Child sex abuse victim: 'I'm still angry, but haven't let him ruin my life'
- Credit: Jess Coppins
A woman subjected to horrific sex abuse when she was just a child has told of how she felt "dismissed" by the justice system — and hopes girls today feel empowered to speak out.
Alyson Barton, now in her 50s, says she was sexually abused between the ages of four and 14, with her abuser facing just a six-month prison sentence following his conviction in 1984.
Ms Barton, who has waived her legal right to anonymity, has managed to live a full life in Norfolk after moving here as a teenager, but the scars of what happened still run deep.
She has decided to open up about her experiences so other victims know they aren't alone.
She said: "I was too scared to report what was happening until I thought I was pregnant at the age of 14.
"At first, nobody believed me, which is what my abuser told me would happen. I just felt dismissed.
"But when I tried again, and they did start to listen, I was made by police to do this horrendous medical scan. The conclusion was just: "She's had sex, we don't know how many times".
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"That meant all they could bring was one count against him. It felt like a real injustice, but at least it was better than nothing.
"The whole thing was so brutal and agonising. My experience with the police messed me up as much as the abuse did."
Ms Barton left her home town and moved to Great Yarmouth when she was 14.
She fell pregnant with her first daughter Melissa at 15, and met her future husband soon after.
She explained that because of the abuse she'd suffered, sex "wasn't a big deal".
"It something that had always been in my life," she said, "so it was normal.
"Originally I'd planned to have an abortion, but on the way there my mum asked me if I wanted to know whether it was a girl or a boy.
"That changed my mind. I decided to keep the baby, and I'm so happy I did."
Because her ex-husband was a member of the Royal Air Force, the couple did a lot of moving around.
But they eventually settled back in Norwich, while he was stationed at RAF Coltishall.
By the time Ms Barton moved into the base's married quarters, she had another three children: Jessica, Chloe and Joshua.
The house was far too cramped to fit them all in, though, and in the winter of 2001 Ms Barton moved in to her current house, in Taverham.
In the two decades since, her beloved village home has stayed the same size, but her family hasn't.
Between 2001 and 2003, Ms Barton gave birth to three more kids: Emily, Jordan and Joseph.
As of 2021, she's got five grandkids to add to the mix.
By now a village matriarch, whose seven children have set down roots all around her, Ms Barton said it was her family that had kept her going all these years.
She said: "My children are my world, and I know they wouldn't be here if none of this happened.
"But I still can't sleep in a dark, quiet room. I need the TV on in the background because otherwise I have night terrors.
"Some days you still get furious at the injustice of it all, but I haven't let him take over my life.
"I would hope these days, something like this would be handled very differently.
"But if, like me, this happened to you in the past, you shouldn't keep it bottled up. You can't heal if you're keeping a secret."
Incidents such as the rape and murder of Sarah Everard have brought attention back to the "epidemic" of violence against women in society.
In Norfolk, chief constable Paul Sanford said the force was determined to improve how it investigates violence against women and girls, including providing extra training for officers and shifting the focus towards perpetrators.