Special report: the agonising disease affecting millions of women each day

Excruciating pain.

Unmanageably heavy periods.

Anger and frustration at not

being heard or helped.

The women who suffer this

torment aren’t statistics.

These are their stories.

These are their lives.

Philippa Blakeley reports.

The agonising disease afflicting millions of women each day
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‘I used to think about killing the man who sexually abused me’

A survivor of child sexual abuse tells Jasmine Gurung about his past ordeal and how he won’t let it affect his future

Picture posed by model

For most children, the idea of going on holiday to America is an exciting one to say the least. Disneyworld. Long, sunny days.

But for Dave*, transatlantic trips with his family felt like a never-ending nightmare.

Dave was just five years old when he was first sexually abused by his grandfather on a summer break in the USA.

“He was only just a bit shorter than I am now,” he says. “But he looked so much bigger back then.”

Facing the laptop screen, Dave introduces himself courteously. When asked about his education, he happily names every school he had attended, with an infectious smile. The crooked school photos behind him tell another story.

“He was an old person. Old people want massages sometimes, right?”

His grandfather was quiet and reserved but Dave distinctly remembers his glaring eyes. “We never had any kind of relationship before, we weren’t close to begin with. I remember he would look at me weirdly and I knew there was something wrong,” he says.

“He was an old person,” he says, hesitantly. “So old people want massages sometimes, right?”

His grandfather lured him upstairs into a small, dingy closet away from other family members. The claustrophobic surroundings made the five-year-old confused and unable to breathe or sit down. Dave suddenly heard the door lock click and realised there was no other exit as his grandfather instructed him to remove his clothes.

“I was told to undress and then I felt hands touching me everywhere. In those moments, you just go blank.”

The abuse continued over the next seven years. “To scare me, he threatened to hurt me and told me I would regret telling anyone,” he says.

“He used to act normal around others, like nothing was happening. That’s just what p***ed me off the most. I would sometimes think about killing him. That’s how bad it got.”

If they guessed what was going on or not, the other grown-ups in Dave’s life did not intervene – but his vulnerability didn’t go unnoticed.

“The whole situation left me so weak, mentally and physically. That’s probably why I was abused by another older male family friend around that time,” he says.

At the age of 12, Dave finally told his parents he wanted to stay at home during the holidays.

But by then it had destroyed his childhood and he kept asking why he was targetted.

It f***ed me up. I was always thinking ‘am I a target?’

“You don’t get taught about sexual assault at five, I couldn’t process what I was going through at that age,” he says.

Out of fear that dark history would repeat itself, Dave found the courage to tell a relative about the assaults. He says: “I told her not to tell the rest of my family about it to help her son. He was five as well.”

“I didn’t tell my mum or siblings because then it would make it real and I would have to face my family every day. It’s best they don’t know.”

By the time he was a teenager, Dave’s personality changed. He had started to lash out. And then a mugging left him shaken. “Ever since then I’ve been a c***. I used to be such a nice and happy kid until then.”

“It f***ed me up because it wasn’t just one but two people. I was always thinking ‘am I a target?’”

Soon after, Dave lost interest in school. More than once, he tried to commit suicide. He says: “I’m so thankful people were there each time to stop me. Who knows where I would be right now if they weren’t?”

He realised the only glimpse of hope he saw in the future was going to university. But although many students find the first year of university exciting, it was not all smooth sailing for Dave.

“Every time I got drunk in my first year, I would think about what happened to me and cry.”

Looking back on his life as an adult, Dave says he’s “grown through” his ordeal. “It doesn’t affect me as much anymore,” he says. “I can finally live how I want.”

But to this day, he still feels uncomfortable with hugs – even from his mum, who sometimes chats about his abusers, little knowing what they did to her own son.

“It’s too close for me – and obviously I know why. But a lot of people can have these repressed feelings if they don’t face their problems. I’ve slowly began to face mine and I’m getting better as I go along.”

*For legal reasons, the name of the victim in this story has been changed.

