Kelly Felstead hardly trusts anyone anymore.

"I find it very, very difficult," she said. "I always try to second guess people now, as I'm so afraid of being betrayed or taken advantage of again."

When she was just four years old - an innocent, happy child still learning about the world around her, Kelly says she was sexually abused by the brother of a family friend, a boy who was considerably older than her - and someone who she trusted.

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After her father left home, Kelly, her mum and her brother began to spend more time with their friends and went to their house two or three times a week. On each occasion, Kelly says she was subjected to sickening abuse, with this campaign only ending shortly before her seventh birthday, when she moved house.

But while she could physically distance herself from her tormentor, Kelly's memories of the harrowing incidents continue to haunt her to this day, with vivid flashbacks pushing her into a mental breakdown and crippling bouts of depression and anxiety.

What makes her story even more heartbreaking is that she kept what happened a secret for over 25 years, initially fearing that it was her fault and that nobody would believe her, but later out of a desire to prevent her mum from blaming herself.

After her son turned four years old in 2018, Kelly finally opened up to those around her and the man involved was arrested, questioned and bailed a year later. However, earlier this month, the story reached a devastating conclusion, as the case was not taken to court and her abuser was not charged.

Kelly Felstead kept the abuse she suffered as a child secret for over 25 years, but is now encouraging others in the same situation to speak out
Kelly Felstead kept the abuse she suffered as a child secret for over 25 years, but is now encouraging others in the same situation to speak out

Despite this, Kelly is now looking to the future after finally unloading the burden of her past - and urging anyone who has experienced something similar to go the police and reach out for support.

"I'm gutted I didn't tell anyone sooner," she said. "The number of ways in which it has affected my life is unimaginable. It's been a real battle ever since the first day it happened."

Growing up in South Wales in the early 1990s, Kelly says she had a "lovely and happy" childhood, despite her father leaving home in 1992.

"After that, we used to go over to our family friends' house a bit more often. We'd go over there to play and stuff like that," she said.

"But what actually happened... I was a very, very young age to be experiencing anything like that. But I remember knowing even then that it wasn't right.

"I was told at the time by him that if I were to tell anybody, I would be the one who got in trouble. As a small child, that's absolutely terrifying - so you're thinking that you've got to do all you can to keep it a secret.

Despite feeling what happened was wrong, it wasn't until Kelly reached secondary school that she realised exactly what had happened to her.

"It was always on my mind," she said. "I'd have these frequent flashbacks to what happened and I'd be thinking about telling someone, but I'd say it was only when I was 12 years old that I first began to understand it.

"We had sex education lessons at school and we learnt how your body is your body and that nobody is touch your body without your permission. I just thought 'Oh my God, that it is actually what it was - it was sexual abuse, child sexual abuse'.

"I just felt so sick and absolutely devastated and used - it was such an awful feeling realising what had happened."

Kelly aged four
Kelly aged four

Even after realising she had been abused, Kelly was still hesitant to reach out and tell somebody about it.

"At that age, I thought the police wouldn't believe me," she said. "I'm so gutted that I thought that, as I know now that they would."

"I didn't want to tell my parents either, mainly because of my mother. She brought us up on her own and, knowing what kind of person she is, I knew she would blame herself, even though there were no possible signs that she could have picked up on.

"That’s what’s stopped me from saying anything for all these years - I was just trying to protect my mother more than anything, probably more than myself."

Afraid to speak out, Kelly carried her tragic secret with her throughout her childhood, teens and all the way into adulthood. Looking back, she admits that what happened to her as a child has affected her life in an "unimaginable" number of ways.

"That betrayal has caused me so many moments of despair and difficulty in my life," she said. "It's been a battle ever since, and I suffer with PTSD, OCD, anxiety and depression."

"The flashbacks, the lack of trust - all these things have led me to some very, very low moments."

In August 2014, Kelly and her husband Nick - who she married the following year - welcomed their first child, Thomas, after three years of fertility treatment. But even this special moment was tainted for Kelly by her childhood trauma.

"Even though it was such a long path to get to that point, when I was actually pregnant with him, I found it really difficult," she admitted. "Whether it was the hormones flowing around or whatever, the flashbacks that I had were tenfold during my pregnancy.

