SILENTLY counting sheep in her head, little Shauna Waugh squeezed her eyes tightly shut.
But she wasn't trying to get to sleep – instead, she was trying to block out the horrifying sexual abuse her "uncle" was subjecting her to in his garage.
It occurred countless times on an almost weekly basis from when Shauna was just three, and it continued until she was 12.
Now 30, singer-songwriter Shauna has shared her journey from shame to happiness as part of our It Still Matters campaign.
The series shines a light on sexual abuse to encourage survivors to access support if and when they feel ready – no matter how long ago events took place.
Shauna, also a hospital radiologist administrator, says: “You won’t be able to start that healing process until you take that initial step and speak about it. There is support out there for you, and there are various avenues.
“It’s not fair to yourself to be a prisoner of your own pain. I was like that for so many years, just let the pain take over. [However I then] knew I needed to make a better life for myself and help others to come forward too."
Blocking out the abuse
Growing up with her mum, dad and brother in West London, Shauna had a happy home life.
She says: “We had a stable household. I was a tomboy. I did judo, liked to play football with the boys and trialled for football teams."
However, Shauna was preyed on by a member of her extended family – who "was a person of trust" – from the age of three.
Shauna says: “[When I was little] my dad was working quite a lot, and so was my mum, so my grandparents would pick us up after school and they lived close to my uncle.
"They had a big garden. I was always interested in going out and looking at the strawberries and tomatoes in the greenhouse. He had a garage out the back of his house where a lot of the abuse took place.
“It was inappropriate touching, making you touch him, grinding on you, holding you down to the floor, all sorts of things.
“I didn’t realise what was happening, but now I’m older and I think back to how I was feeling – some of it I felt fear, sometimes I would just count sheep to pass the time and block it out.
"[Other times] you were really aware of it and just wanted it to stop but I think the more you fussed the more he would try and keep you quiet."
'He knew how to keep me quiet'
As a result, Shauna struggled with feelings of distress for many years.
She says: “It affected everything, whether it was my mood, how I interacted with other children and the way I felt towards the world in general. I went through a variety of emotions from pity to shame to anger."
Shauna still can't pinpoint why she stayed quiet about the abuse – but like many victims, she just knew she couldn't talk about it.
Sexual abuse in numbers
669,000 adults are sexually assaulted in England and Wales every year
- 1 in 5 women (8m) in the UK have been sexually abused
- 1 in 6 men (5m) in the UK have been sexually abused
- 1 in 20 children in the UK have been sexually abused
Sexual abuse has been attributed to:
- 15% of all suicides in the UK
- 11% of all common mental health disorders in the UK
- 7% of alcohol dependence disorders
- 10% of drug dependence disorders
- 15% of eating disorders
- 17% of post-traumatic stress disorders
She says: "I was scared to speak up and when I think back, he wasn’t particularly violent or aggressive… He never said the stereotypical things like ‘this is our little secret’.
"I just knew it was something that wasn’t to be spoken about, like an unwritten code. He knew how to keep me quiet."
Suicidal at just 12
It wasn't until Shauna was older that she began to fully comprehend what she had been through.
She says: "I realised something wasn’t right in the way this uncle interacted with me because none of my other uncles acted that way."
When she was 12, Shauna's grandparents moved and Shauna was able to avoid her abuser so the attacks stopped.
But what she'd been through had taken a severe toll on her mental health.
She says: “I just wanted it to stop. Not a part of me thought coming forward would be the logical option. The first option [in my mind] was to kill myself."
'I just blurted it out'
At this point Shauna began to find comfort in writing songs and poetry, something she credits for helping her get through such a dark time.
She told her mum what had happened when she was 15.
She says: “I was having a row with my mum about something, as teenagers do. She was asking me what was wrong, and why I was so angry all the time, and I just blurted it out. I hadn’t planned it.
“She was shocked. About half an hour later, she came and found me in my room, and said we had to tell my dad. I swore him to secrecy…. I felt really ashamed."
Shauna finally received professional help while at university, and the police were informed.
Shauna says:“There was a lot of trauma built up and a lot of self-destructive behaviour. I struggled with my course because of depression and not being able to sleep. That made me go to a councillor at the university and talk to someone.
“Because [the perpetrator] was still around children, the counsellor said she had to call the police. It wasn’t my choice but I felt things happened for a reason, and it happened at the time it needed to happen. It was time to get some justice.
“Ultimately I was in shock. I called my dad and told him what had happened, and he just said they had my back, no matter what happened. That gave me reassurance and a couple of weeks later other people came forward. I thought I’d been the only one so I felt sad it had affected other people but I felt like I did have a support network there too."
When she was 21, Shauna's abuser – who she chooses not to name – appeared in court and was found guilty of 22 charges including battery and indecent assault and sentenced to eight years in prison.
He died while in custody in 2016.
Where to get help
Whenever it happened to you, it’s never too late to get support.
If you’ve ever experienced sexual violence or sexual abuse, you can get confidential support from specialists who will listen to you, believe you and understand how hard it is to talk about.
As a victim, you’re entitled to support whether you report the crime or not. Your rights are set out in full in the Victims’ Code.
Visit gov.uk/sexualabusesupport to see the support on offer.
'I couldn't find sex enjoyable'
While justice was served, the abuse still affects Shauna now.
She says: “Even now I sometimes get flashbacks. I used to struggle with night terrors [and I've] had eating disorders and suffered self-harm.
“Being intimate for a very long time was difficult for me.
"Before I would never find anything sexual enjoyable [but now] it’s an enjoyable part of the relationship."
Now, Shauna writes songs and poetry and speaks to other survivors and performs music at support groups and events.
She says: “Initially when writing songs, I talked about the healing process, and the chorus on one song is ‘I’m free’.
"It’s about not letting him have the satisfaction of having control over me after all these years. This is my chance to break the shackles and be in charge of what I want to do."
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