Sianne Mann, 36, from Ipswich, tells how her babysitter would creep up the stairs after bedtime...
Pulling my favourite board game out of the cupboard, I couldn’t wait to play.
‘Time for Mouse Trap,’ I beamed excitedly. I was 7 and my mum was out.
She’d hired a babysitter to watch me. A friend of Mum’s – a girl in her late teens.
I loved hanging out with her. She watched Disney films with me, and played games.
Then, one evening when she babysat, she had a man with her.
‘This is my boyfriend Nick,’ she explained.
Nicholas Tilley, then 19, was tall and spotty.
‘Alright, kid,’ he said, ruffling my hair.
He seemed nice enough. And Mum didn’t mind him being there with my babysitter.
Later that night, I went upstairs to use the toilet before bed. When I came out of the bathroom, Nick was waiting.
‘Follow me,’ he whispered, taking my hand and leading me into my bedroom.
Then he pulled down my pyjama bottoms and touched me between my legs. I froze with fear. I was so young, I didn’t know what Nick was doing.
After, he pulled my trousers back up and patted my bum.
‘It’s our little secret, yeah?’ he winked.
I nodded, feeling too scared to say anything about it. My babysitter was downstairs, and didn’t have a clue what’d just happened.
Nick just carried on as normal.
Afterwards, I was terrified whenever he came over to babysit me with his girlfriend.
If I went upstairs to fetch a board game, he’d follow.
‘Let me help you,’ he’d smile. I knew exactly what was coming next.
Nick would touch and grope me whenever he could.
Months on, Mum got a boyfriend and stopped using my babysitter. But Nick’s abuse stayed with me.
Aged 11, I learnt about sex education at school. And I realised what Nick did was very wrong.
I was too scared to tell Mum, though. Nick was an adult, and I was just a kid.
She’ll think I’m a liar, I fretted.
So I bottled it up. But it had a damaging effect…
Over the next few years, I went off the rails. I mixed with the wrong crowd, rebelled, started drinking…
It was my way of blocking out the abuse.
Things got so bad, Mum sent me to live with my grandparents in Colchester. She hoped it’d calm me down.
Then, when I was 17, I fell pregnant. In September 1997, my son was born.
A single mum, I knew I had to change for his sake. So I put all my energy into being a good mum and role model. I even got a job working in a local pub.
But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t forget what’d happened. I suffered terrible nightmares about Nick, would wake up screaming, drenched in sweat.
I started having panic attacks, suffered with anxiety, too. My GP prescribed antidepressants.
Later, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I started having therapy through the charity Mind, which helps people with mental-health issues. And, eventually, I felt strong enough to open up.
In 2014, I told my therapist.‘When I was 7, my babysitter touched me,’ I cried.
Just saying those words felt like a weight had been lifted.
‘Have you thought about going to the police?’ she asked.
‘Nobody will believe me, it was years ago,’ I sighed.
‘I believe you,’ she told me.
It gave me the courage I needed. And, with the charity’s support, I went to the police.
But I’d been so young at the time of the abuse, I couldn’t remember his name.
I’d spent years trying to erase him from my memory. I could only remember my old babysitter’s name – Mum’s friend.
‘We’ll find him,’ an officer promised.
Six long months later, my abuser was finally found and arrested.
Nicholas Tilley was charged with indecently assaulting me as a kid, though he denied everything.
I just prayed a jury would see through his lies and believe me.
Finally, last September, Tilley, 47, appeared at Ipswich Crown Court. He denied three charges of indecent assault against me and another victim who’d also come forward.
The court heard Tilley had been convicted of other child sex crimes in 2008. I was disgusted.
When I prepared to give evidence from behind a screen, I couldn’t stop shaking. Just knowing he was in the same room made me feel sick.
When the jury found him guilty, I sighed with relief.
Tilley was jailed for six and a half years, plus a year on licence. He was also ordered to sign the sex offenders’ register, and made the subject of an indefinite sexual-harm prevention order.
It’s not enough for the damage he’s caused – but I won’t let that pervert destroy me.
Now I’ve set up my own Facebook page. I want to help people going through what I have.
Having someone to talk to, even a stranger, can really help. That’s why I’m urging all victims of abuse to come forward. Don’t let your abuser get away with it. It’s time to speak up and be heard.