A Wigan mum is urging victims of sexual abuse to speak out after she bravely gave evidence which saw her tormentor locked up after 40 years.
Debbie Pennington, 53, has waived her legal right to anonymity to give an interview to Wigan Today in an attempt to help others suffering from the devastating effects of child sexual abuse.
The mum-of-two from Ashton gave evidence against her own uncle, Ronald Peters, 73, who was last week jailed for two counts of sexual assault by penetration against her when she was just 13 years old.
For four decades Debbie has suffered from severe mental health issues which have impacted on every part of her life including her relationships with other people.
After leaving education early and missing her O-level exams due to anxiety and depression, Debbie continued with her life burdened with the secret of what her uncle had done, until September 2016 when she finally spoke out.
“It’s disgusting how you are made to feel,” said the former sales representative. “But this is how it was years ago.
“No one would come forward.
“It was a chauvinistic time. Back then, a lot of people treated young girls like they were asking for it.
“In court the barrister asked me why I continued to go round to my uncle’s house after the assault - like it was my fault.
“But people don’t understand what an abuse victim goes through: that they feel it has to be kept secret to protect other people.
“He was a member of my family.
“I had to keep it a secret and carry on as normal because otherwise people would know there was something wrong and I didn’t want to cause any trouble.
“On the inside it was tearing me apart.”
Debbie suffered from years of torment, during which time she said Peters subjected her to a campaign of emotional abuse.
She recalled how her uncle continued to harass her for years after the sexual assaults, making her feel like a prisoner in her own home.
“I do find that the mental abuse was the hardest to cope with,” she said. “It was always very sexual and made me feel so dirty. It continued while I was married. When I had had my first son and was home a lot he would call up and tell me he knew my husband was out and that I was home alone.
“I just thought there was no escape from it and that I would never be rid of him.
“It’s so hard to explain but it was like living two lives. I was married and had a baby who was three at the time but it felt like I was leading this secret life, like having an affair with a paedophile because I couldn’t tell my husband.”
The terrified new mum became so frightened that she eventually told her dad she was being harassed by his own brother-in-law, but she never revealed the full extent of the abuse.
“My dad told him to leave me alone, he warned him off,” she said. “That’s when it finally all stopped.”
In September 2016, Debbie found the strength to come forward to police when she heard that he was being charged with other offences dating back to 1983 to 1988 and 2012 to 2016 respectively.
She added: “I always wondered if he would feel guilty for what he had done to me. Then when I found this out I was sick to my stomach, it felt to me like he had no remorse at all.
“I knew I had to say something.
“It’s an awful experience but he had already taken hold of my life and affected everything. I have had to take so much time off work because of the stress, luckily my employers have been really supportive and kept the job open for me.
“I have spent years undergoing counselling for the damage he did to me psychologically.
“But I would tell anybody reading this who has been through sexual abuse - you will have long-lasting mental problems until you do something about it.
“It will never go away. They will end up winning.
“Going through the justice system for the past two years has turned my life upside down, and my family’s lives but at the end of the day you are doing what’s right.
“My family have been so supportive throughout all of this and that has got me through.”
In a sentencing hearing held at Bolton Crown Courtlast week, Peters - who was found guilty of two sexual assaults against Debbie and not guilty of three against two other victims, was sent to prison for 18 months. The jury was unable to come to a decision on the remaining six charges.
Judge Richard Gioserano, who sentenced Peters and said his offences fell into the “worst category” told him that had he committed the crimes today he would have been facing a prison term of up to 10 years.
“She has suffered in silence and you have kept it hidden from your own family,” he said. “You must have thought you had got away with it.
“She has had to live with it for 40 years and you have evaded justice for 40 years.
“I am restricted by the sentencing laws that are available to this court because the crimes were committed in the 1970s.
“If I was sentencing you now the starting point would be five years.
“She (Debbie) still suffers now. There is no remorse, just lies to keep your family and avoid what you have done.”
Peters, of Petticoat Lane, Ince, will serve half of his sentence in prison and half out on licence.