I have forever been drawn to the desert. The shifting colours uncluttered with the trappings of life. The Berbers call themselves "Imazighen", meaning the free. Whilst in Marrakech recently, I crossed the High Atlas mountains to visit the Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou, a place that acts as a gateway to the Sahara desert. Made up of a group of earthen buildings surrounded by high walls, a 4000 year old Berber culture continues here as it ever was. Salt, a precious commodity worth more than gold was once protected in the high tower on the summit. This was my Glastonbury Tor in the desert. A hill, a tower on the highest part, presenting a gateway to another world.
I had a guide on this part of my journey. It wasn't easy to get him to drop the mask that had become his profession, showing tourists from other cultures around his home and his tribe. A man with four sisters and five brothers, he had been born in this place to parents who did not have enough wealth to send all their children to school, so he, from being a small child, had been offering his culture to tourists and pilgrims. His manner was softer with me. He knew I was on a journey and encouraged me by explaining the different stages on the climb and suggested I could stop at any one of them if I so wished. During his lifetime of crossing the river and climbing the ksar, he had learned to speak six languages fluently. Whilst he spoke, his mask dropped a little and I saw the proud, strong man with sadness in his soul. He was a warrior, and whilst this place and the sociocultural dynamics of its people are protected by UNESCO, I did not see a man of a free tribe.
I caught this image and was struck by the connection between the boy and his horse. I also saw a deep sadness eliciting a profound beauty filled with arcane secrets. Stood in the dried bed of the Oued Sous, the River of Salt, under the blazing sun for thirty minutes, about to climb a high castle, my guide told me the Berbers were happy to help 'disabled' people get to the summit. I declined, knowing this part of my journey needed to be done without assistance. "The desert shatters the soul's arrogance and leaves body and soul crying out in thirst and hunger. In the desert we trust God or die", counsels Dr. Dan Allender, the pioneer of a unique and innovative approach to trauma and abuse therapy...and so I trusted. No horse. Just me. Carrying a rock from the river bed. But oh, what a picture I take with me of the horse, and the people, that would have borne me to my goal. It might be mooted that God sent me the horse to ride upon, however, deep in my spirit, I knew that part of my experience was also the physical test. Perhaps it was I that was examining myself, perhaps it was a spiritual warriors test...who knows. It felt damn good, regardless.
We are the Wounded Healers, and only be entering the darkest places, can we find the hidden parts of the Light and bring it back into the world. Manifested. Only the strong can visit these realms and Maya Angelou was one of those people.
Three years of investigation brought the trial to Exeter Crown Court in February 2017. Whilst testimonies were offered up, the jury requested recess in order to process all the pain and horror they had witnessed. On verdict day, as we sat and waited, the victims taking comfort from each other and their supporters, I shared that I have a similar past; sparking the connection only abuse survivors can feel. On the return of the jury, not one of us was breathing. The sharp expulsion of any remaining air was audible when the verdict of the first charge was announced.
"Guilty", said the spokesman.
Followed by guilty on the next fifteen counts. Sat just a few feet away, a bullet-proof opaque glass partition separating us from this pathetic example of a human being, we held each other and wept. The Judge asked if the victims were willing to give an Impact Statement. The prosecutor read these out and my brave, brave friend, stood up in front of all, including the convicted, to read out her own. My friend, you are a warrior and I am so proud to know you.
When it came to sentencing, the judge was clearly saddened in his restrictions. Had the offences occurred in present time, he'd have been able to give life on one of the counts. If the case had needed to rely solely on his offences when he was under-seventeen, he'd have shockingly received even less than he was about to give; the law at that time stating that young people could not be sent to prison. However, Owen was over that age for one of the charges, thus meaning he could be sentenced as an adult and for that, he got 16 years.
Standard sentencing means they serve half, so in reality a sixteen year sentence means only eight years for his crimes. Totalling up the years sentenced on each charge, Owen received 62 years - to run concurrently. Putting a licence on him for parole, meaning he won't automatically qualify for release after half- time and must go before a Board, will keep him away for 10 years as it's not customary to release them at first sit.
It is a very personal decision to bring such matters to the eyes of the law and the public, it takes so much out of us as we endure the experiences and pain of flashbacks; the impact that abuse has had on our lives, there for all to see.
As young men and women, we might have been on the edge of society due to being thought of as 'difficult'. Due to feelings of worthlessness and being out-of-sync with the world, we could well have sojourned down roads of promiscuity, in the need to be 'loved', spiralling into self-destructive patterns, picking abusers as our 'lovers'.
Alcohol and drug abuse are common, Mental and physical health issues are typical. Many abuse survivors resort to cutting themselves - the flow of red blood somehow validating the torture we have experienced, and, in its release into the outer world, pain too hard to bear is discharged for the briefest of moments. Extreme ongoing stress brings about painful physical conditions as our bodies become exhausted and worn out. Finding the strength to carry on is an elusive battle that can be fought over and over again; and sadly, is one that many do not win.
Having our traumas, and their effects, aired in public, is not an easy decision to make. The kind treatment, combined with the respect and admiration of all those involved in the case of Owen Hill, along with the validation and subsequent sentencing has, I hope, offered comfort that will assist his victims in the healing process. I hope their strength might even give other victims an opportunity to use their own voices and speak out.
Our original experiences were harrowing and damaging. Sitting through this case has been equally harrowing, but by all that I hold dear, I have never been more proud of my 'kin' then I am today. I myself can't prosecute my own abusers, they are all dead now, and so this has, in some small measure, allowed me the deep satisfaction that for at least ten years, society is protected from one bit of scum. My gratitude goes to those brave and courageous men and women who put him away.
I'm going to finish with the words of DC Brown;
"I would like to thank the victims in this case for the bravery and patience that they have shown throughout the course of this investigation, which has been ongoing over the last three years and involved the resurrection of two cold-case files from the 1990s. I would also like to thank them for their strength and courage in court during this difficult time.
An NSPCC spokesperson for South West England said:
"These disturbing offences will have caused the victims and their families an enormous amount of distress and we hope they are receiving the right support to overcome these traumatic experiences.
You can read the news report here.
Any adult concerned about the welfare of a child or young person can call the NSPCC helpline for free, 24/7, on 0808 800 5000. Children can call Childline on 0800 1111.
Images below contain links to various organisations that might be of help.
My experiences are as yours - filled with challenges, pain, joy, laughter and love.
The settings of our scenes might be different but along our journey together, we will discover similarities and shared experiences.
Adventure with me for a while, for it is in the Journey, we become One.
High Sierra Winter Solstice
Postcards from America (1)
God's Own Country
An Avalonian Anniversary
..'And did those feet?'
Glastonbury/Avalon of the Heart
Finding Colour in the Grey
Lessons from Morocco
Under African Skies
The Earth Mother
The Glastonbury Unity Candle goes to Knight's Enham