Did you ever watch the film Castaway with Tom Hanks? When I watched it I used to get jealous that he was on this beautiful place of solitude and isolation with no people to bother him and he didn’t have to put faces on or lie to hide a dark secret or to please others, even though throughout the film it is clear that this is a man who is suffering terribly from loneliness and living in fear for his life. Every day in that film the only thing on Tom Hanks mind was to get off that island and to make human contact and reconnect with his loved ones.
For many survivors of child sex abuse, we live in fear of our everyday existence and our battle is not only with what we are running away from but what we are running into each day of our lives and many would give anything to be left alone on an that island.
I spent the first 16 yrs of my life in care and I suffered horrific child sex abuse that went on for years up to the age of sixteen. I was in a boys home in Fife and before that, I was in at least two other homes but even to this day, I cannot seem to find the truth of where I was and why I was moved about so much? That is almost as painful as the abuse to live with. My whole childhood was one of being passed about from home to home and I often describe it as living in a dirty washing machine where the next home I went to was even worse than the last one. Some have described what happened in these places as a production line for paedophiles of the worst kind and the worse thing of all is for many, we also have to carry the dark secrets. Let me tell you mine.
When we were in the dormitories at night I would lie in bed and pray that the wee boy in the bed next to me would get picked to be abused instead of me. Sometimes my prayers would be answered and sometimes they wouldn’t. One of the boys in the home disappeared one day and although I asked about him, I was threatened and abused as a way of stopping me from asking more questions. This affected my whole life and every relationship I ever had. All my life I thought about this wee boy and it was only in 2012 that I actually found out that he had committed suicide on home leave. He was twelve years old. He was my best friend and we used to play table tennis every night. He was trying to tell everyone that he was being abused but no one listened.
It’s hard for a lot of people to get their head around all that, I understand that and I know that. It’s sickening, and its heartbreaking and it’s too much for people to stop and take in and understand the pain and the lifelong effects such things can have on children and how people can be so cruel to do such things to children. What I didn’t know and what I found the hardest struggle which still goes on today, is getting people to listen and to understand what I and many others went through and how much we need the love and support of the people of Scotland to survive.
When I was sixteen, I was kicked out of the care system and within weeks I ended up homeless on the streets because I could not fit in anywhere. I very quickly became a social misfit and social outcast. I went to a doctor and told him I had been abused in care and he gave me a script that lasted twenty-five years. During those twenty-five years, my addiction to drugs and alcohol exploded and I was in and out of prisons and mental institutions for years and life was tough. My biggest problem was when people started asking questions like where are you from and what school did you go to, I couldn’t tell them. If I told them, I thought something bad would happen as I had been warned it would by my abusers. I really believed that, so lying became easier for me and of course this just made me more enemies and so I just ran and ran.
Eventually, the abuse was lost at the back of my mind but I couldn’t understand why everyone around me had families and love, while all I did was run, run, run. Sometimes I could go days and even weeks on the streets without talking to another person and I would find places where no one would ever find me and I would stay near enough to the city or town centre so that I could smell the soup wagons, and I would find the places where I could get a wash and clean clothes without anyone asking too many questions. What I had done was I had given up on people. Like so many homeless people with underlying issues I was waiting for that one person and trying to find that one place where I could feel safe enough to open up old wounds and for someone to be able to do that in a safe enough environment but it never happened.
What I quickly discovered, is something that still goes on today and that is that you will get many people to come up to you who will tell you what they think is best for you and where you should go but very few people would take the time to stop and ask: What happened to you?
I became an expert shoplifter and pick-pocketer to fund my increasing drug habit as I spiralled downwards into the valleys of hell. Whenever anyone tried to get too close to me, I would steal from them and let them down and again I would run away or get into fights and end up feeling really bad. I saw many children of all ages on the streets and I saw things that have driven me on to make sure no child suffers what I and so many others went through. Throughout the seventies and the eighties, I saw hundreds of children on the streets of London and other cities who would turn up with the same thing; a rucksack with a change of clothes and pictures of their families inside.
When I was sixteen, seventeen I was only a couple of years older than many of these children, and almost all of them had the same story as me. I am still haunted to this day by the memory of the young boy who one day asked me to watch his rucksack because he had a punter and he would be back in one hour and I sat in the derelict building around a fire and I waited and I waited and after three days I realised that he wasn’t coming back. After a while I would get so desperate for survival, I would actually go round all the derelict buildings looking for these abandoned rucksacks in the desperate hope that there might be clothes in them that fit me. I lost all thought of care for what happened to the children that owned those bags. On top of that, I attempted suicide many times, and I overdosed more times than I can count.
Then in 1998 my life changed. I met Alice. I was almost 40 years old and she became my first real girlfriend and after only being with her a few months she told me she was pregnant. I couldn’t stop crying. I was so happy. We moved into a bedsit and in April 1998 I did the honourable thing and I married her. It was the most magical day of my life but it didn’t last. Exactly 5 weeks after we were married, I woke up and Alice was in my arms, but had passed away. I was told that Alice had died of natural causes and it was very hard to take. She was only 23. Now I was angry. I started to believe that something had happened centuries ago and that my family had been cursed and I had been cursed. My drinking and drug taking exploded and I was not a nice person to be around and eventually I had a huge breakdown.
