'Birchall Trust is the only reason I’m still alive': Lancashire woman reveals how a charity, supported by Red Nose Day, helped her gain confidence after being raped as a child
Over the past 28 years, The Birchall Trust, has helped thousands of survivors of rape and sexual abuse in the South Cumbria and North Lancashire area. The project has been supported by Comic Relief and as its 2019 Red Nose Day Campaign gathers pace, Kayleigh speaks about her experiences and the support she has been given.
Kayleigh describes feeling guilty and ‘dirty’ so began self-harming and abusing alcohol in a bid to block out the pain.At school, she confided in a friend who betrayed her trust which led to bullying.
She was 14 when she first tried to take her own life, doctors told her parents she wouldn’t survive, she did. She made three more suicide attempts, desperate to make the pain stop.
After years of counselling, at 16, Kayleigh was referred to the Birchall Trust which, using funds raised by Red Nose Day, helps support survivors of rape and sexual abuse in South Cumbria and North Lancashire.
Kayleigh saw a therapist which, she says, ‘changed her life’. She didn’t expect to make it through high school, but she did and now she is determined to give something back by working with other children who have suffered trauma.
She says: “I was raped by my next door neighbour when I was six. He was a family friend. My older sister caught him, told my parents who called the police but he wasn’t prosecuted.“I was too scared to tell the truth because he’d threatened me and told me I’d be taken away from my mum and dad. I think he was given a restraining order but I feel bad he wasn’t punished.“I was only six, I didn’t know what he was doing was wrong. My parents blamed themselves because he was their friend and they trusted him.“I didn’t get any support after, I don’t know why. I hated men, didn’t trust them, didn’t want to be around them. I felt it was my fault so I didn’t talk about it.”
Kayleigh’s ordeal didn’t end there, as she was abused again in her early teens by a boy who was older than her.She recalls: “I was in my early teens and babysitting for a friend’s child when I was abused again. “An older boy she was friends with came over and pushed himself on me, touching me. I asked him to stop but he didn’t.”
After feeling ashamed and dirty, she began self harming as a way to deal with her self-loathing and guilt.She adds: “I was self-harming, cutting every day and hiding it with long sleeves. I was bullied at school because I confided in a friend that I’d been raped and she told everyone. They called me ‘dirty’. I felt dirty and guilty, like it was my fault, I couldn’t trust anyone.“I was 14 when I first attempted suicide. I had a shower, had Sunday lunch with my family then sat in my bedroom cutting myself, but the pain wouldn’t go away so I took a whole box of pills. “I don’t remember much after that but I know that the hospital doctors told my mum and dad to say goodbye to me.”“I tried to take my own life again three times. Everyone was terrified but I just didn’t care, I hurt too much. I had the best family in the world but that just made me feel more guilty.”
Throughout this, Kayleigh was being supported by CAMHS and she was eventually referred to Birchall Trust.She says: “I was 16 when I was referred to Birchall Trust through CAMHS who I’d been involved with since I was 13. At first I didn’t want to go. I’d had so much counselling and none of it had worked but my counsellor, Krys, was different. It felt right and safe, I trusted her. I saw her for two years.“Seeing Krys totally changed my life, she didn’t just listen, she really heard what I said. And she believed in me. I never thought I’d live through high school but there I was, at the prom being voted prom queen by the other kids and teachers. For the first time in a long time I felt beautiful, I felt recognised.
“Birchall Trust had faith in me when I had none in myself.“I was working as a teaching assistant at the special school I used to attend. I’m taking a break from it just now but I’ll definitely go back because Krys made a massive difference to my life and I want to do the same for someone else.
“Birchall Trust is the only reason I’m still alive. I don’t fake smiles anymore, I don’t base how I feel about myself on other people’s opinions. I’ve had a tough life I wouldn’t wish on anyone but I’m happy being who I am and that’s because of Birchall Trust.”
The Birchall Trust supports survivors of rape and sexual abuse in South Cumbria and North Lancashire. They offer one-to-one weekly therapeutic counselling sessions and play/art/sand therapy at four locations. They also offer support and information for families of survivors and run a programme to raise awareness and a further educational programme to prevent future abuse. In 1991, the year they launched, The Birchall Trust received five referrals. Since then they have worked with thousands of children and adult survivors of abuse and their loved ones.
Facts and Stats: One in six children are sexually abused. Up to 7.7 million adults in the UK have suffered sexual abuse as a child, which is 15 per cent of the adult population.The North West raised and donated more than £1.6m for the last Red Nose Day in 2017. This has funded 221 projects and organisations in the North West.
How to support Red Nose Day
People can support Red Nose Day, which takes place on Friday, March 15, by organising workplace bake sales, sponsored challenges and fancy-dress events.This year there are 11 new Red Noses to choose from (on sale in Sainsbury’s at £1.25), which you can bring to life for the first time ever by scanning the QR code on the box. A limited-edition Red Nose Day Tee-hee-hee shirt, designed exclusively by Disney and produced by TK Maxx is available instore, online at www.tkmaxx.com and www.comicrelief.com/shop, from £6.99.Featuring well-loved characters including Mickey Mouse and friends, Winnie the Pooh, Bambi and Dumbo, the t-shirts have been modelled by celebrities including Alan Carr, Jimmy Carr, Lottie Moss, Greg James and Katherine Ryan. Other merchandise include water bottles and tote bags. The money raised from the Red Nose Day campaign and merchandise sales help Comic Relief to continue funding and investing in organisations across the UK and around the world. Visit www.comicrelief.com/rednoseday or follow @ComicRelief on social media to see how you can help.