I trusted Paul, but when he betrayed me I was too scared to speak out. Then a decade later, a friend suggestion on Facebook brought my past flooding back…
By Amy Ord, 25, from Sunderland
Waving to my mates at the school gate on a Friday afternoon, a pang of regret ebbed away in my brain.
“See you Monday,” I called.
“Can’t you come out this weekend? Please!” my friend Shannon* begged.
“You know I can’t, sorry,” I sulked.
I wanted to, badly. But my weekends were always different to my friends’.
They’d hang out down the park or round each other’s houses, but in my world between Friday and Monday it was like my school pals didn’t exist.
Ever since my mum had joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses when I was eight, I wasn’t supposed to have friends outside the church.
I didn’t know what would happen if I did, I didn’t dare try it.
So instead, every weekend I’d be dragged along to church meetings down at the local hall in South Shields.
The only good thing was the other young people who went to the meetings too. A group of us had become close over the years.
Paul was one of the first people I had met when my mum joined the church.
Despite the fact he was seven years older than me, he was always friendly towards me. And as I got older, we’d found we actually had things in common.
Paul would often take me out for a drive in his little silver Renault Clio. As we cruised around the streets, laughing and joking, it was one of the few times I felt like a normal teen.
Then, one day in 2005, Paul suggested a drive in my school lunch hour.
I was 15 by now, and we were given the freedom to leave the school grounds for our dinner.
So at around midday he picked me up from the gates.
“Having a good day?” he asked with a grin, leaning across to open the passenger side door for me.
“Not really, I’ve been looking forward to a break,” I answered as I buckled my belt.
Paul started the engine again and we started weaving our way around the streets of our local area.
Then, only around five minutes into our drive, Paul pulled up outside a little terraced house in a quiet cul-de-sac.
“What are we doing here?” I asked, confused.
“We just need to pop in for a minute, come on,” he replied.
I jumped out the car to follow him inside, still wondering why we were there.
“In here,” he said, beckoning me into a small room downstairs.
“This a bit mysterious,” I joked.
But the smile fell from my face as Paul closed the door behind us, and dragged a small sofa across the only way out.
My heart was pounding as he took strides across the room towards me.
I was trapped.
“I’ve liked you since the first day I saw you,” he confessed.
“What do you mean? I thought we were friends,” I uttered in shock.
I was only eight when we met, and he was 15! I thought.
Then he leant in towards me and started kissing my neck.
“Leave me alone,” I cried pushing him away.
“Don’t worry, it’s ok,” he murmured, gripping me by the shoulders.
I froze with fear as he traced his hand up my leg, and reached beneath my school shirt.
Then he started tugging at my trousers.
Despite being 15 I was really naive about sexual activity, as sex before marriage is forbidden in the church.
Paul didn’t let that rule stop him though. For the next 20 minutes he had his way with me.
It wasn’t what I wanted, but I had no-where to run to.
Eventually I managed to muster up the courage to beg him again to get off me. Finally he stepped back.
“Don’t you dare tell anyone about this,” he hissed, as I scrambled to straighten up my school uniform.
We drove back to school in silence.
“Remember, don’t say a word,” he repeated as I got out the car at the school gates.
I rushed straight to the toilets, sobbing.
I was a virgin, and Paul’s sick attack had left me bleeding.
But, too scared to tell anyone, I stuffed my knickers with loo paper and went to my afternoon lesson.
For the next few months, I tried to forget the attack. I avoided Paul at church, and we never really talked again.
It was the final straw for me though – I knew I needed to leave that life behind.
So, soon I left the Jehovah’s Witnesses and moved in with my aunt instead.
I was hoping I could finally move on.
Paul wouldn’t let me though. Despite his threat that I should keep his secret, he started bragging to his friends that we’d hooked up.
It couldn’t be further from the truth, but when that rumour got back to the church elders the reaction was serious.
Paul was called in for an investigation and was eventually de-fellowshipped, meaning he was thrown out of the church and shunned by other members.
Still no-one called the police though. Paul had effectively got away with it.
For the next few years I struggled. The attack left me with depression and sleeping problems, and I turned to self-harm as a release.
I couldn’t hold down a job or start a proper relationship. I felt like I was damaged goods.
Then, two years ago, I was on Facebook one afternoon when Paul’s face popped up in the ‘People you may know’ box.
Like I’d ever be his ‘friend’, I thought.
But as the horrible memories came flooding back yet again, I decided it was time to get closure.
I clicked on his profile, feeling sick at his grinning picture. He seemed so happy, yet some days I could barely raise a smile.
Then, before I had time to talk myself out of it, I started typing a message to him.
I want to know why you did what you did, and I want an apology, I wrote.
I didn’t know if he’d ever reply, but I felt instantly better for confronting him.
Then, later that afternoon the phone rang.
“It’s the police,” the voice on the other end said. “We need to come to see you,”
“Is this about Paul Atkin?” I asked. Maybe he’s confessed.
Not long later two female police officers turned up on the doorstep.
“Paul’s reported that you’ve been harassing him, so we’re investigating,” they explained.
But he ruined my life!
For the first time, the full story of what he’d put me through came tumbling out.
Both officers were so sympathetic.
“We’ll need you to make a proper statement for us, then we’ll do the rest,” they promised.
That’s when I realised I didn’t have to suffer in silence anymore.
Paul Atkin, 32, was arrested and, on February 2nd 2015 he was jailed for five years at Newcastle Crown Court after admitting sexual activity with a child.
I’m so relieved he’s now in jail. I think he gots the sentence he deserves.
I waited a decade for justice, but now I’m finally free.
As told to Helen O’Brien Google