Without Consent by Sid Spencer is a short memoir about Sid’s childhood in the 1970s and 1980s. It tells of his time with his birth family, three foster families, and then at a boarding school. It’s an honest and brutal account of the systematic abuse that he endured for four years. The book describes Sid reporting this to the police thirty-five years later, and the two trials and then successful conviction of his abuser.
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I wanted to chat to Sid, and find out more about what led to him writing the book, and his journey to recovery.
Sid, I think you were incredibly brave to write Without Consent, and I found it very moving. I wonder, was there an exact moment when you realised you had to write it?
Thank you. After the successful conviction I felt so different, so at peace and so strong that I wanted a way to try and tell others, to tell other survivors that you can secure a successful conviction. There are so many cases that sadly don’t get that or indeed even make it to court. I wanted to share my story to show that, although it is a very traumatic thing to go through, that it is also very empowering.
Did writing it help you cope with what had happened to you? As a writer myself, I find that writing things down helps me make sense of them. Deal with them. Did that happen to you?
My writing and my art is my therapy really. It helps me to unload, to dissect and make sense of my feelings. I truly now feel that I am the person I should have been before I was raped and that is as much to do with writing the book as it is the trial and outcome. It also reminded me of how dreadful and unacceptable it was. I think because it happened for such a long period and no one did anything about it that I might have forgotten just how bad it was. As I wrote it and I saw it through the eyes of the adult I am now, the father that I am now, and that reminded me of how severe it was.
I totally understand how being a parent makes you realise how terrible some of the things that happened to us really are. With all the #TimesUp and #MeToo things going on, it does feel like more people are feeling empowered to come forward. Do you think books like yours might help with that? Is that what you hoped the book might achieve?
I very much hope my book will help others to come forward. In the feedbacks that I have received, many of them have disclosed abuse that they endured as a child and they have mentioned how it has helped them to read someone else’s story. Us survivors need to shine our light now, shine it so brightly that these monsters can no longer hide in the dark and prey on our kids.
I agree – one voice often leads to many. You mentioned in your book forgiveness being the only key to moving on. I really agree with you on this. Did it take you a long time to get there?
The forgiveness thing was very difficult for me. It took me a while to get there. At first there was quite a bit of well-intentioned pressure or urging from those that love me to forgive so that I could heal but for a long period after the trial my emotions were too raw, the memories all too fresh again.
But about a year ago, while writing a part of the book, it dawned on me that I had moved on and I was able to give a degree of forgiveness towards my abuser. It wasn’t so much a conscious decision, more of a realisation.
Being a dad now, and having a partner, must make you so proud. Do you think one day your children will read the book? Do you want them to?
Both our kids come from abusive backgrounds, they have both experienced traumatic childhoods before they came to us. They are aware of the book and they know they can’t read it.
I have explained that it is about a difficult part of my childhood and they know I grew up in the care system too. I think that when they are adults, if they want to read it, then that can only be a positive thing.
I imagine one day they will read it. What advice would you give to anyone else who has been abused?
Firstly, I would tell them that it wasn’t their fault – it’s a powerful thing to hear someone tell you that when you have carried it around for a long time. I would also say what so many of us need to hear and that is that I am sorry that you experienced that.
I would encourage them to come out and tell their story, but I would also make sure they were aware of what a difficult journey it is.
One of the things that I became aware of very quickly was the need for emotional support. The police were great at catching him, interviewing him and all throughout the trial, but not so good with supporting me emotionally. At the end of the trial they just walked away on to the next case and I was left with all these emotions. I was feeling euphoric but also vulnerable because I had relived it all in such detail. So, get emotional support from a specialised organisation because it is a really fast rollercoaster ride that you are about to step on to.
What are your hopes for the future?
To continue to raise awareness of CSA, to work with other survivors.
I am also currently turning the book into a screen play, so who knows? It may be on a small screen near you soon.
Oh, and to write more books. Fiction next time.
Fiction is exciting, trust me! What kinds of books do you like to read?
I’m nosy – I like to know what makes people tick so autobiographies are my favourite, but I do also enjoy a good thriller. It isn’t rare for me to have two books on the go at the same time. I’m currently reading I See You by Clare Mackintosh and Unaccompanied Minor by Alexander Newly, so fiction and an autobiography, depending on my mood.
Is there anything else you would to share about your journey?
I would like to say thank you to everyone that has and will read my little story, I hope you enjoy it and see that it is a positive story. I hope it continues to help others to come forward so that we can all make this world safer for our kids.
My life now is exciting, new opportunities come my way almost weekly and I am meeting some fantastic people, survivors, counsellors and those that run the great support agencies that are out there. But more importantly than that is that I am learning about the little boy that I was, what he likes, what his talents and strengths are, and I have to say, I am incredibly proud of him.