If you have been affected by issues raised in this story, help is available. Contact the Samaritans for free, at any time, on 116 123. Or email jo@samaritans.org.

Number of positive COVID tests in Leicester on the rise ahead of July 19th Freedom Day

By Adam Dutton

Boris Johnson is set to free England from its Covid restrictions on July 19th, with many labelling the date ‘Freedom Day’.

Restrictions such as the two-meter rule, face masks and track and trace are all set to be removed, with the government now declaring that it is safe to do so.

However, Leicester has seen a sharp rise in positive Covid cases in the last 14 days.

For many, this will be of a great concern as the ease of restrictions leaves people open to the elements.

From the graph above, we can see that in the last 14 days, Covid cases have doubled. Positive cases have jumped from 480 on June 26, to 912 on July 10.

But it is not just Leicester. The whole of the UK has seen a sharp increase in positive cases in the last 14 days.

From June 26 to July 10, UK cases have jumped from 17,943 to 31,800.

Both are sharp increases.

Boris Johnson has said in a Downing Press Conference: “We cannot simply revert instantly from Monday July 19 to life as it was before Covid.”

As ‘Freedom Day’ looms, it is sensible to practice many of the social distancing guidelines, such as mask wearing, when in public spaces.

‘I was left for dead on the streets as a newborn baby. Here’s what happened next’

Abandoned in Delhi when she was only a few hours old, a young Leicester woman tells feature writer Sita Patel her striking story of a ‘new chance at life’ – and of her emotional return to the orphanage where she was adopted

Wrapped in a woollen pink blanket on a sunny yet chilly Sunday afternoon, Carina* sips on her steaming hot chai latte, still tired from the night before.

She has just celebrated her 22nd year on earth. The 22nd year of her life, but also her 22nd year of adoption.

“I always knew I was adopted. My parents never hid that from me. But I never knew the full story,” says Carina. “The full story is what changed me.”

And she heard it on her 20th birthday.

“I had just started my second year at university. I was planning for the summer ahead; I wanted to go and explore the world but make a change whilst doing that. So that is when my parents told me,” she says.

“They told me that I was adopted from an orphanage in India.”

“In India, the birth of a girl is deemed as bad luck,” says Carina “so more often than not the family will abandon their daughter at birth leaving her to die or in my case, being found and taken to an orphanage”.

Carina was only five hours old when a local woman found her in Delhi in 1998.

“Really, I owe that women a lot. She saved me. She gave me another chance by taking me to the orphanage,” she says.

Just a few hours old, as a fragile new-born baby Carina was taken to the Patel Nagar Slum School in Faridabad, New Delhi.

“Obviously, I have no recollection of my time there,” says Carina “I look at it as a pitstop on the journey to becoming who I am. If I were never taken to Patel Nagar, I would have never had the life I live now.”

Within two days Carina was adopted by her parents, Reena and Ricky.

“My parents were already in Delhi, speaking with Patel Nagar about a possible adoption when I arrived. So, it was as if it was meant to be,” says Carina.

Tugging on the pink blanket, with her thoughts elsewhere, Carina begins to imagine what her life may have been like.

“I just kept thinking, what would have happened to me if my parents didn’t adopt me that day. What would my life have become?” she says.

“That’s when I knew I needed answers. That is when I decided to go back to where I was once abandoned and betrayed, and give back to the people that helped me,” Carina says.

In June 2019, Carina set off on what she describes as a “trip of a lifetime”.

“I saved up myself, and started a Go Fund Me page, so I was able to buy things such as books, pencils and feminine products for the girls at the orphanage,” says Carina.

“I never prepared myself for what it would be like. I think you always going to these situations with a little bit of hope, but nothing prepared me for this trip,” she says.

After a days’ worth of travel, cancelled flights and sheer exhaustion, Carina arrived alone at the Patel Nagar Slum School.

“Walking through the gates and seeing it there in front of me felt so surreal. It was overwhelming to say the least, I would be lying if I said I didn’t breakdown,” says Carina.

