Bravery of paedophile’s daughters in speaking out prompted many other victims to seek help
Calls to a helpline for victims of sexual and domestic violence soared after the daughters of paedophile David Tweed waived their anonymity to go public about their ordeal.
Nexus said there was a spike in calls and online contact after Amanda Brown and her sisters bravely spoke about the abuse they suffered at the hands of the former Ireland rugby international, who died in a motorbike crash in October.
Amanda also spoke about the domestic violence the former DUP and TUV councillor inflicted on their mother.
Helpline operator Frankie Greer said they noticed a large number of men who had been victims of childhood abuse contact the helpline after the sisters went public.
Figures show since the start of lockdown there was a 35% increase in men contacting the helpline with a 38% increase in 17-24-year-olds reaching out for help.
There was also a 26% increase in 51-67-year-olds, a demographic the helpline operators say is often overlooked in the discourse around sexual and domestic violence.
But the biggest increase was in webchat activity — a 507% rise in contact from victims seeking help.
“A lot of it was first-time disclosures,” said Frankie.
“People who had never come forward or told their story before and had seen the bravery of that girl (Amanda) were able to tell their story and felt: ‘Well, this has happened to me maybe I should reach out and get help’.
“We get callers in their 50s and 60s and their abuse will date back to teenage years, and they’ve never spoke about it and have lived with that trauma all their lives and it’s devastating.
“Quite often victims live with shame and guilt because they think it’s their fault, and it’s not their fault. The onus and responsibility always needs to be put back onto the perpetrator.”
“Our callers probably aren’t that worried what politicians are saying,” said Frankie.
“They’re calling for help and they’re calling because they have issues caused by this horrible trauma that they’ve survived.”
Frankie said language about how perpetrators are described and reported on is important as well to change stereotypes around what abusers look like.
“There’s an image of this monster who comes in and does these bad things, but normally it’s a friend, a neighbour, a relative; it’s someone who has built trust or who has groomed victims to get into that position,” she said.
As well as sexual abuse victims, the helpline had an increase in calls linked to domestic abuse which, in line with an increase in calls to the PSNI, was linked to lockdown.
“I had a lot more domestic violence calls throughout lockdown and that’s the knock-on effect from people being trapped in the house with their perpetrator and they were isolated from friends, family and support,” she added.
“They didn’t have that relief of getting to work for a break and there was added stress, and therefore the domestic violence increases. That continued throughout the pandemic because there is a knock-on effect and that does keep increasing.
“We have a webchat feature that allows anonymity and also allows people to, say, take themselves to the bath and do it on their phone or tablet or iPad.
“Unfortunately, that’s just the reality of some people’s lives.
“Many victims will tell us that the coercion aspect of the abuse can be worse than the physical abuse.
“And I know that might be shocking to hear, but many victims say once someone has hit them, then that’s it, the abuse is over and they go back into that honeymoon period of the apologies and that sort of thing. But coercive control is all the time and there’s that constant fear of: ‘Is this going to start again?’.
“We will get an increase coming up to Christmas as well because everyone is off work and in the house with their perpetrator and it can be a very lonely time for families. There’s a postcard image of families sitting around the Christmas tree, but for many people Christmas is a time of coercion and punishment and violence.
“Alcohol is a big factor, and the financial stress at this time of year as well.”
Nexus’ helpline is staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and is free. It also provides information to voluntary groups and statutory agencies that deal with people experiencing domestic or sexual abuse.
If you are a victim of abuse or worried about a victim contact the helpline or email or webchat on firstname.lastname@example.org or www.dsahelpline.org, or call 0808 802 1414.