that you’ll be warm and safe and that you will be surrounded by love and security just like all the other children– not to mention a mountain of presents from Santa! But I know you’d just laugh at that because you and I both know it’s so far from the truth.
I know you feel frightened most of the time and people say you behave strangely, banging your head against the wall and not making friends. But then they haven’t a clue what’s going on at home, they don’t know you’re locked in a room for days on end, scared to make any sound because if you do, you will be hurt. They can’t imagine that you’re having to stand on a wobbly stool to reach up and fetch dry cereal because you are so hungry all the time. Above all, they don’t know you’ve been sexually abused because no one really talks about that sort of thing.
I understand why you’ll start to run away from home. I know that those cold derelict flats with the big rubbish chute are truly horrible but it’s somewhere to escape to- at least for a while. There aren’t any adults there who can harm you and you can feel safe. But unfortunately it won’t last because you’ll get so cold and hungry and eventually you’ll have to go home. You’ll be punished in ways most people could never imagine and locked up again for days. Then the abuse will start again. That violent man with the knife will come round but to survive all this, you will start to blot out what happens with him and with the three other men who subject you to sexual abuse.
I would love to be able to turn back the clock and shield you from all the abuse you are experiencing. I know you will block out much of this until we both feel strong enough to remember. I know that the person who abused you will still be allowed into your home and that you will also be sent to stay with him. I know you’re probably angry and don’t understand why no one, not even your Mum, has tried to stop this.
I can tell you something, though, that you’ll barely believe – you will escape this, eventually, and you will feel safe again. You will start to speak out and tell people what happened to you and you’ll do it, this year, when you are seven – even though it’s so hard to do. People will believe you, they will want to help you and they will be kind. You’ll meet Anne from the NSPCC – she’ll talk to you and help you. You might find it strange for a while that there are people out there who will be nice to you and don’t want anything in return but believe me, they do exist, you will find them and they will help.
I can’t lie, things will take a while to get better. Hurt like this can take a long time to recover from but once you speak out, doors will open for you. You’ll get counselling and take time to think what you want to do with your life. You’ll remember Anne from the NSPCC who took you out for burgers and just chatted and helped you and then you’ll go back to studying when you are much older. You will do an HND and go on to study Social Work and decide that you too want to help other children. You’ll get a job with NSPCC Northern Ireland, working with children who have survived sexual abuse. The project you’ll work on will be called Letting the Future In which does exactly as it says – it helps rebuild children’s lives so they can overcome the past and look forward to the future...
I have been thinking about you so much this year and remembering that terrible feeling of being trapped. So many of us have felt this way during the lockdown and you will understand what that feels like even more acutely as you have been physically locked in rooms and trapped in a cycle of sickening abuse.
The other thing that will astonish you is that you’ll become a mum to three children! You will adore them and you’ll be busy in December every year thinking of ways for them to have fun and enjoy the magic of Christmas. You will vow never to let anyone harm them and will never understand why you weren’t protected when you needed it.
Finally, I implore you to keep speaking out. If at first, people don’t want to know about your abuse, keep on speaking out until someone helps you, and they will. I know you would tell any other young people to do the same.
Please hang in there! You are brave, you are more resilient than you think, you will recover and eventually, you will have a happy life and will help other children too.
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Childline also has a huge online community where children can get support from their peers on message-boards and use expert resources to help them through any issue they are concerned about.
Children can also visit Childline’s Calm Zone which been a great source of support for children and young people during the pandemic.
To raise awareness of child neglect and abuse this Christmas, a number of buildings across Northern Ireland turned green this December, supporting the NSPCC’s Here for Children Christmas Appeal. The charity has also launched a new TV appeal which depicts some of the heart-breaking abuse contacts the NSPCC run service Childline expects to take in the Christmas holidays.
Over the last six months the NSPCC has been looking closely at the impact of lockdown – and its frontline teams are concerned that increased vulnerability, the challenges of safeguarding remotely and wider pressures on families may have increased the risks of abuse and neglect.
During the spring lockdown, an average of 50 children a day from across the UK turned to Childline after suffering abuse, with counselling sessions about this issue increasing by 22% compared with pre-lockdown levels.
As part of its new appeal, the charity is calling on the public to donate £20 to the NSPCC so that services like Childline can be here for children this Christmas.