Thursday, 20 September 2012

My Story: Then and Now @siobhanpyburn #childabuse #survivors

Siobhan is originally from Southampton and studying law at university. She won a V National award in 2009 for 'exceptional community impact', and was named national woman of courage by Lesley Pearse a year later. She is also an ambassador for the Rose Road Association, which raises vital funds for children with severe and complex disabilities. After graduating, Siobhan hopes to commit to her anti-child abuse escapades on a more full-time basis, although she is also in the process of setting up a business as a personal trainer.

Like so many others, I was abused by someone I thought I could trust. In my case it was my father. I was so young when it started that I don't remember exactly what age - about six or seven I think. It would've been so easy for him; I adored him, like all little girls adore their daddies. And my mum was never around 'because of work'. At first I didn't really understand that what was going on was wrong, and he'd be so nice to me afterwards - he would even buy me fish and chips! By the time I hit puberty it became apparent to me that I was being exploited in the worst way possible, and I was a very lost teenager - you know, the ones at school who skulk about by themselves at playtime and don't really 'fit in'. I didn't say anything at that point because I honestly, whole heartedly believed that we were as bad as each other. I felt like such a slut, and was so sure that my (already fragmented) family would disown me if they ever found out. These feelings compounded when I got my first boyfriend at 13, which was significant because I ended up using him as an escape from what was going on at home. I would get abused so that I could spend time with him on the weekends. Heck, I would get abused so that my dad would drop me off on time at school in the mornings, so I could see him for a few moments longer. I was obsessed, I was distraught and everybody around me just put it down to 'teenage hormones'. Meanwhile my father milked every opportunity to get further sexual favours from me. I'd been going along with the 'trade system' for so long by then that I didn't see the difference between it happening a few times, and it happening multiple times a week, over the span of what ended up being about six years. After I would get back from spending time with my boyfriend, my father would interrogate me on exactly how far we went sexually, and get very angry if I didn't tell him every last detail - he'd say I was 'clamming up'. One time I got so hysterical that I started screaming at the top of my voice that I was gonna tell someone, and he had better say his prayers 'cos I wasn't going to take it anymore. That scared the hell out of him and he threatened suicide. I hated him so much by then - a possessive, powerful, encompassing kind of contempt that no word does justice to - that I wished he would.

At 15 I disclosed to my mum whilst staying with her over the school Christmas holidays. She said nothing; just got up and left the room, which made me feel like my worst nightmare was being realised. But luckily not so. She told my brothers, who told the police at once; my father was evicted from our 'family' home and well over a year later - and after being adjourned once - the case went to court and I 'won'. He got three years in jail for abusing me for twice that amount of time, and then let out after eighteen months on good behaviour. What a liberty.

I'd like to say I haven't heard from him since, but I have, and relatively recently. Last year he contacted my brother through his website with some idle threatening language about how I should learn 'not to throw shit up in the air'. Well. I didn't sleep for three nights and then I thought, frankly, F it. The police weren't going to tell him off because apparently he would have needed to explicitly made a threat on my life for them to do anything, in plain English (now how's that for prevention rather than cure?), so I knew that basically, the government doesn't care about me. I'm an individual and there's plenty of those around. So I did something I never thought I would do - I wrote back.

One day, maybe when the significance/prestige of The Phoenix Project is at its height, I'll publish that letter in the public domain. I poured my heart and soul into those words, I can tell ya. And I think that, in a poetic sort of way, I was speaking for than myself. I was speaking for survivors everywhere who have never had their chance to say their piece - to get it all out on paper and know that the abuser had to eat it - and especially those who haven't been able to speak up yet at all. I love writing because you cannot argue with the written word. You cannot shout it down.

Anyway his response was to basically call me a liar and be very unimaginative. But what a move to put me back in my place of personal power. I recklessly reccommend it. I never felt less like a victim in my life.

Now that the actual abuse is over I'm tasked with the humungous ball ache of picking up the pieces in my life and trying to put it together to make something dignified. To this end I believe I've been a partial success. I started The Phoenix Project in 2008 when a charity called ITV Fixers approached my college looking for innovative young people to step up and make a film about an issue that they felt strongly for. I volunteered myself to address child abuse and it all took off from there. I've now got a telly appearance, two national awards and a few press appearances behind me (including having my story published in Cosmopolitan magazine, October 2010). I came to uni two years ago to study law, and unfortunately haven't been able to pick up where I left off with my anti-child abuse efforts just yet. It's not over though; I ain't finished yet! I want to do what I do best - write - in aid of the cause I just can't walk away from. I want to break the unwritten rule about child sexual abuse, which is that nobody talks about it. Nobody wants to hear about it. Keep it under the rug where it belongs, yeah? No. We need to defy the statistics and reach for more than a life of mediocrity. As a survivor, I've found helping others to be a fabulous healing process in itself. And there's always more to do.

There are children right under our nose going through the same things I did. That thought is what lights a fire where I need it. I don't know if I'll ever turn this show into some kind of career - I don't know what the dots are gonna turn into once I join them up; I just want to do what I can. People are normally surprised when I tell them about my past, and it's a point of pride for me. I'm 21 now, and there are of course some days when I struggle, when it feels like the weight of the world is on my shoulders. But in the same breath, I realise that my experiences have forced me to grow some important strengths.

It's all about how you spin it. On the one hand, I struggle with post-abuse issues such as feeling inferior to others (particularly other girls) and wondering deep down how far I really can re-design my core beliefs to make a positive difference in my own reality and that of others... on the other, it's a darn wonder that I (and you) can suit up and show up to life each day given what has been suffered, which at times like this, gives me hope that everything's gonna turn out just fine (it really is, you know).
Find Siobhan at

Follow Siobhan on Twitter @siobhanpyburn


Anonymous said...

Siobahn I think you came almost to telling me when you were in my class y6. You had been acting strangely, unusually tetchy and it was a Friday afternoon. I asked you if there was anything wrong and you told me you were going to see your father for the weekend and didn't want to go. You said " I can't tell you why I can't tell anyone." I suspected something was wrong but you kept repeating " I can't tell anyone."
In those days there was no referral and I felt it was beyond my jurisdiction to push you further.
How sad I feel about it and feel pleased their is now greater awareness in schools. Apparently there is someone a teacher can refer to and the matter is addressed.
You are a courageous young women and I feel very proud to have known you. Good luck in your charities.
Mrs R Gott

Siobhan said...

Wow Mrs Gott! I only just saw your comment.

That's really surprising actually, as I guarded that secret scrupulously - or so I thought.

There is still no mandatory referral system. Schools have their policies, and government has its 'guidance', but as a matter of fact, there is no legal obligation to report known or suspected child abuse to a local authority. In other words, all the Siobhans out there are no safer now than I was then. England needs to come out of the cave age in this regard.

I am so happy to read your message. You never forget your favourite teachers. :)


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