"I was so depressed - but I didn't tell the midwife, I didn't tell anybody. Because we tried for so long to have a child, I felt bad then feeling the way I felt. Even after I had Thomas, I was in a very, very bad place with postnatal depression.

"It seemed like I just couldn't escape what happened to me - it was affecting all of these important parts of my life."

The mum-of-one suffers with PTSD, OCD, anxiety and depression following the abuse - but reached breaking point when her son turned four years old.
The mum-of-one suffers with PTSD, OCD, anxiety and depression following the abuse - but reached breaking point when her son turned four years old.

But it was a few years later, when Thomas turned four, that Kelly finally reached breaking point.

"That was an incredibly difficult time in my life," she said. "Possibly the hardest time.

"I would just look at him and see how vulnerable and precious he was. Just the thought of what I went through then happening to him, it completely broke me. I had a bit of a breakdown.

"That's when I knew I had to get some help from somewhere."

Having only confided in her husband and very close friends, nobody else knew why Kelly was feeling the way that she was - but that all changed when she visited her GP to try and change her medication dosages.

"She was fantastic," said Kelly. "We sorted all the medication out, increased the dose and she gave me lots of information. But when we finished talking, she just looked at me and said: 'Is there anything else you want to discuss with me?'.

"Then it all came flooding out. I told her everything and that definitely got the ball rolling - I'm so thankful for her recognising I needed to talk to someone and giving me that opportunity to open up."

After talking to her GP, Kelly was referred to specialist counselling, but it was only two years later in 2020 that she was able to get an appointment. In that time, she encountered her alleged abuser on a number of chance occasions.

"He came into my workplace," she said. "I thought, 'Oh God, please, please don't come in here again'. As it turned out, he did come in a few times after that, which I feel may have potentially been done on purpose as he knew I worked there then.

"Another time we saw him again in a local shop. My husband went up to him and told him he knew exactly what sort of person he was and that there was a name for people like him.

"Disgustingly, his reaction to that was to smirk and laugh - I think that is what tipped me over the edge. I knew I had to speak out."

Kelly on her seventh birthday
Kelly on her seventh birthday

In February 2020, Kelly summoned all of her courage to finally tell her parents what had happened to her nearly 30 years ago. Even after everything that had already happened, she says it was one of the worst days of her life.

"I had told my counsellor about not wanting to tell my mum about what happened," she said. "But she told me, as sad as it is, one day my mum won’t be there for me to tell. If I never tell her, I wouldn't get the support from her that I know I would get."

"So I told them - but it was horrendous," she said. "Just awful. It took a little while for it to come out to be honest, I just didn't know where to start. I mean, what can you say?

"When I did manage to get it out and tell them what happened, it was just as awful - in fact, it makes me a bit sick thinking about it now. They were obviously both devastated and completely distraught, while my father was understandably absolutely furious.

"But as horrendous as it was, I had finally told them and now had the courage to take it further."

Four days later, Kelly contacted the police and told them her story. Kelly and her family then faced a long wait for a decision from the Crown Prosecution Service on whether the man would be charged and the case sent to Crown Court. But when the decision was issued earlier this month, it wasn't good news.

"I was devastated when I found out he wouldn't be charged," said Kelly.

Kelly is now focused on encouraging other victims of abuse to speak out and get support
Kelly is now focused on encouraging other victims of abuse to speak out and get support

Despite the decision not going her way, Kelly is now looking to future.

Now, her main focus is encouraging other people who have been abused - in childhood or as an adult - to seek help, as well as making them aware of the resources that they can use.

"It took me 28 years to go to the police, and I really really wish I had gone sooner," she said. "But having been there myself, I understand why people don’t do it, because you absolutely think, ‘are they going to believe me?’, especially if it happened a long time ago.

"But I can, hand on heart, say that they were amazing, they did believe me and took my case very very seriously. People just need to know that you can and should go to the police.

"There is so much help available out there - please, if you need to speak to someone, do it. I promise, you've got this."

Support for victims of rape and sexual assault is available from South Wales Police here.

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