Laurie Matthews is an internationally recognized campaigner against violence. She has founded multiple charities and won many awards for her works in support of young people and adults who have been and are being abused. This book is a biography that tells her life and trauma as a four-year old who was groomed and sexually abused by her paternal uncle until she ran away at 14. She later went back to her home to be a beacon of hope to those exploited like her young self.
Laurie’s story begins in the 1950s Dundee in the home of a working class family. At the age of 3, most of Laurie’s knowledge of herself comprised mostly of being a horrid, ugly and fat child, as told constantly by her mother. With a mother that seemed incapable of loving her, and a grandmother that resented her for being healthy while her older brother Georgie spent his days hospitalized, she spent most of her days playing in the gutters, watching people, or daydreaming about happy endings. She would watch as the other children got hugs and kisses from their mothers, a cuddle after a fight or spat, nothing like her mother’s near jaw breaking disciplining. She lived most of her life within her own mind, avoiding people who would probably hate her for the the horrid child she was so often told to be.
Times were different then, when most people went to bed hungry, and parents throttled their children in public without anyone batting an eye. Children were expected to respect their elders, no matter what the adults did or said to them. Children were expected to help out with the chores and do their own sewing when their clothes tore, almost as soon as they’re able to walk.
When Granny one day gave Laurie a pram more fit for the dumps than a dolly, she filled it to the brim with all forms of mud and muck she could find. Her grandmother’s hatred of her gave her reason to hate her back. She was constantly beaten and yelled at by her grandmother and mother, who often complained to friends, family and shopkeepers how troublesome of a child she was. The family were quick to label her the problem child, never questioning what a 3 year old could do to warrant such a harsh title by her own mother.
Laurie was so unloved and starved for affection, that when she turned 4 and finally met Uncle Andrew, who loved her, she latched on with all her might, for here was someone who didn’t see her as a dirty, fat, ugly child who was incapable of being loved. He gave her gifts, sweets, he spoke lovingly to her, he was all she needed in her life.
Uncle Andrew was seen as the golden boy amongst the family, for he was handsome and worked in the army. He was known to love children. He would constantly search the room for her, give her a smile, a wink, a grin, anything. He acknowledged her. And she thrived on that. But he knew what he was doing.
He visited often, and offered to babysit Laurie whenever he could. He would initiate play with her. When he played horsie with her, his hands were all over her whenever she got on or off. Even when she sat in his lap and they talked he would be stroking her. He was grooming her. When there were people around, they played the same games, without the sexual context.
One day he took it further and hurt her, but he apologized, and bought her plenty more gifts. In her young mind, she thought it was a good thing because he gave her many gifts in return. No one had ever apologized after hurting her.
A first sleepover at the age of 6 reinforced her view that this form of abuse was normal as her friend was sexually abused throughout the night by her own family. Laurie never went back to that house.
The abuse escalated as Andrew would bring a friend to have private sessions and at one time taking her to a party where multiple men took turns taking pictures of her in various states of undress, and acted out various forms of abuse. They had a system, and it was meticulous. She did not like the strangers touching her but complied due to her fear of angering Andrew and making him leave her. He had total control of her and for the next few years sent her through a horrific journey of degradation and perversity.
Laurie’s book is a like a can of worms. It drags out the depravity and cruelty of humans that put young boys and girls through terrible and horrific experiences. When Andrew loans her out to a group of ritual abusers, she’s exposed to even more horrors. Forced to eat her own maggot covered vomit, undergo blood sacrifices, she and other children like her endured psychological, emotional, physical and sexual abuse for the fantasies of masked men and women.
When her mother gave birth to another baby girl, she saw the shift of attention in Andrew, and hated the idea of him loving her sister. Laurie began to hate her sister but she was still clinging onto her uncle, even if she felt disgust whenever he climbed into bed with her. He was all she had that got her through the abuse she endured elsewhere. But she soon began to fear for her sister, horrified by what he would and will do to her, and she began to do whatever she could think of to keep his eyes off her baby sister.
Her book explains a lot on how abusers pick out victims, why victims often stay silent, how society often allows extreme cases of abuse to go on undetected or ignored. Abusers know to find the lost, the lonely, the troubled or difficult and they imprint on them, as these victims often have nothing and will cling to anything or anyone that might provide some form of security, no matter the cost. Society’s lack of knowledge and willingness to speak out on issues like this are what gives these men and women the ability to act out these organised crimes for so many years.
Pedophilia is not something new. And harrowing cases like Laurie’s go unnoticed in broad daylight. I would like to believe that we are more careful and alert to signs of abuse today, but we also need some clear cut guidelines on how to detect the subtle actions and behaviours of possible abusers. However, it is a thin line that we are treading because we also cannot allow it to become a witch hunt.
The psychological, emotional and sometimes physical trauma takes years to heal or sometimes never will. Laurie Matthews is one of the luckier ones.
Written by Kimberly Sarah Mathew