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Downham Market women add voices to anguish over sexual harassment

Last week, a brave Downham woman came forward with her sexual assault story, following the launch of the Everyone’s Invited website by Norfolk’s Chief Constable Simon Bailey.

Mr Bailey, who acts as the National Police Chiefs Council lead over sexual violence, encouraged people to “turn in your sons” if they have been guilty of sexual misconduct at school.

He said: “Many people are keen to protect their son’s reputation, but we are urging people to tell the police if their teenaged son is acting in that way.”

Women speak out on sexual and domestic violence.
Women speak out on sexual and domestic violence.

Now two other women (whose names have been changed for the purpose of this article) have stood up to speak, hoping their stories of historical abuse will help other young women to do the same.

The incidents happened up to 15 years ago.

Sammy, from Hilgay, was just 14 when she was assaulted by a friend’s older brother.

She told the Lynn News: “I knew this man and had met him many times.

“He was 21, and always friendly to us when we came over to see his sister. I was a bit naughty in school and had tried alcohol a few times, so when he asked me if I wanted to have a drink in his room, I said yes.

“He put some adult films on, and I had never seen anything so explicit before, so I was laughing and being silly.

“To be honest I felt uncomfortable and didn’t know how to handle it.

“The next thing I knew he had taken his trousers down and was asking me to touch him, I felt terrified. He kept asking me to do very adult things over and over, to the point where I thought he would pin me down. He made me put his hand on him and I don’t want to describe the rest.”

Sammy cried as she told me this. Despite being 32, the incident still has the power to affect her.

She said: “I snuck out after he fell asleep and couldn’t stop washing my hands. To be honest, the incident itself wasn’t the part that upset me so much, it was what happened after.

“His mum saw me sneaking out of the room and had a shocked expression on her face and she saw that I was crying. Instead of comforting me or asking what was wrong she went back into her bedroom.

“She had phoned my mother the next day and when I got picked up, I was told off for ‘sneaking into a grown man’s room to harass him’. I was so embarrassed I didn’t tell my own mother the truth.

“Soon enough, most of the mothers in my friendship group knew about it and I was treated like a tart. The incident made me feel sick and I had an obsession with washing my hands for two years.

“I have no doubt in my mind that his mother knew the sort of thing that had happened, but was determined to get her word in first and protect her son. Because I was a bit of a devil child at school everyone believed her version and I never told a soul my story.

“I want to say to any other woman, even if you aren’t perfect, at 14 you are still a child.

“Don’t let anyone make you feel like you deserve something like that to happen to you. For many years I couldn’t trust men and I still don’t.

“As far as I know, that man is happily married. Me and his sister fell out over the incident and haven’t spoken since.”

Marian White, 29, from Downham is still “disturbed” by an incident that happened when she was younger.

Ms White said: “Everyone around town knows this man. I want to name and shame him but I’m scared of the consequences.

“When I was 16, I managed to get into a club in Lynn, they were a lot more lax on asking for ID back then and I looked old for my age.

“I saw this man, who was back then in his 20’s and known for being a bit of a sleaze.

“A lot of girls at Downham High where I went had been approached by him. Rumours had spread that he was having a sexual relationship with a 14 year old.

“I avoided him, but once I had drank a few cocktails I found myself chatting to him. He offered to give me a lift home. I couldn’t find my friends and it was getting late. I found myself in his car. Every part of me was screaming no and I still blame myself for getting in the car.

“He then began to touch me and tried to take my knickers off. He had pulled over, and said I could stay with him instead of going home. I realised that the rumours about him were true.

“I allowed him to have sex with me even though I had said no several times, he pressured me so much I just gave in. I felt so cheap and disgusting.

“To make matters worse he bragged to his friends that I had slept with him and because I was over the age of consent and it was a grey area as to whether he had raped me, I let it go.

“Now I realise it was assault and that me saying no the first time should have been enough.”

One of these women went to Downham High School, which is now known as Downham Academy, which is now and the other Wisbech Grammar School. Both schools have been contacted for comment.

So far the Everyone’s Invited website has had over 14,000 testimonies on sexual abuse and over 40,000 in the online community.

The website says: “Rape culture exists when thoughts, behaviours, and attitudes in a society or environment have the effect of normalising and trivialising sexual violence.

“When behaviours like ‘upskirting’ or the non-consensual sharing of intimate photos are normalised this acts as a gateway to criminal acts such as sexual assault and rape.

“Behaviours such as misogyny, slut shaming, victim blaming, and sexual harassment create an environment where sexual violence and abuse can exist and thrive.

“All behaviours, attitudes, thoughts and experiences in this culture are interconnected. To all those that have stood up, thank you for having the courage to tell your story.”

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