When I was 23, after having lost my father to cancer and moving into my first home as a single parent, I was "sexually assaulted" by my uncle who was now one of my neighbours. It was what was possibly deemed a harmless move by him, a drunken misunderstanding where he accidentally but forcefully stuck his tongue in my mouth while consoling me on my loss. The weight of him pressing me into the sofa of my new home. My new place of safety. He was a large man with a wheelbarrow stomach and a stench of unwashed flesh that lingers in the spaces long after he has passed through them. He never spoke a word I could ever understand because his native dialect rested somewhere between a brogue and the sound of someone clearing their throat. I always politely, on account of my aunt, nodded in agreement whenever he spoke to me. I pushed him away and apologetically resisted his advances so as not to offend him. It never occured to me to make a scene, others might have demonstrated greater revolt but I had just left an abusive relationship with the father of my child, a man who was given to dangling phlegm from his mouth over my face while pinning my arms down as a means of foreplay. Being sexually compromised was something that I had long accepted as normal. According to my mother I deserved it, people don't do things to other people unless they deserve it. He was just trying to be nice to me after all. I also learned quickly that if you did happen to discuss things with anyone that they had ways of silencing you. My new neighbours were informed of my single parent status and it's always better to keep girls like me at arms length. I thought I had been finally set free from an abusive relationship only to find myself thrust into a dynamic that set the stage for a lifetime of fear and resprisals from any man that wanted to really. A couple of weeks later my late fathers friend, an elderly gentleman with a family of his own, repeated the experience. A man of standing in the community, he had called to offer his condolances and suggested he could help me find work through a local employment scheme to help me get back on my feet. Once again I found myself on the recieving end of a sexual embrace, ending with him forcing his tongue into my mouth. I didn't get that job, in fact I spent the next twenty years resisting poverty and doing my best under the same kind of unemployment schemes while always being rejected for paid labour. It was on one of these employment schemes where I became the subject of one partcular mans obsession. He was the same age as me although very shy and reserved, maybe because he suffered from a physical disability. He worked in a different office to me and we would see him skulking around outside the building I worked in and often, waiting outside at clock out time. He would casually greet me and join up with our group and continue to follow along with us. The others made fun of him but I felt bad about that and tried my best to be respectful. As our work progamme ended everyone naturally went their own ways but he never left and for twenty years he remained, insisting he was just a friend despite my objections that I had no desire to be with anyone. Most people automatically assume that he was my partner now but in all the years I had known him, I remained single and celibate. I had never been able to consider being in relationship with another man. I never had the freedom to be even if I wanted to. My mother would tell people he was my partner and as it happened, he was very effective at "keeping me out of trouble". Instead, I turned to other women for relationship and in the hope that he, and others, might get the message and leave me alone. It was many years before I found the videos he had been taking of me on his phone when I wasn't looking. It turned out he was a prolific client of escort services too and apparently, acording to the man who's child I bore and raised by myself this meant that I was a paid whore also. It wasn't until I sought help that I learned how I was being portrayed. The first counsellor I went to called me a liar when I told her that my childs father had physically abused me. For three months I sat unable to speak in a psychologist office, being accused of things I had previously been unable to imagine. I lost the ability to verbalise. My nervous system shut down. My body would shake uncontrollably. I tried to kill myself but I didn't know how. I stopped trusting people, least of all the services you would nomally turn to for help. The gaurds, my gp, even the voluntary agencies in places of statutory ones. For years after I struggled to come to terms with this abuse and I was alone through all of it. I did everything I could to drag myself out of that place, yoga, meditation, exercise but none of it made much difference because I could never wipe away the pain on the inside. One day I listened to a story on the radio and in response penned a letter to a rape crisis center. I never considered what I had been through as sexual abuse so I never considered discussing it with anybody. I began to write. I met with a counsellor and handed her my letter. As she spoke the words of my story I heard someone else speaking but it didn't sound like me. I didn't feel ashamed, I felt brave. I didn't feel worthless, I looked at the woman in the chair in front of me and felt like her, like I had value and that my words had meaning. I didn't feel stupid or retarded, I saw a beautiful articulate woman, not a destitute worthless prostitute. After years of being silenced I finally heard the sound of my own voice. I think I slept for two days after that. My own voice has grown stonger every day since. It's kinder and more understanding, more loving and gentle toward myself. I no longer live with the same level of fear as before. The guilt and shame I was used to feeling and that others used to inflict upon me no longer controls me. Something was given back to me that was lost and now no one can ever take it away again. I'm still working on healing myself but I enjoy life in moments and even have goals again. I'm glad that this place can give people a voice too and that those who read these words might hear themselves speaking and will know that they are not alone.