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How child sex abuse victims are scared into silence

How child sex abuse victims are scared into silence
From Al Jazeera - February 15, 2018

Gary Cliffe was a football-crazy 11-year-old when British "star-maker" football coach Barry Bennell, who was associated with Manchester City Football Club, started sexually abusing him.

But Cliffe could not bring himself to speak out against Bennell for decades.

"[Being coached by Bennell] was an amazing opportunity at a professional club in Manchester City, to try and reach that goal," he told Al Jazeera in his first public interview.

In 1984, aged 14, Cliffe signed a commitment to Manchester City.

Big clubs did not have their own youth sides then. Instead, they authorised scouts - like Bennell - to run amateur teams from which they picked the best.

Players Bennell called "special" had to show their dedication by staying at his house before matches.

"The lights would go down. There were perhaps three or four boys, and the duvet cover would come out while we were sat in the lounge," Cliffe said.

"I now know that it would be the testing ground to see what he could get away with in terms of touching. The hand would be down the [tracksuit] bottoms and into your pants."

Cliffe endured four years of abuse, ranging from indecent assault to attempted rape. But he did not tell anyone about it.

He was so fearful and traumatised that he was unable to speak out for the younger boys he witnessed being groomed by Bennell.

"It's something that I have, over the years, felt immense sort of guilt about," Cliffe said.

"As an older boy, should you have said something? I simply did not have the words. Nobody spoke about it and we kept the secret."

Now, as a middle-aged man, he has broken his silence in public for the first time in an interview with Al Jazeera.


Steve Lowe, a psychotherapist who works with both sex abuse survivors and offenders, told Al Jazeera that it is common for people abused as children to take decades to speak out.

"In your 40s and 50s, you begin to stop and you reflect, you look back on the world and real life," he said.

"It's at that point when people are feeling a little bit more confident about themselves and are able to actually say something."

In other cases, survivors can be psychologically ready to go public earlier, but wait for decades to protect their parents from distress.

Suicide is the ultimate escape from these horrendous feelings, this feeling of 'I just ca not do this, I ca not manage what's happened to me.'"

Steve Lowe,psychotherapist

Another of Bennell's victims, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was still keeping his story a secret, said he felt "really, really guilty" for his parents, and understood how they might feel as though they had "basically handed me over to a paedophile."

Another victim told Al Jazeera, speaking on the same condition: "I just could not have seen the hurt in my dad's eyes. Even 35 years later, I broached the subject with my dad and it's caused massive [tensions] between us both."

Approaching middle age without the confidence to speak out sometimes pushes survivors of the sexual abuse to suicidal thoughts and attempts, although the abuse is likely to be just one of a number of entangled factors.

Lowe said the decision usually comes after failing to numb the burdening emotions of hate, anger and sorrow with alcohol or other substances.

"Suicide is the ultimate escape from these horrendous feelings, this feeling of 'I just ca not do this, I ca not manage what's happened to me,'" Lowe said.

Grieving mother 'angry' at the clubs

Mark Hazeldine, 36, one of Bennell's victims, took his own life in February 2006.

He drove the short distance from his home to Manchester Airport and booked in at the Radisson hotel.

It's been 11 years of hell. I have not known why Mark committed suicide. Bennell's arrest helped me, it's given me closure.

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