The White Hat Ball Talk
by Matt Carey -- London, England
(listen to AUDIO here)
Good evening ladies and gentlemen.
The reason I am here is because I am a survivor of child sexual abuse.
It took me many years to admit that to myself let alone anyone else. Like almost all survivors, I was too ashamed, too scared, too traumatised to tell anyone what had happened...not my parents, friends or family.
When I was eight years old, I was targeted by a group of predatory paedophiles who subjected me to 18-months of horrific sexual abuse in the public toilets of local parks and on the sea front of my hometown.
The nearest park was just a few hundred yards from my childhood home and where my friends and I played football and cricket most days.
Surrounded by a low wall and with plenty of trees on all four sides, it provided the perfect cover for these men to watch us children playing and to identify the ones they thought were more susceptible to groom.
I was one of those children. I was a good footballer, and as I loved scoring goals and showing off ... this was their opening.
During one game I went to the toilet and as I stood in the latrine, two men walked in and stood right next to me, one on either side.
They told me what a talented footballer I was, and how they knew I was so good that I would be a professional one day.
They made out as if we had a special bond between us; they told me they had noticed how much I had obviously enjoyed their attention and how happy it made them feel when I waved at them after I scored a goal, and that we were all going to be friends.
I felt very intimidated by their physicality compared to me; I was 8 years old and with the two men standing so close, looking down on me – I felt very scared.
I was also overwhelmed by the very sudden emotional intensity of the situation, and shocked and confused by what they were saying to me. It all felt so wrong; and I was desperate to get out of there.
But as I tried to leave, their manner immediately changed and they started to threaten me with violence and manipulate me with mind games. I felt trapped.
They told me how disgusted they were with my behaviour; that I was a liar; that I had hurt their feelings and they made it very clear that I would have to put that right.
Then one of them suddenly doubled over as if he had an immense, unbearable pain in his groin…. I was told - in no uncertain terms - that he was a very ill man and that it was because of my behaviour that he was in so much pain.
I was forced to relieve him…, and the sexual abuse – the horrific events that were to dramatically influence my life thereafter – began.
Based on the number of locations I can now remember, thirteen all told that I can recall, and the fact that there were always at least two but usually three men involved each time, I was probably sexually abused, molested or raped at least 30 times.
The men worked in rotation; whilst one would abuse me, another would either hold me or stand close by, and a third was a look out, in case we were disturbed... which happened a few times.
The men made me feel that I was entirely responsible for what happened during the abuse. They behaved as if they were entitled to do what they were doing; it was their right; and they convinced me that the abuse was ALL my fault.
I couldn’t see any way out, I felt completely trapped and so I shut down: mentally, emotionally... and just went along with it. As a means of survival, I submitted and normalised the abuse.
This behaviour was the source of my deepest shame, one which, during my teenage years and in my early twenties, I would taunt myself with verbally, and physically by punching myself in the face whenever the PTSD was triggered.
The menace, the unrelenting pressure, the fear and shame I felt, the threats to my life…. were far worse than the actual physical sexual abuse that took place.
When It Finished
The abuse finished when I was 10 years old, and I buried the horrific memories so deep inside of me I could barely remember anything that had happened – until I reached puberty which triggered off relentless and savage memory flashbacks to the abuse.
There was suddenly a deep, visceral feeling of horror inside which was overwhelming.
I felt dirty under my skin, ashamed and disgusted with myself but I didn’t have enough visual memory to understand exactly why.
On the surface, at the beginning, everything looked fine; I could flick a switch in my mind and ‘act’ so no one knew what was really going on.
But inside I was scared of being attacked and of being humiliated; I became very anxious, depressed and often paranoid about other people’s intentions. Even people I knew well became threats.
I remember that time in my life very well - it was 1986 and I was 14 years old.
The year is, of course, significant as many here will know that Childline was founded in the October of 1986.
The age is also significant because the average age of a child contacting Childline is 14 years old.
For a while getting drunk was (at least for me) the obvious answer. I started drinking alcoholically in my mid teens and whilst I hated the taste, the effect throughout my body was sensational.
But these feelings of euphoria didn’t last and soon getting to oblivion was the only way to drown the horrific feelings, the savage, obsessive thoughts of self hatred, and the flashbacks of the abuse.
I was very fortunate to hit rock bottom aged 20 years and I went to my first AA meeting.
AA saved my life.
I haven’t had an alcoholic drink since March 1993.
Asking for help
I knew that I desperately needed professional help for my mental health issues and I started to work with a trauma therapist.
To be willing to ‘go back in’ and re-live the memories of the abuse takes enormous courage for a survivor.
Due to the challenges of living with PTSD it took me over 30 years to let go of the crippling shame I felt about the abuse and to profoundly heal.
It was not until I could clearly remember the extent of threats, the menace and the manipulation the men had used to control me that I was finally able to wholly understand that I really wasn’t responsible for what had taken place.
The sense of relief when this happens is immensely healing, and the emotional freedom is quite literally life-changing.
The truth is, before the abuse took place, I had a very happy, loving childhood.
That’s the real me (looking behind and pointing to the photo of me smiling on the bike); that’s the real Matt as a small boy – a smiling, happy boy before the abuse had started.
There is so much to be grateful for
My story underlines the huge importance of early intervention.
Children who are supported early are less likely to suffer the long-term damage to their mental health.
And this is where Childline comes in. For so many children Childline is, quite literally, a lifeline.
It takes enormous courage for an adult survivor, let alone a child, to pick up the phone and ask for help.
Who can say how different my life might have been had someone – when I was 14 years old – had said to me;
“What happened to you was not your fault. You were not at all responsible for the horrific abuse you went through.”
By supporting Childline tonight, more children will be able to hear those words, and to start on their healing journeys.
I would like to thank you for the opportunity to share my story with you this evening.