I was sexually abused as a child, then police used me as bait to catch the predator

A policeman entering a person's home
I just wanted to forget and I felt numb (Picture: Getty Images)

Every day after school, I’d get off the bus and go to the beach.

If the tide was in, I’d swim. Sometimes I’d do homework. Or simply just relax.

I didn’t know I was being watched from a nearby headland. I didn’t know I’d been regularly followed home. I didn’t know my parents’ schedule was being studied.

I don’t know exactly how long this went on for, but it would’ve been weeks – possibly months.

It was the mid-80s and I was in my early teens at the time. I was heavily bullied at school and I was a very isolated kid as a result.

So I would constantly go to the local beach by myself, which I think probably appealed to my abuser. Looking back, everything seemed to happen so quickly.

I’d just enjoyed a swim in the sea and was sitting down on the concrete shelf under the sea wall when a man with a moustache in his late 20s or early 30s came over to me and started chatting. I noticed that he had a tattoo of a little devil on his arm.

He was friendly so I chatted to him. He asked a lot of questions but I don’t remember them all – the thing is, I was a friendly kid and very respectful of adults, but also kind of scared of them. 

He ended up sitting down next to me. After a while, he noticed the red spider mites on my swimming trunks so began picking them off, unprompted. I immediately felt uncomfortable and asked him to stop but he made excuses.

I kept asking if I could go – I think I even tried to get up a few times – because I wanted to go home, but he wouldn’t let me.

I was too scared to scream

That’s when he told me he had been watching me and that he knew he could keep me there as he knew when my parents came home.

Then the sexual assault happened. I don’t want to share the exact details of it, but I felt very trapped. 

I really didn’t know when it would end. But suddenly, a woman appeared, walking her dog on the footpath on top of the sea wall. He stopped to let me put my bathers on, but when she had gone he went back to doing it again.

I wanted her to notice and stop him or say something, but I was too scared to scream.

Hours later, he let me go. This was way later than I had ever stayed at the beach.

He made me promise to come back the next day, to meet him again. I was so scared that he would hurt me or my family if I didn’t, so I said yes to him.

I don’t remember walking home, but I do remember breaking down when my mum asked me if everything was OK. So I told her what happened.

Mum was unusually calm. We didn’t have a phone so she went over to our neighbours to call Dad at work and to call the police.

By the time the police officer came to the house, Dad was home. One thing that really terrified me at the time was that the police officer looked similar to the man – similar build and a moustache that was almost identical.

In front of my parents – which was excruciating – the police officer asked endless questions, but every answer came with another question. More detailed each time, it drilled down into what happened. I just wanted to forget and I felt numb.

Close up of a police office wearing a police vest that reads 'police'
The man began touching me again – but very quickly the police officer appeared (Picture: Getty Images)

There were many aspects of what happened to me and what the man on the beach had said to me that I just could not share at the time. I was really scared that he would come and get me. Us.

The police officer asked me if I would go back with him in plain clothes the next day – essentially, if I was OK being used as bait. A child in my early teens, traumatised, no counselling – I felt I had no way of saying no.

Part of me wanted the police to get him but I was scared. So the next day, I went down to the beach with a police officer wearing a ‘San Francisco’ t-shirt, who hid in some bushes just over the sea wall. 

I sat down back where I had been the day before and then after a while I spotted the man from the day before walking towards me. I remember seeing him coming and wondering why the police officer was not doing anything.

Then the man sat down next to me and said ‘hello’. All I could think was, where was the police officer?

The man began touching me again – but very quickly the police officer appeared. The man ran and the police officer chased after him.

I had not been told what to do at this point, so I waited a few minutes and then decided to walk home. The whole thing felt surreal but it was also very frightening.

For a very long time afterwards, I felt like I was being watched. To make matters worse, I had no idea what was happening with the case and I was not told till after it had concluded what had happened.

With help and support, it does begin to get a bit better

He pleaded guilty to gross indecency and received a two-year suspended sentence. 

One thing that troubled me then and now was not knowing his name. But information about him leaked out a little at a time – mostly from my mum. He was married with kids and he had apparently done this before. I’m not sure if he was previously convicted, I couldn’t find the files. 

I also discovered that my parents decided that they did not want me to go to court. I think they did this for all the right reasons, but never being asked for something so important caused me anguish for a long time.

Perhaps that would have made a difference with getting some sort of closure or perhaps it would have traumatised me further.

I was scared for years that he could find me, and take revenge for talking. Even after I left home at 16, I was nervous and regularly thought I saw him, but it was always just someone who looked like him.

Today – some four decades later – I still can’t deal with being in a room with open or no curtains when it is dark outside. I always feel something terrible is going to happen.

On top of that, I can feel like I am being followed and that someone is about to jump me from behind. It is a horrible irrational fear, but it happens less these days.

The assault has affected relationships – mostly because of sexual dysfunction. 



Need help?

If you’re a male survivor of sexual abuse or assault and you need support, visit the Survivors UK website here, email their helpline via help@survivorsuk.org or chat via SMS: 020 3322 1860

In the years since, I had some counselling but it was not with specially trained people for sexual abuse.

Then I was raped in 2018.

When I reported it to the police, the officer I dealt with later contacted me on Grindr wanting a sexual relationship and stalked me.

That’s when I called Survivors UK for help and they gave me the strength to report him.

Their group work and counselling has helped me more in a short time than all the other counselling I had in my 20s or 30s. And I finally saw a psychosexual counsellor, which has been very helpful.

Meeting other people like me has helped me feel more normal and less broken. All the damaged bits and dysfunction that I felt were my fault, I now know are normal reactions to being a survivor – I found my tribe, with people just like me.

The support that men need is different from the needs of women survivors, and that needs to be understood. 

I want others out there to know that you may feel it’s just you that feels broken and different, with nightmares, secrets and shadows in the past – but you are not alone. And with help and support, it does begin to get a bit better.

I now feel better in my own skin. 

There will always be triggers but I know how to manage most of them. 

I’ve wondered a lot about what happiness is. Maybe for me it is to live in the moment and find joy in my life and those around me.

As told to James Besanvalle

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing James.Besanvalle@metro.co.uk

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