I was taken straight back into the psychiatric hospital and it was during this time that all the child abuse started to resurface. I knew at that point that I had two choices to make. 1. Go back to the life I had been living or 2. Turn my life around and I stayed in hospital for a long time and It was also during this time that I reached out to God and he answered my prayers and I knew that everything was going to be different from now on.
I knew I had to get justice for what had happened to me and to so many other children in Scotland and I also wanted to tell people my story but I had so many gaps and unanswered questions and I set out to find the people who had done these terrible things to me. I went to college to get an education and stayed off drugs and now twenty years on I am still clean from drugs. I was too busy and obsessed fighting to get justice. It took me 20 years of searching and campaigning to eventually find others who were trafficked just like me and went through the same abuse and what struck me over those years was the way society treated survivors. Fitting in was not just about who we were it was very much a case of people running away from what we were? Nowhere is this more evident than in Scotland.
Forgiveness is so important and it brought me great peace but that didn’t stop me from fighting for justice and my fight took me all over the world including speaking to thousands of people in Brazil. In 2017 I took my campaign directly to the Catholic church in Scotland and I stood outside St Andrews cathedral in Glasgow chained to a cross for 12 days. I was shocked how many Catholics approached me thanking me for what I was doing and I was happy to share my story with so many people.
Also, in 2017 I finally won compensation and I started my own group called S.A.F.E. Seek And Find Everyone abused in Childhood. I took my campaign all over Scotland and hundreds of people have come forward to have their voices heard and access to justice and I am very proud of what I have achieved. I discovered that for many survivors the biggest problem is how the people of Scotland deal with the subject of child sex abuse. Fitting in anywhere in Scotland is very difficult because “Scottish people just don’t talk about child sex abuse”
Well, let me tell you. We have to change that culture. These are your sons and daughters and brothers and sisters and if this culture doesn’t change, have no doubt it will affect your children just like it has over many decades.
I know I have done some bad things in the past and I take responsibility for that but I keep on saying, we are not bad people, we are good people who have had really bad things happen to us and I had to do what I had to do to survive and if people would stop and listen instead of judging us every time then maybe they might learn something. I haven’t been in any trouble for almost twenty-five years but still I get judged like a criminal because I seek the truth. The thing is. I know I am going to heaven and I know I am going to see my wife and my child again and I know that every night I will go to the children’s garden and I will play table tennis again with my wee pal. That’s what keeps me straight and doing the right thing.
Please understand, I am not trying to make people feel guilty. The hard fact is that what hurts more than anything else is that not much has changed since I left care. We still have children in Scotland who are kicked out of abusive childhoods straight into a life of crime and homelessness and early graves and it still appears that no one cares. I still regularly get calls from adults and children who struggle to fit in anywhere and they feel just like I and many others have felt for years that Scotland has no time for us. That’s why I have to keep on fighting for survivors to have their voices heard and access to justice and for changes in the system in Scotland. In my case, my mother died before I was one year old. That was no reason to lock me up for sixteen years then drug me up for the next 25 years was it? To even think that we still haven’t got a system that makes sure this doesn’t happen to any child and we still allow these things to happen in Scotland makes me feel quite sick. To know that we still have children coming out of abusive childhoods seeking help and crying out for guidance but nobody is listening.
Thankfully people are starting to step up and realise the contribution survivors with lived experience can make in creating a trauma informed nation, but sadly there are also too many people who exploit survivors in Scotland simply because they can, and we can only hope that things will change. If we could only learn to dismantle our fears and anguish around childhood sex abuse in Scotland and lead with our hearts. We could transform so many people’s lives and actually call ourselves a true trauma family. We cannot wait for or expect our politicians to create an environment where survivors of childhood trauma and abuse can feel safe enough to come forward and be heard when we all have something to offer and a part to play. Actions speak louder than words.
Christmases have always been the most difficult time for me but this year I have done something I have never ever done in my life before. I just bought my first Christmas tree. I feel very emotional because ive always avoided anything to do with Christmas but this year I am determined I am going to make an effort. My message to all survivors of child abuse is: We can overcome. Let’s come together as #SURVIVORSUNITED and pray that we can all have a peaceful happy Christmas. Make no mistake that after Christmas I shall be carrying on the fight for all survivors to have their voices heard but now is the time for peace and If you want to follow me dressing up my first ever Christmas tree then why not follow me on Twitter @davesharp59 and every couple of days I will post pictures of my tree.
Let’s all work together.
Author: Dave Sharpe
Epione wants to personally thank our friend, advocate, and campaigner Dave for his courage to provide this blog to reach out to all survivors at this magical but difficult time of the year. Epione also wants to share our deep gratitude to all our truly courageous people who have occupied this space in 2020 to helps us learn and offer hope that recovery is always possible. If you’d like to collaborate in 2021 and share how you’ve overcome trauma and how you’ve been recovering, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org – We look forward to hearing and seeing you in 2021!
Wishing you all a SAFE and happy Christmas
Alex, Dawn, and Derek