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