‘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.

‘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.

They mean business: the entrepreneurs who took the plunge in the pandemic and are on the up in lockdown

Four Gen Z go-getters tell Philippa Blakeley about using their creative flair and finding their enterprising spirit in the age of Covid-19

Skiin, started by Saffron Spence and her twin sister

We might have been living through a pandemic, but another contagion raged at the same time, one which was much more fun, relaxing and often rather tasty. Let me remind you of the banana bread obsession we witnessed during the first lockdown. This was possible for the vast majority of us because we had much more time on our hands.

But for many that spare time came at a big cost, through being furloughed or even made unemployed, and it meant many were left needing a second job to help maintain the income they had prior to the pandemic. The non-essential retail industry is one which took a real hit, but for lots of start-up businesses into this industry, they were not deterred.

That doesn’t mean it was easy, the Federation of Small Businesses is predicting the loss of around 250,000 small businesses as a result.

We spoke to four women, who made the most of the opportunities the pandemic presented, by starting their own small businesses – discussing the importance of the virtual world for their businesses, tackling lockdown restrictions, and the benefits of shopping small and sustainable.

Bridie Heath, 22, London

Charity might start at home, but for Bridie that was her work life. When her workplace – a charity shop – was forced to close and Bridie was sent home, like the rest of us, she needed to find new ways to keep herself busy. This was when she took up crocheting in the first lockdown.

Bridie’s first lockdown was already full of creativity, even before she found her love for making earrings and coasters from polymer clay. But as lockdown went on, and it felt as though normality was getting further and further away, Bridie saw this as her opportunity to make a fundamental change to her life.

Initially, doing crocheting was something Bridie enjoyed because it meant she could physically make something for herself and wear it, especially with the environmental benefits this has. She even found the idea of being able to make her whole wardrobe from scratch an exciting prospect. “I started with crochet and making something by myself and being able to wear it was really nice. I think sustainability in fashion is so important, to wear all my own clothes would be fantastic,” she says.

Just before the second lockdown, in October, Bridie began creating earring designs and coasters from polymer clay. “I never really wore earrings that much until I started making my own earrings and I loved the freedom of working with the polymer clay,” she says. This hobby has now become her job, after she started her business bgroovydesigns, alongside her part-time job at a charity shop. To begin with it was something she was very worried about, and took a while to decide over. But with limited work opportunities due to the pandemic, she decided to take the plunge.

“I had seen other people do it and I thought if they can do it, why not I,

“I was really nervous because I’m not a big self-believer but now just to hear that people like my stuff is so rewarding,” she says.

Bridie has also now found a new love for wearing her earrings, which are inspired by 70s fashion, combined with experimental patterns and bold designs. “I love wearing them out, I feel so confident and when people ask me about them, it’s so nice to say they’re mine and it’s free advertising,” she says jokingly.

As we move out of the pandemic and back into more normality, Bridie has aspirations to continue growing the business as it is something she has really enjoyed, and due to the benefits it has brought to her mental health. “In an ideal world, I would love to do it full time, but I do realise that is very rare to be able to do. Currently, it is sustainable for me to do three days a week and I’m very much a realist and know that it’ll be difficult,” she says.

Not only have small businesses in the creative industry emerged during the pandemic, with people having much more time on their hands, but there has also been a surge in the number of people shopping at local, independent shops.

“I’m so against Amazon, I always think support the ‘little man’,

“I don’t know if it’s because I’m now doing this, but I feel like this year people have really focused more on shopping local and have really pushed for it,” says Bridie.

Bridie was overwhelmed by the amount of support she has recieved, despite only officially launching her shop during the second lockdown.

All of us in 2020 saw the importance of social media for everyone, with staying connected, but also for the many people who started their own small businesses during the pandemic, social media has become essential for promoting their products.

“Without social media this wouldn’t be able to happen at all. Instagram is my holy grail for this sort of thing,

“People have just received the first batch of earrings and seeing that is so rewarding, it is my driving force to continue,” says Bridie.

Sophie Nancy, 21, Leeds

The one thing that had always stopped Sophie Nancy? People’s opinions. But that was longer a problem when lockdown hit. Yes, she had the heartbreak of no last day of university, no graduation, no just ‘being a student’ for one last time. But that was no excuse for Sophie, who chose to make the most of lockdown by starting her own business.

She was already able to sew and would often sew for her friends and housemates, but then they began asking her if they could buy her clothes. This gave her the inspiration to start selling her clothes on her Depop, @sophienancy.

“I felt I had been given a huge gift of time, and it was something I had always wanted to start,

“I knew there was interest through my friends,” she says. “Even now it is something I do for the pure enjoyment; I’m not making loads of money from it.”

Sophie’s love for fashion was enhanced during her second year at university when she interned at London Fashion Week and did a short course in fashion at Central Saint Martins, London. It was during this time which inspired her style both for the clothes she wears herself and also the clothes she makes for her shop.

