Michelle, a victim of a shocking series of events gave her story to inspire victims of sexual and all forms of abuse to speak up and ask for help. Her only wish is for no one to go through what she has been through and that if even a single person can be helped, “then my story is worth telling”.
“When I was very young my parents separated and my mother got custody. Today, I’d say she wasn’t mentally stable. I went through abuse, there were people who knew and decided to ignore it and the situation deteriorated. It wasn’t a case of this happening then stopping, it just kept getting worse”.
“Certain things, till this day, I’m unable to talk about. My mother used to have strange men over and have sex in front of me. As I grew older, the men she used to sleep with became interested in me. They began to rape me.
“I was only eight years old when it started. My mother knew about it, it wasn’t a secret… She held me down the first time”.
Michelle didn’t have anyone else apart from her mother, nowhere to go. “My mother’s family knew she needed help but might not have known the extent of what was going on”.
When Michelle hit her teens, her mother ran off. “I know she kept on having children, most of whom I haven’t met”. Michelle was still living with her mother when her first sibling was born. “She neglected him, and I never looked at him as a brother, but more as a son. I used to stay up till eleven and twelve and take care of him. I’d come home from school and find the baby alone, crying”.
Michelle was at school one day, and a social worker had come to school. She was called into the headmaster’s office. “I had no clue what was going on… I was scared. They told me my mother didn’t want me anymore. I had to be escorted by the police back home, listening to the police saying ‘you should be ashamed of yourself’… ‘how could you treat your mother like that’. It turns out she told them I was abusing drugs and stole items. I was at home taking care of my brother like she should have been, not doing any of this. My mother had told the police I had social and behavioural problems. Arriving home the police told me I had ten minutes to pack up my things. They yelled at me all the way to Fejda, where I was going to stay. The policeman, upon arrival, asked if I was ok… after having yelled at me through the entire car ride”.
Her mother originally worked as a health care professional, however later stopped and went into prostitution. Michelle is certain that her mother made money off the men who raped her. “She was an addict,” Michelle said. “I’m not quite sure what drugs she took, but she used to inject them”.
“Sometimes I see the men who did things to me in the street, I freeze up, run away, cry and breakdown. My mother was in a very twisted relationship with one particular man. He was one of the men who abused me, the first one to rape me. He thought it was funny. He used to laugh in my face afterwards. They used to inject drugs in front of me”.
I had originally contacted Agenzija Appogg to look into my siblings. I told them my story and they began to look into it.
“A couple of years ago, Agenzija Appogg then got in contact with me and found out that similar things that happened to me were happening to them. I don’t think, or rather hope, that they weren’t being abused, however they were being neglected. Sadly as their sister, I have no legal right to talk to them. I honestly hoped it was just me and that my situation wasn’t happening to the other children. I would have been happy if it was just me. I don’t wish what happened to me on anyone, let alone my siblings”.
Appogg had visited the children at school and they all looked very scared, Michelle said. “It reminded me of what she used to do to me. She used to threaten me, tell me it’s ‘all my fault’ and I’d make things worse. I was scared to speak up. Appogg can’t tell me everything about them, due to confidentiality. I understand and respect this but at the same I can’t do anything… you know?”
“My mom has disappeared now after Appogg began looking into the situation. She took the kids and ran. She’s that type of person, having multiple identity cards and different identities”.
Looking towards the door, her eyes shimmering, legs nervously quivering. She turned back. “I never dealt with what happened to me. It was too painful. Some things I had to go through I’ve never spoke to anyone about. My way of dealing with the situation was saying ok, this happened to me, it’s over, that part of me is dead. In reality this didn’t work. When the situation with my siblings came up… I broke down. All those years of pretending that I was ok and had dealt with it came crashing down. I wasn’t ok… I hadn’t dealt with it. I need to truly accept that it happened and not just put it off”.
“My mother’s family used to try and take care of me. They used to help out with my education, paid for food and clothes, but they used to protect her. When I spoke with them last I asked; ‘do you know what I went through?‘They said yes, but she is our daughter’. I don’t think they knew the extent of what was going on, but I think they suspected. To this day I’m afraid of them”.
She felt she could not report to the police because her past experiences made them seem inaccessible to her, and that even the general public impression is that little action is taken even when reports are made.
“I had one friend, and her family, who I hope know how much they meant to me. They were the people I went to crying, and they provided me the first real concept of what a family should be like. In the home, unfortunately it was different, everyone had different backgrounds and I was bullied. I had social workers and they used to try. But there wasn’t much they could do back then”.
So why would Michelle take the leap and tell the public her story, baring all to a person she has never met, sitting… clearly panicked and in all truthfulness, scared and unsettled. Why put yourself through that. The answer is simple. She wants people going through similar situations to know that they are not alone, that they should speak up and tell someone what is going on. That asking for help is the first step. Telling someone you’ve never met a story as personal as this is no easy task, but it’s the first step.
“What they are going through… they don’t deserve it. Speak up, don’t let pride, shame or fear get in the way. It helps. It does get better. Now we are lucky, we have all these organisations like Victim Support to help. In my time I had told a teacher I had seen my mother having sex and nothing happened. Do that today and the police will be all over the situation. In Malta we have this mentality that it’s shameful. You need to take that first step. I’ve met some amazing people who have helped me get this far”.
“To be able to tell someone… to be able to say it out loud… it helps. I never saw myself as a victim. It’s quite a blow to your pride. With all that I’ve been through to see myself in that way, it’s very hard. Victim Support helped me get through these times, and that I cannot take the blame for what happened. They helped me understand that it is not my fault that she ran away with my siblings. There is nothing I could have done”.
Michelle now accesses counseling services with Victim Support Malta. She feels that as an adult, she finally has control to work on the traumas which have haunted her since childhood. Her aim is to become a well integrated person, who can accept her past and embrace her present.
With thanks to Kevin Schembri Orland, Malta Independent
See full article at www.independent.com.mt