Anne Hailes: 'Childhood sexual abuse by my brother has made my life a nightmare'
“I STILL wonder why I was constantly picked on. The only person who stuck up for me was my dad. We went to football matches together and I know he cared about me but I don't think he realised what I was going through.”
For Sam (not his real name) life has never been happy. Although he's now over 50 he still suffers the emotional wounds which have been inflicted on him since childhood. This was another miserable Christmas without any family comforts.
He told me how his brother – let's call him Tom – began to sexually abuse him when he was still at primary school.
“I thought it was just something brothers did but the mental torture was when he threatened me with physical hurt if I told anyone so I was scared. He said I'd go to jail because he'd say I'd encouraged it and I believed him.
"He was mum's pride and joy. She idolised him; he could do nothing wrong and she went on and on that there was something wrong with me because I couldn't get good exam marks or make the school football team like he did. I was a bitter disappointment as a son, she said. Where had I come from? I didn't fit in with the rest of the family.
"She said it so often that I began to wonder myself. I had this fantasy that I was the child of a rich and famous woman but the babies got mixed up at birth. It didn't really work.”
He became withdrawn both at school and at home, became solitary and buried himself in games and videos not always suitable for a young boy.
It was brave of Sam to confide in this way but he feels it's important other men know his story.
The emotional bullying continued. His self-esteem sank to an all-time low. He lost weight, became sullen and, he says, just didn't want to interact with anyone including his family. In teenage years the coercion became even more serious. He discovered his elder brother, who was married by this time, was having an affair and the threats became unbearable.
“He began to blacken my name until no-one liked me, even my dad's attitude changed just when I need him most. I was between boy and a man; I'd no-one to talk to and no guidance.
"The only good thing was a special friend I made when I started secondary school. We hung out together but then my brother told my mother I was gay and having a relationship with another boy. She was horrified and she really took it out on me. She never hit me – at least there would have been something to show if she had. She was verbally cruel – and what could I do? It was her word against mine so I didn't say anything. I considered suicide and almost did but something always stopped me.”
When he was 23 Sam got a job in a pizza place and began earning regular money for the first time. He made friends, began to socialise and eventually met a girl.
“She was very pretty and we got on well. We married and had two children, a boy and a girl and for the first time I was happy.”
Sadly it didn't last. It all changed thanks to his brother who couldn't accept Sam's new life: he'd lost his dominance over him and that was a challenge. Tom's insidious way of gaining control again was to start chatting up his brother's wife. He slipped her expensive gifts, made her feel special and, as intended, the inevitable happened: they began an affair.
“He obviously wanted me to know, left clues around, and it wasn't long before a neighbour told me how his car would appear at the house half an hour after I left for work. I confronted [my wife] and she admitted the affair. We tried to get back on track but Dear Mother had her own ideas. She took my wife aside and told her I was gay which wasn't true but I couldn't prove it. When someone begins spreading rumours people think there must be some truth in it and mud sticks.”
Today Sam is facing the new year on his own. His wife left him and took his children with her. She is still in the relationship with Tom and if his own wife suspects anything she hasn't said. Sam believes he's controlling her too.
“Even now I feel scared of him, wondering what's next. I waken up during the night with panic attacks; it's like a nightmare that I can't get out of. I can't sustain friendships because I feel I'm not capable of loving or being loved. I constantly wonder what I've done wrong.
"I'm not looking for sympathy but yes, I have black thoughts. My future is bleak. Maybe I'll take advice and get help but at the moment that's a step too far. I just want to be left alone. I'm sorry, Anne, I know I'm a sad person but that's my life.”
I was shaken by this story. I've written about women but I hadn't stopped to realise men are also vulnerable to these cruel mind games that stop just short of violence.
Coercion is now a crime carrying a maximum of five years in prison, a fine or both. Yet people suffer in silence rather than get into a legal wrangle and expose themselves to their friends.
However, there is hope. Lifeline 0808 808 8000 is a freephone number in Northern Ireland where qualified councillors are at the end of the phone 24/7. You can put yourself in their hands for immediate support in a crisis and they also offer ongoing support.
Lifeline is also available to family and friends for advice. It takes courage to pick up the phone and ask for help but I can assure you it will not be awkward nor a waste of time.