Londonderry: Child abuse survivor feels ‘silenced’ by the system

20th June, 2022 1:49 pm

A child abuse survivor who waited five years for her abuser to appear in court has said she feels silenced by the criminal justice system.

Her abuser, Christopher Harley, 35, from Londonderry, is currently on remand at Maghaberry Prison after admitting six counts of sexual activity with a child.

Cathy, which is not her real name, said the grooming started when she was 14.

“He made me feel like I was safe, when I was far from it,” she said.

The abuse lasted almost three years. Aged 17, Cathy made a statement to police.

“You are brought into this room and talk about everything that happened – once you talk about everything, you think the police are going to do something for you,” she said.

But Harley only appeared in court earlier this month – five years after Cathy came forward.

He was also charged with escaping from lawful custody after failing to show up at court twice.

A charge of rape has been left on the books.

In the years since she first spoke to police, Cathy said she has been left feeling “undermined” and “that no one is listening to her”.

“They have taken my voice off me again. They have taken the rape charge off. I have pleaded with these people to let me have a trial.

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS), Cathy said, were “very good at minimising everything that happens to you”.

She “had no choice” but to accept the rape charge would not go ahead, she said.

Cathy said her experiences had convinced her the system needed to be reviewed.

PPS assistant director Ciaran McQuillan said Cathy had “experienced terrible sexual abuse as a child and we acknowledge her courage in reporting the offences”.

He added: “We accept that this case took too long to reach its conclusion and I regret the impact this clearly had on this victim.”

Mr McQuillan said decisions in Cathy’s case were “taken fully in line with the Code for Prosecutors, which sets out detailed guidance on our duty to consider pleas offered by the defence”.

‘They would have known’

At the time of the abuse, Cathy was living in a Western Health and Social Care Trust (WHSCT) children’s home.

She told BBC Radio Foyle the authorities were aware she was being abused, but failed to act.

“Social workers knew, police knew,” she said.

“They would have known from the first time I got caught with him. When the police came in, I was naked from the waist down.

“He was arrested, by that stage they knew I was being sexually abused by that man.”

In a statement, the trust said it “strives to ensure all children in the care system, are afforded protection, safety, security and stability”.

“When the trust becomes aware of potential abuse, safeguarding processes are in place.”

The Western Trust added that it “is concerned that a former looked-after child is unhappy about the trust’s response to her own experiences”.

Cathy said her mother had been “a brilliant mummy” who lived with post-natal depression and addiction, and who had been a victim of domestic abuse.

“She was just lost in this depression, the drink, everything had taken hold of her. All she needed was help,” she said.

Cathy was placed on a full care order, handing parental responsibility over to the trust.

It was a situation her abuser took advantage of, she said.

“I was in a children’s home, my mother was having really, really bad depression and problems.

“This man was buying me drinks, buying me flowers, treating me like a human being.”

‘Made to feel dirty’

Cathy said as the abuse continued her behaviour began to change.

“I was very innocent, then I went from that to miniskirts belly tops, make up, making myself look older.

“I was argumentative with everyone because I thought he loved me, he is the only one that loves me, and I was completely and utterly brainwashed.”

She said she was “made to feel like the dirty one, the one that was in trouble”.

Twice she was placed in secure accommodation.

She said being placed there meant she “was one of the most at risk children in Northern Ireland”.

“The only reason I was one of the most at risk children in Northern Ireland was because they let this happen to me.

“You can only be in secure accommodation if you are one of the most at risk – there is only 16 beds in the place and I was one of them – twice – because of Christopher Harley.”

Source: Londonderry: Child abuse survivor feels ‘silenced’ by the system – BBC News

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