“I saw whacky, sustainable fashion, ripping up the rule book which I like to do but also I think what would I want to wear, what do I think is cool, it’s an intuition thing almost, doing what I want,” she says.

Since the first lockdown, Sophie has continued making clothes for her shop, participating in a pop-up shop on Brick Lane and joining ASOS marketplace, while also starting her Masters in September. “I’ve been running the shop alongside my Masters,” she says. “I took it all in my stride until I stopped for the holidays and now, I just sleep.”

Once Sophie graduates from her Masters, she wants to focus more on further developing and growing her business. “I’m going to apply for jobs but also work on my business full time. I want more regular releases and more structure, as well as a more long-term plan,” she says.

Sophie has also benefitted from the increased numbers of people shopping small this year, and the increased importance which has been put on reducing fast fashion. As with many other small business owners this is something which she feels is essential, particularly since starting her own.

“People need to support the next generation, it’s more sustainable and we’re more aware of the problems in the industry because we’ve been outside it before,” says Sophie. “Also, our things are completely original.”

Sophie even believes lockdown has benefitted her in terms of the clothes she has created because of the greater freedom for designing what she likes, rather than having to take on board other people’s opinions. “It’s been good not being influenced by people’s opinions because everyone has been stuck at home,” she says.

Jess Fisher, 20, Portsmouth

At home, recovering from an operation which left Jess Fisher pretty much bedbound in 2019, was the start of her creative passion. She was suffering from the isolation many of us would experience in 2020 and realised the benefits of getting creative. It was because of this that she set up her business ‘threadbabe’, creating embroidery wall hangings.

So, when lockdown arrived it was the perfect opportunity for Jess to spread her passion to many other people who were feeling lonely and miserable.

“I worked in a call centre and the girl sat next to me said she had been doing embroidery, she was always telling me about it, so I started following a few embroidery accounts on Instagram,” says Jess. “Then when I had my operation and had eight weeks off work, I started, just to prove to myself that I could make these things, but I didn’t realise then that I could sell them.”

As often happens, Jess’ friends started asking if they could buy her things, which was what inspired her to start her own Etsy shop and an Instagram page to promote her business. As with many other small businesses, social media and the virtual world is something which has really benefitted Jess.

Then during lockdown, her boyfriend’s mum asked Jess to provide her with a pattern and all the different things she would need to create her own wall hanging – this was where the idea for the subscription boxes was created.

“With the pandemic and people losing their jobs or being on furlough it meant they have more time, so it was good for me getting my work out there and that meant I was helping many other people,” she says.

With the subscription boxes, everything needed to create the wall hanging is sent out, enabling people to physically get creative. This is something Jess has often used as a coping mechanism when life gets tough, and the pandemic has definitely been that for many people.

“Before I started embroidery, I would just sit scrolling through my phone and I know that’s not good but now I do embroidery and just have that time for myself,” she says. “I think that is something really important, even in the pandemic life is so busy.”

After the pandemic, Jess has aspirations of continuing to expand her business – her aims being to move from working full time to working part time in a job and part time on her business.

For Jess, the increase in people shopping independent is something she is thrilled about. Having a small business within the industry means it is something she sees the benefits of. “By shopping small, you are directly supporting someone’s passion, that is their dream you are supporting,” she says. “If you can afford it, why put your money into something big when they don’t need your custom the same.”

Saffron Spence, 22, Sheffield

The bond identical twins have tends to be like unlike any other relationship. They were in the womb together and they go through life together. For Saffron and Amber they also got coronavirus together.

It was while they were isolating separately but at the same time, they decided to start their own business, Skiin Cosmetics. “Amber facetimed me and said she had this idea, and with both of us being at home for two weeks it seemed to make sense,” says Saffron.

Amber is very keen on makeup, even working as a makeup artist alongside her degree, and as black women, making inclusive makeup was something they both felt very passionate about.

“Amber has always wanted her own makeup brand, so she designs all the products and I do all the other things like the website and marketing,” says Saffron.  “We didn’t really know where to start and obviously in lockdown, it was a bit of a nightmare, but we had those two weeks and the idea so we felt we just had to run with it.”

Unlike the other small businesses, for Saffron and Amber, they were starting a business in an industry where demand was decreasing. With lockdown, people were no longer leaving the house meaning for many women, makeup use also decreased.

As we come out of lockdown, Saffron believes this will help to further boost their business. “We are still selling products but it would be better if we weren’t in lockdown, but you’ve just got to take it,” she says.

Saffron is hoping that when the pandemic starts improving and because of the inclusive nature of their business, that 2021 can be a big year of growth for their company. “One of our goals is to get on ‘Beauty Bay’ or another more well-known site, as well as bringing out a line of blushers and highlighters and a range of foundation by the end of 2021 too.”

