From the age of six, Mark Sherwood was sexually abused by a family friend who was twice his age.
He never told anyone. Not his parents. Not his siblings. He wanted to bottle it up. To never think about it again. He didn’t want the world to know what had happened to him.
His thirties spelled the end of all that. Within a few years not only did his girlfriend, boss, and even the police know, but he was working alongside the man who had haunted him since he was a child.
The 36-year-old mental health worker and bodybuilder from Blackpool told FEMAIL it happened ‘countless’ times and the abuse spanned ‘years’.
It took Mark more than 20 years to tell another person what happened and he said he hoped his story would give other victims the courage to face their own trauma and prompt employers to support them better.
Mark Sherwood (pictured as a child) was abused ‘countless’ times from the age of six by a family friend who was twice his age
It took Mark, pictured, a charity worker and bodybuilder, more than 20 years to tell another person what happened. He told MailOnline the abuse lasted for ‘years’
As a child he and his brother would play fight, a tactic later used by his abuser to get close and overpower Mark. Pictured: Mark (second from left) with his mother, sister and brother
He was six when it started. Mark remembers because of how ‘miserable’ he felt at his sixth birthday party.
His parents ran a seaside hotel in Blackpool and needed someone to watch him after school while they worked.
The task fell to a family friend who lived in a house nearby.
Years later Mark would regularly walk past the street but never go down it. He didn’t want to remember what happened.
‘At least once a night we would have to go to his house,’ he said. ‘[He was] six years older than myself. [It happened] countless times over a few years.’
It started with play-fighting. Mark ‘always liked wrestling as a child’ and would play-fight with his brother.
At first this was the same. But then the boy did something different.
He blocked the door with a chest of drawers. His fighting became more and more aggressive. Suddenly he was snatching at Mark’s genitals.
Every time the boy abused him, Mark, pictured as a boy, would stare out of the window, imagining he was elsewhere, that he could bolt through the window or that someone would come to save him. It only stopped happening when Mark grew old enough to take care of himself after school
Mark pushed away his fingers but the boy was violent and overpowered him. He forced his hands down Mark’s pants and grabbed his penis.
‘No matter how much I tried or how much I fought back, he got what he wanted. My trousers and pants were down and he did and got what he wanted. I just lay there, with tears in my eyes and wished I was anywhere else.’
No matter how much I tried or how much I fought back, he got what he wanted. My trousers and pants were down
This was the start of years of abuse.
‘It was something I got used to,’ Mark said. ‘Not crying, not fighting.’
Every time the boy abused him, Mark would stare out of the window, imagining he was elsewhere, that he could bolt through the window or that someone would come to save him.
‘I used the window as an escape. It was something I have done all my life. I have always distanced myself. I often thought back on this and blamed myself.
‘Did I encourage it by no longer fighting back? Did he think I’d grown to enjoy the abuse?’
The years of abuse finally ended when Mark became old enough to take care of himself after school.
The abuse left Mark with deeply traumatic memories. He didn’t tell anyone about it for more than 20 years.
After his mother sadly died in 2007 he started thinking more about the sexual abuse he suffered as a child. Pictured: Mark and his older brother as children
After his mother sadly died in 2007 he started thinking more about the sexual abuse he suffered as a child.
It was another eight years before he told his girlfriend about it. She was the first person he had ever told.
That year, Mark tried to kill himself. He was rushed to A&E and later offered help.
I had said if I saw him again I would want to kill him… T he moment I saw him I felt like a child again. I was terrified
Mark said he hadn’t been ready to accept help and convinced himself it was a moment of weakness and ‘just a silly blip’.
Around a year or so later, when Mark had recently turned 30, he saw his abuser again for the first time since they were children.
The bodybuilder was in the car at a set of traffic lights when he saw the man walking down the street.
Mark said: ‘I had said if I saw him again I would want to kill him… The moment I saw him I felt like a child again. I was terrified.
‘My body went into shock. It was completely opposite to what I thought it would be. I felt absolute fear of seeing him.’
When Mark was in his thirties he came face to face with the man who abused him as a child after he took a job at a company without realising his abuser also worked there
A year later, Mark started a new job. After just a few weeks Mark realised he had joined the same company as his abuser.
‘I spotted him in the distance. He came and talked to me as if I was an old friend,’ Mark said.
For two years he worked steadily at the company. He never spoke to the man about what happened.