“It was just hard to imagine that if I had not got adopted the fate of my life would have been the exact same as these girls,” Carina says.

“On my trip, I learnt that the likelihood of a girl getting adopted is unbelievably low. In India no one wants a girl, in their eyes they bring burden and bad luck. So, international adoptions are often common,” Carina explains.

“However, they all want a baby. It’s rare that someone will adopt a six-year-old little girl.”

The golden beam of the sun outside has dimmed, and as the rain patters against the windows, we head inside, where Carina continues with her story.

“Seeing the young and older girls is what really got me. They have so many aspirations and dreams bigger than you can imagine, but they just don’t have the opportunities or resources,” she says.

“Once those girls turn 18, that’s it. It’s them versus the world”.

Carina speaks fondly of a little girl, Aastha.

“I saw so much of myself in her, she too wanted to become a teacher and help girls like her,” Carina explains.

“One night, we were all outside doing an activity. It was chilly, and I had nothing to cover up with. She could tell I was cold, and came over with a pink blanket,” says Carina.

“Here, have this,” is what she said when she handed it to me, I was speechless,” Carina says.

“She had so little, yet all she wanted was to give back. The selflessness and act of kindness is something I’ll never forget,” says Carina, gripping tighter than ever on to the pink blanket.

“I never understood how lucky I was until I saw what my life could have really been like, through Aastha’s eyes,” she says.

“It changed me, for the better,” says Carina, with a glimmer of light returned to her eyes.

Outside, the autumn sun radiates through the windows. The rain has cleared up, and a rainbow has filled the sky.

“The best thing though,” says Carina, showing me the blanket, “the best thing is that it’s the same blanket I was bought there in, the exact same one.”

*The names in this story have been changed.

You’ve got to admire their front! Winners revealed for the 2021 magazine cover prize

A stylish magazine which would shine on the nation’s newsstands is the winner of the 2021 cover prize for Journalism students at De Montfort University, Leicester.

Escape is an elegant health and lifestyle mag with a design to grace any coffee table. The one-off publication, which was created by DMU students Izzi Rix, Matthew Childs and Abbie Wilkinson as part of the final year of their Journalism degree, beat off strong challenges by rival titles to claim the annual award.

The prize was judged this year by Joe Brewin, deputy editor of the biggest football magazine in the world, FourFourTwo, who said he was “genuinely really impressed” with the standard of the magazines on the shortlist.

But it was Escape, with its serene cover image created by up-and-coming young illustrator Liv Phillips, that really caught his eye. He said: “I immediately know what I’m getting with it: the ‘health, style, culture, society’ line leaves you with no doubt about the kind of stories you’re going to be reading about, and they’ve managed to cleverly cram some 14 cover lines on there without it looking cramped.

“Chances are, anyone could pick that up off the shelf and be drawn to at least one story they’d be interested in reading. So it’s functional. But then there’s the newsstand appeal: each one of the mags up for judging did a good job of including a striking image on there (particularly MMXX, which I enjoyed), but I liked the cleanliness of Escape as a full package – it’d definitely stand out in a sea of other titles at Smiths, for example, which is so important.”

Escape editor Izzi said: “I’m delighted Escape won the cover prize! We really thought about every aspect of what makes a great cover and essentially designed what we would love to see on a newsstand. Liv created an illustration that perfectly encapsulates the magazine’s essence and we can’t thank her enough. It’s incredibly rewarding to have our time and effort acknowledged. Thank you!” 

The story on the announcement of the shortlist has become the best-read article in the history of Leicestershire Press. A just-for-fun poll asking readers to vote for their own favourite cover attracted more than 20,000 votes. Rivo magazine, created by Isatou Ndure, Rhys Bailey, Victoria Kingsley and Omar Qavi, was the clear victor there, with Horizon in second place.

Students on both the single- and joint-honours Journalism programme at DMU create magazines and websites as part of their final year studies. DMU Journalism graduates have gone on to work on magazine titles including Mixmag and Clash.

The team behind Escape will share the £200 prize.