“You are not alone, brother, not alone at all.”

As hard as it may be to believe, I was abused as a child by another child. At age 9, I had loads of friends and enjoyed school. One day in the playground, I noticed a boy from my year group — we’ll call him D — walking around on his own. I didn’t really know D that well but I went over and invited him to play with our group since he said he didn’t have any friends. The other kids weren’t as welcoming but I felt bad for him and decided to continue being his friend. Over the school year, D turned out to be friendly and quite funny, still shy nonetheless. However, when he came back for the next school year, for some reason, he had become more confident, sarcastic and bossy. Long story short, even though he was my age, he became a very good manipulator and over the next two years, he exploited my forgiving nature to abuse me emotionally, physically and sexually. D would belittle any achievement of mine; gaslight me; drag me away by the wrist if he ever caught me to talking to my old friends; and worst of all, when he could get me in a confined space, he would hold me in place (he was bigger than me) and kiss my neck as I stood there, paralysed by fear.

One time, we were getting changed in a room together on a school trip and he got angry at me because I wanted to wear jeans and he wanted to wear shorts and I had to ‘wear the same as him’. He suddenly stripped the belt off my jeans, whacked me around the ear with the buckle, pushed me onto the bed, got on top of me (he was topless at this point) and began to repeatedly both hit me and kiss my neck. I have never cried as much as I did when it was over.

During this period of my life, I lost all sense of myself: self-esteem, self-worth, all my friends, everything. It felt like my childhood had ended. Luckily, he was going to a different secondary school so I didn’t have to see him again after primary school. Nevertheless, the mental damage was done and throughout my teenage years, I suffered crippling insecurities about my masculinity; doubts about my sexuality; symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder; and even an irrational fear that I would one day be an abuser myself, all which I believe stemmed from this experience. I am much better now but did not tell anyone for 11 years because of shame, guilt and added stigma surrounding male victims. I will never report D as I have little to no evidence and I also never want my parents to find out.

To any other twenty-something old guy out there who has gone through something similar, I have felt your shame, I have known your confusion and I have shared in your pain. Please know that you have worth, that you are not to blame for what happened to you and that you are no less of man for having gone through it. You are not alone, brother, not alone at all.