He said: ‘When I first met him, if I had talked to him [about it] I would have wanted revenge.’
I have forgiven my abuser but I never want to talk to him. There’s nothing he could say now that would mean anything to me. I don’t need an apology. I wouldn’t want to be in a room with him and him flat out deny it
He added if he had been in the same room as him and talked about what happened he feared it would have triggered him to attack the man.
‘I’m so glad that didn’t happen,’ he said.
After two years, Mark started having negative thoughts again. He took time off work and eventually his bosses called him for a meeting.
By that point, he had decided to tell his bosses what was wrong but he was reluctant to say who his abuser had been.
He didn’t want to press charges or have it become public knowledge that someone in the office had abused him as a child.
He said: ‘I didn’t want my work knowing at first. Eventually, I had to go in for a meeting. I made the decision with my partner to tell them. Their reaction wasn’t great.’
At the first meeting Mark’s boss ‘asked how I had managed to get on the last two years without it getting to me and why it suddenly got to me now’ before his work offered to pay for private counselling. At a second meeting, the mood turned sour.
After talking to a counsellor Mark discovered even his passion for bodybuilding could be connected to the abuse he endured. Since leaving his previous job he has become a crisis support worker at a mental health charity in Blackpool
Mark said: ‘It was made clear to me that if the name of the member of staff that abused me as a child was not given to representatives then the police would be informed with the possibility of charges being brought against me for withholding safeguarding information.’
Bosses said the man would be suspended pending an investigation but only told it was because of a ‘safeguarding complaint’, while they would tell the police.
On this basis, Mark agreed to tell them the man’s name.
‘Upon giving the name I saw the look of disappointment on my boss’s face, he didn’t hide that too well, it was as though he didn’t want it to be that member of staff. I instantly regretted it.’
You have had so much say over my life but not anymore. I have often wondered why you did what you did. Was I an experiment? Were you also being abused? If so, seek help
Days later, the police visited Mark. As the allegations were historical and his abuser had also been a child at the time they said there was unlikely to be a successful prosecution.
In any case, Mark didn’t want to bring charges.
‘I didn’t want to put myself through that,’ he said.
The police told him they were confused why he would reveal the man’s name if he didn’t want to pursue legal action.
When Mark said his work had threatened he could be prosecuted for withholding safeguarding information, the officers told him this wasn’t true and his bosses had no right to claim that.
‘I couldn’t believe it,’ Mark said. ‘My trust was broken.’
His bosses went a step further.
They cut his wages in half, telling him it was company policy to do so until he returned full-time.
Mark said: ‘They assured me he would be suspended pending an investigation but that never happened. I knew he had higher-ups that would protect him. I finished out the year and then I left.’
He had begun having counselling after he started to work alongside his abuser.
He discovered even his passion for bodybuilding could be connected to the abuse he endured.
‘It had to do with what happened to me — building an armour so large no one would try to impose themselves on me,’ he said.
‘Aside from the sheer enjoyment I get from training I also use it as a mental health coping mechanism. It’s a place I can be by myself and gather my thoughts whilst achieving something positive and releasing endorphins to feel good.’
After Mark left his job he completed a master’s degree in mental health and has since become a crisis support worker.
He works at mental health charity Richmond Fellowship in Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre, as a crisis support worker, ‘helping people come to terms with what’s happening to them and getting them to see it doesn’t have to ruin their lives’.
Although Mark has been able to process his trauma he will never forget what happened to him.
He said: ‘I have forgiven my abuser but I never want to talk to him. There’s nothing he could say now that would mean anything to me. I don’t need an apology. I wouldn’t want to be in a room with him and him flat out deny it.
‘I struggle to work with people who have abused others unless they have sympathy about what they have done.’
He said he would be ‘forever grateful’ to everyone who helped him, especially his counsellor.
After agreeing to go public with his story, Mark thought hard about what he would say to the man who abused him as well as to other predators.
He said: ‘You might have moved on but your victims haven’t. Karma isn’t a myth. It’s waiting for you.’
Addressing his abuser, he added: ‘You have had so much say over my life but not anymore. I have often wondered why you did what you did. Was I an experiment? Were you also being abused? If so, seek help.
‘I am done with you. You are the past. There is no room for you in my future. You will not define me.’
For confidential support call the Samaritans on 116123 or visit a local Samaritans branch, see www.samaritans.org for details.