Author of “Beaten but Unbowed” waking from the nightmare of abuse.
By Karen Braysher
About the Author
Karen Braysher lives in Sussex and runs a successful hairdressing business. The process of writing (with the help of a ghostwriter due to Karen’s dyslexia) her life story had a much bigger impact than she ever thought possible. For the first time, Karen read the official documents (school, social care, council, medical) detailing the extreme violence she suffered at home, proving what her mother and two elder siblings continue to deny to this day., and which Karen herself had questioned. Sharing her life story is a brave move, but it’s also cathartic; an outpouring of a life tarnished by confusion regarding her sexuality, bipolar and dyslexia, which were undiagnosed until well into her adulthood, combined with a botched education, extremely physical and emotional abuse by her parents, abortions and suicide attempts. Yet, Karen is still standing strong, and more aware now than ever before about who she is and where she has come from. Her story offers captivating insight into life in the 1970s and 1980s when thalidomide babies were hidden away in care centres, when there was little awareness of mental health and a lack of understanding and regulation regarding childhood abuse, to the challenges facing women, victims of child abuse and people with mental illness today. This is a story for survivors.
Sunday, August 28, 1977, Summer Bank Holiday
My friend Tracy who had been staying over for the long weekend and I had been out all day with others playing Stool-ball in a nearby village, we had been listening to the radio as Elvis songs such as Way Down were dominating the charts. It was 12 days after Elvis had died in Memphis. To us Memphis seemed a world away from the contrast of an English summer that was not as hot as the year before, however, my Dads temper was at boiling point. This was one weekend I would never forget as the date remains etched in musical history 16/08/1977.
The date is vital to me as I can work out at least one date my father physically abused me. As my head crashed to the brick kitchen floor and his boot connected with such force onto my 15-year-old head. I momentarily stopped living in real time, the event had caused everything to slow down until he stopped. I had blood dripping from my ear and warm urine running down the inside of my legs, as I heard Tracy running down the stairs making for the door losing half her clothes falling out of her suitcase in the process, declaring YOU ARE ALL MAD. August 28th 1977 is the only date I can find in my head of which I am certain of. The other dates/incidents are a fog to me, but why is this so important?
If a family member (such as my Dad) abused me “under his own roof” it seems it was called a domestic. Police regularly referred to it as a waste of their time. They had no power to stop this vile ritual until 1st October 1979. A domestic then became fair game for intervention by the law. The only hope a child had prior to this date was social services removing them from an unsafe home. In my case, they didn’t. Neither did they take me to a hospital for injuries to be assessed. It is clear now that children s heads are delicate and still growing both inside and out, at 15 I was small in stature and vulnerable to my parent s violent outburst s and psychologically mental behaviour.
For years I had flashbacks, tormented through the day constancy daydreaming and at night I hid under the covers as I couldn’t get away from the nightmares. It shaped my schooling my earlier work life and left me lost not knowing who I was. I tried to kill myself 3 times in my mid-twenties, the confusion baffled me. Did it happen I would think? Was it just that I was mad, and couldn’t decide if my mind was playing tricks? Years passed, something was wrong the doctor prescribed counselling, which was when I first spoke of these visions. My father had by then passed, and my mother convinced me it was all in my head. Dreams.
Having accessed my medical records for the first time in 2016 I noticed the horror of the text, a social worker had written to my then GP of the violence I faced. I was shocked and immediately started to ask questions of ESCC and the police to access my social services/police/school records. After repeated attempts in archives, it was deemed my file was lost or mislaid. Inconvenient, however, my medical records were in mint condition and complete.
In 2016 I visited victim support, who advised me to register the crimes with the police, who in the 21st century did take it seriously. The long-term injuries in my case being physiological, mental and blurred double vision, to name a few difficulties I am faced with, (mild brain damage).
The law never protected people like me in 1977, it was a domestic after all, I, however, remember how brutal it was, how unfair, and how it messed with my head and left me confused.
I applied for compensation through the Criminal Injury Compensation scheme in 2016 only to find I was at first not covered by the law until after 01/10/1979. Anything after that date I was covered by the law, if I could prove, I was a victim of criminal violence, with evidence. I appealed in 2018 and attended a tribunal in London of which I won with overwhelming evidence.
Successive governments have sidelined the debate to change the ‘same roof rule’ in which The Criminal Injury Compensation scheme can compensate adults who were abused before the landmark date 01/10/1979 leaving thousands of English victims with a history of child abuse and to cope with their lost lives. Many with mental illness who like me are becoming just another statistic of the broken Mental Health Services in the NHS. We are suffering from both ends. I am a volunteer Service User Governor of an NHS Mental Health Trust and know that so many patients of my era had a terrifying childhood leading to loneliness in adulthood unless they have been fortunate to have furnished a family set-up of their own. Many haven’t. MPs have called for a change to the ‘Same Roof Rule’ to no avail.
The Policy needed to change critically for victims of historic abuse to get their Justice. Just stop to think about all those minds that were damaged, all that heartache, pre the change in policy Oct 1st 1979. Mental health services in the NHS are broken and do not look to get fixed any time soon. Victims have lost out. Thousands upon thousands are walking around damaged. With compensation, victims could buy treatment, it could be an option for those the system has failed and is still failing 40 years on.