Donna-Louise from Norfolk was just 14 years old when she was groomed and raped, after being targeted by an older predator in online chat rooms at the turn of the millennium.
Today, after completing counselling with Sue Lambert Trust, and having written a novel based on her experience, she shares her personal story. Her reasons for doing so? To show that there is no shame in speaking out and seeking support if you are a survivor too, and, to encourage everyone to have more open, frank, and direct conversations about sexual consent.
Before reading on, please be aware that the content of this story may be triggering for some.
In the age before social media, it was the norm for teenagers to head online to chatrooms to form new friendships and chat to other young people; talk about interests, problems and find people who would understand what was going on in their world. A virtual place to hang out, talk and meet new people.
But it was there that Donna-Louise Bishop, at 14 years old, was first targeted and groomed by her rapist.
She explains; “I was going into online chatrooms, striking up friendships with other young people and chatting. Like lots of teenagers, I was going through an emotional time. And wanted to find people who would understand me. But I was targeted by a much older man and was persuaded to meet up in real life.
“This was 1999, and there was no talk of internet safety or classroom lessons about how to be safe online, not like there is today. And while my parents were loving, caring people who wanted to keep me safe, we didn’t talk about how to protect yourself online or discuss the issue of sexual consent.
“I was vulnerable and dealing with complex teenager emotions. He prayed on that, and when we met up, he took advantage of the friendship and seriously sexually assaulted me.
“I was raped during one of the first times we met up, and it carried on, multiple times, over several years. I was raped, repeatedly, duped into believing we were living out some sort of warped love story.”
Years later, Donna-Louise reported it to the police, but without enough evidence, the case was dropped by the CPS.
“For me, peace doesn’t come with a conviction. I’ve gained personal peace from being able to shed the guilt that I have carried around with me for years and years, the constant feelings of shame and personal blame for what happened to me. I thought it was all entirely my fault.”
Living with the trauma for over a decade, Donna-Louise started to come to terms with what had happened to her during her time at University, and tried counselling, but at that time, it didn’t work out. When she was 30, she decided to try again and contacted Sue Lambert Trust in Norfolk.
And that was the real turning point.
“The support I had from Sue Lambert Trust was life-changing, it sounds cliché,’ but it was. I thought I was a broken person. The team at Sue Lambert Trust showed me I could start to heal and re-build myself and my life.
“After an assessment, I was given a place on their counselling programme, but was told the wait was 18 months. The charity’s services are in such huge demand, this is not uncommon. And I’ll be honest, it was hard to stomach. But, throughout those 18 months, someone from the charity would call me, out of the blue, to say ‘were thinking of you, you’re still going to get your counselling, the waiting list is coming down and we haven’t forgotten you.’ At times when I doubted whether it was worth the wait, it was so reassuring to hear.
“When my counselling programme was about to start, I was in a totally different place. My marriage had broken down, I’d got divorced, and met someone new. And I was about to start a Masters in writing. Life was going well. I questioned whether I really needed to go through with it, and thought about offering my space to someone else.
“But; I knew I had to deal with my past trauma and I am so glad I did. The counselling was life changing. It’s tough. Really tough. But you come out of it a different person.
“After feeling broken for so long, my wonderful counsellor helped me to understand that while my history couldn’t be erased, and my past wouldn’t vanish, the psychological wounds I’d been left with could be repaired. She was simply amazing. A lovely, kind, patient, and caring person who gave me time and space to feel and express every emotion, I could be angry and sad with her, but equally look to a positive future. No emotion was wrong. I went in thinking I was broken, I came out realising that wasn’t true.
“What people may not understand is how the trauma of rape can have a long-lasting and devastating effect in all areas of your life, and for a long time, it destroyed me as a person. For years, I had constantly questioned and doubted myself, at work, in relationships. My head was whirring with negative talk – ‘you’re not good enough, you’re not capable of anything’. It was draining, feeling constant guilt, picking apart and replaying every conversation I ever had as I continued to, unknowingly, punish myself.
“But the help I received from Sue Lambert Trust changed all that. It released me from spiraling. And I now know what I need to do to regain control. My counsellor taught me how to cope, and that this horrendous thing that had happened to me didn’t dictate my future.
“Pursuing my passion for creative writing has also been a coping mechanism, drawing on my personal experience to write my thesis and novel. I find it so cathartic to write about and understand trauma. Through my writing, I want to break down barriers, change the narrative and get people talking about what being a survivor of rape is actually like.
“When reading about my experience, a former school friend got back in touch to say; We have a huge debt of gratitude to the survivors of sexual abuse, brave enough to speak out. Voice-by-voice you become a chorus, which in turn makes the world safer for our children. And that’s it. That’s what I want to do. To raise our voices up, be heard, shed the stigma that is attached to rape and help more people, particularly teens, understand what is and what absolutely is not okay.
“By speaking out, sharing my story, writing, and having open, frank conversations, I know I can help others. That’s my motivation.
“I’m forever thankful for Sue Lambert Trust’s support, an organisation that is full of love and care. That chapter, where I met my counsellor and started to heal, has become such an important part of my life, and my story.
“But there are so many more people out there, like me, who need to be heard and supported. Sue Lambert Trust does amazing work, but with the charity’s resources stretched, survivors often have to wait for their counselling to begin. Wouldn’t it be amazing if someone, like me, could call them up today, and start their support tomorrow. Wouldn’t that be incredible?
“My message to other survivors is – please don’t put off reaching out for help. I lived with my rape trauma for over a decade. If you’re reading this and have been sexually assaulted, raped or abused, please, reach out and get help. You deserve to feel safe, secure and hopeful for the future.”
“Without Sue Lambert Trust, I’m not sure where I’d be today.”
Donna-Louise Bishop’s book is titled On the Other Side and is currently awaiting representation from an agent or publisher.
“After feeling broken for so long, my wonderful counsellor helped me to understand that while my history couldn’t be erased, and my past wouldn’t vanish, the psychological wounds I’d been left with could be repaired. She was simply amazing."
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