September 2000

No child should suffer like I did

A WOMAN who was raped as a youngster is hoping to raise awareness of child abuse by telling her life story at schools and colleges throughout East Lancashire.

Bernadette has turned to writing to help overcome her traumatic childhood, and has written a play telling of the terror of child abuse.

Bernadette, 29, was raped by her father and half-brother from an early age and said she left home at 16 after overdosing and becoming pregnant.

She only plucked up the courage to report her father, John Harness, and half-brother, James Matthews, to the police three years ago. Just over a year ago, Matthews was jailed for four years on two counts of rape while Harness was locked up for eight years after being convicted on five charges of rape.

Bernadette, who has gone back to college to study drama, spoke to the Lancashire Evening Telegraph, saying she was determined her experience would have a positive end.

She is planning to contact schools and colleges in East Lancashire in an attempt to expel the myths of child abuse through the play she has written

She said: “I know what I went through may shock people, but people need shocking so they know how important it is to report things to the police if they suspect a child is being abused.

“I took an overdose at the age of 10 and was pregnant at the age of 13 because I was being raped.

“I grew up believing that I was worthless. Nobody helped me. “It was only after I left home that I plucked up the courage to contact the police. Even then, I struggled to tell them everything that had happened to me.

“I have never been able to talk about it properly, not until now, anyway.

“That shouldn’t be allowed to happen to anyone else and if I can help to stop it, I will do all that I can to make sure I do.”

The plays includes her own experiences of her tormented childhood.

Bernadette, who has two children, has enrolled at Preston College to study drama. “I want to be an actress. For the first time in my life I am doing something I want to do and people are there helping me.”

“I hope to visit colleges and schools in this area to talk to children and teachers about child abuse, explaining that often the kids being abused don’t know what is happening to them is out of the ordinary until it is pointed out to them.

“If a child who is being abused listens to me, they may then understand that what is happening to them is not normal and should not happen.

“They need to find the courage to speak out. And they need people to listen to them. The more people that take that message on board, the more I will feel some good has come out of what has happened to me.”

A spokesman for Lancashire Education Authority said: “We thank Bernadette for her offer and will look seriously at her proposals if they help children.

“It is up to each individual school.”