February 2017

‘Daughter gave me courage’ – south Armagh abuse victim

A woman indecently assaulted by her brother from the age of nine has said her three-year-old daughter gave her “the courage” to speak publicly.

Linda Ferguson, 27, was fostered and adopted by a family in Dromintee, South Armagh, when she was 14 months old.

Her adoptive brother, Gavin Paul Ferguson, who is two years older than her, pleaded guilty to the abuse at Newry Crown Court last month.

Ms Ferguson said she waived her right to anonymity because of her daughter.

“I remember looking into her eyes and thinking if anyone ever hurt her I’d protect her with my life,” she said.

“My daughter gave me the courage to go forward. It’s the best thing I ever did.”

She added that it was a very difficult decision, but with the help of her partner and the charity Nexus, which provides counselling and support for survivors of sexual abuse, she was able to “break free”.

“I knew that my face and name would be out there about being this victim or survivor, but it was important for me to speak out so I could move on and to encourage other women and men who’ve been abused,” she said.

“I come from a very small community – it was like a clique – and it was a very difficult decision, but the right decision for other victims.

“The culture in a small area is to keep everything quiet.”

Ms Ferguson eventually told her partner about the abuse when she was 18 years old. She later went to the police after the birth of her daughter.

“I kept it closed in a box, but it wasn’t until the birth that I came forward,” she said.

“I can thank her – some day when she reads the paper or watches this back, it’s because of her.”

The court was told the abuse continued until the victim was about 16 years old.

She said it became the norm and she lived in fear: “I just didn’t have that voice to tell anybody.”

Since Ms Ferguson waived her right to anonymity, she said she has been inundated with messages of support.

“A teacher messaged me – she said I was always this bright bubbly pupil and that she couldn’t believe what had happened to me,” she said.

“I was very good at putting this mask on – you don’t tell anybody.”

“I had a good enough childhood and remember being this wee half Indian baby with big brown eyes. I was put into these competitions – Little Miss Forkhill, Slieve Gullion and I won them all.

The childhood was “short-lived” she said: “Everyone on the outside thought I was this happiest girl, deep down it wasn’t the case at all.”

She said going through the judicial process was the hardest thing she had ever done.

“Having to face the family that was supporting him was very difficult, intimidating and very scary,” she said.

“I walked into the court and said to myself: ‘I’m going to do this, I’m going to stand up there and tell my story and let anybody know I’m not scared of them anymore.'”

Just before she was to take the stand her brother pleaded guilty.

“I was shocked,” said Ms Ferguson. “He finally admitted to it.”

He received a two-year sentence suspended for three years, and was also disqualified from working with young people.

“For me, it wasn’t about a custodial or non custodial [sentence], all I wanted was for him to admit what he did to me,” said Ms Ferguson.

“I lived with the fear that no-one would believe me, that’s the biggest fear.

“The biggest regret is that i never told a friend or a teacher. Once you just say the words, you get the support.”