‘I’m breastless, kidless and in the menopause at 36’

Lottie Rennie tells Philippa Blakeley about the trauma of being diagnosed with cancer – and her long journey to recovery.

Lottie Rennie and her husband, Tim, sat on the sofa in a dreary, sun-starved side room at the hospital – no windows, plain walls, nothing.

The only thing to look at was the empty box of tissues which sat on the table.

For Lottie, this was only the start of her long and often isolating journey navigating the foreign world of being a cancer patient.

Four weeks earlier in September 2017, Lottie had been going about her life as a 33-year-old, nothing out of the ordinary.

It was a Sunday when she first felt a shooting pain in her left breast. After feeling around, felt what everyone dreads.  A lump.  

After going to the doctors, Lottie was sent for core biopsies in both the right and left breast.

“This was first part which affected me the most, I wasn’t expecting it at all. Because I went to a private hospital, they were done there and then,

“My husband, Tim, said that after I just didn’t speak the rest of the day,” said Lottie.

Throughout her whole journey, she did all the procedural appointments on her own.

“I don’t know why I did them alone, I felt impulsed too, I think for protection really,” said Lottie.

At this first appointment, she was sat in the waiting room with another lady who said “you won’t have it, you’re too young.”

But cancer does not discriminate. Not on age, nor anything else for that matter.

Lottie was to find this out for herself when on Friday, October 13, she got told she had a two-centimetre tumour in her left breast.

However, she was told by the consultant it would likely be a small surgery and most likely she would just need chemo tablets.

An MRI scan later and she was sent to a breast cancer clinic. “The nurse took us into the side room, there was just a sofa, just an empty box of tissues and a sofa. Sat in that room made us feel like it was bad news. We’d already decided it was Stage 4,

“That when I was told the tumour was actually 8.7cm. That evening I felt like I’d been given a death sentence,” said Lottie, from Leicestershire.

After doing lots of research, she discovered tumours from lobular cancer can often be very large which meant while 8.7cm was bigger than expected, it wasn’t necessarily the “death sentence” she initially thought.

It was at this point Lottie was told she would need six months of chemotherapy and could possibly lose her hair.

Rather than taking the risk of losing her hair further down the line, she got on the front foot and had it shaved off.

“I wanted to take control. I enjoyed trying different wigs and hair colours. My hair did continue to grow throughout, but I never regretted shaving it off,” she said.

Then came the day, December 5, 2017, the first day of chemotherapy.

“The first two rounds, I was really emotional. I was always the youngest in the room and people would be staring. They were probably thinking who had it out of me and my husband,” said Lottie.

Three months in and Lottie, went for a mid-chemo scan. Despite the oncologist being adamant the lump wouldn’t shrink; Lottie was convinced it felt different.

Results day came. The oncologist was almost crying. “It had shrunk, she didn’t know why, she didn’t know how,” said Lottie.

After a further three months of chemo, discussions then started about the next steps. The discovery of Lottie having the BRCA2 gene meant that she was much more susceptible to the cancer returning.

She was given various options, a wide local excision, a single mastectomy or a double mastectomy.

“I remember as clear as day, I just said to the oncologist ‘you’re taking them both off, both off at the same time’,” said Lottie.

On June 14, 2018, Lottie had both her breasts removed.

She then began a three-week course of radiotherapy, which went fairly smoothly.

For the first four to five months post-surgery, Lottie wouldn’t look or touch her scars and her husband, Tim, did all the aftercare.

“I was happy with my decision, I found it easy because I am very much all or nothing,

“If I’d just had the wide local excision, I would have always been questioning if it was gone, I couldn’t have lived with not having it done,” she said.

Her team at the hospital knew this, so one time they were draining her wounds, they said it had started bleeding and asked her to put her hand over it.

From that point onwards, she gradually began touching them more and more.

Then in February 2019, Lottie decided to have a full hysterectomy due to the risks of having the BRCA2 gene.

“So now I’m breastless, kid-less and in the menopause at 36,” she said.

As time went on, Lottie realised she had less control over her emotions than she initially thought.

“We call them Lottie meltdowns

“I have this overwhelming feeling of hurt. People presume I’ve got a family, now people wouldn’t even know I’d been ill,” she said.

Lottie’s problems all came to a head last June.

“I had a really bad one, I smashed something and gashed my arm. I needed six stitches, I had flesh hanging out,

“It made me realise, even though I felt suicidal, I didn’t actually want to die,” said Lottie.

Since this, Lottie has made a conscious effort to turn her life around by going to the gym and continuing her cold-water swimming, something which she had loved doing prior to her cancer journey.

“It made me realise it’s not all about the breasts, but I’ve got an ass too,” said Lottie.

In the last three years since her diagnosis, Lottie has even swum in the Arctic circle – something which most of us could only ever dream of doing.

“There is more to me than cancer and being breastless,” said Lottie, her strength shining through.