For those of you who aren't aware Kat Ward is the courageous woman who initiated the disclosure of the Jimmy Savile child sex abuse scandal after appearing on a TV documentary with others about the incidents.
However, there are positive people in Keri's life, especially her Nana, who teaches her to read and allows her free rein to be creative. Nana is kind and loving and Keri is heartbroken whenever she has to return home to her mother's and stepfather's. In a way, Keri would have had a very different childhood if she'd been allowed to live with her Nana and we can't help wishing that it had been so. We feel Keri's heartbreak every time she has to leave Nana to return to her family home where her only refuge is the company of the family pets: the dog, the cats - and Lambie - the lamb knitted for her by her Nana, always close at hand to give her comfort during the most gruesome of times.
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At primary school things are not much better for Keri, where she is bullied for being different - she has bad eczema - and when she does make a friend her mother soon puts a stop to it. In fact, like all bullies and manipulators, her mother needs to keep Keri as unpopular and friendless as possible to maintain her power over her. Once again, when Keri has a new baby brother, the difference in the way he is treated, compared to the way she is treated, is stark. Not only this, but Keri is scapegoated by her mother and stepfather so that her brother grows up believing that Keri is treated differently and punished because she is 'bad' rather than because their parents are abusive. This is another way in which the appalling abuse is maintained because Keri is portrayed as 'the liar' and 'the aggressive baddie' rather than her mother. Time and again, it is her mother who is believed and not Keri. It is the same when Keri confides to a teacher and is referred to Child Guidance. By this time, Keri has already been branded 'a bad child' and 'a problem child' - her own wayward temperament seen as the cause of the problem and her 'poor parents' as the 'victims' rather than vice versa. Thus Keri is the one who's accused of attacking her younger brother, the one who 'screams insults' at her 'poor mother' and the one accused of making 'inappropriate sexual advances' to her stepfather when in reality she is being raped by him and subjected to all manner of abuse.
All Keri wanted was to be believed but she was badly let down by the system and the prevailing and appalling attitudes of the day, for example, by the terribly patronising Child Psychiatrist. It was easier for the professionals to believe that Keri must be lying and bad, rather than accept the reality of her situation. Of course, the manipulation of the authorities by her mother did nothing to help Keri.
For younger people who may be shocked and stunned by such attitudes, in the 1960s and 70s when Keri was growing up, children were routinely slapped, spanked, slippered at home and school, and boys were also caned in the classroom (maybe some girls too). But Keri was subjected to punishment far beyond even what was considered 'acceptable' or 'appropriate' at the time. Regarding the horrific sexual abuse Keri suffered, this was also a time when this just wasn't talked about: there was no ChildLine, and rape and child abuse hadn't been widely exposed for the atrocities they are.
However, although the appalling catalogue of violence and abuse can sometimes seem relentless, the book is powerfully written and acutely observed and the autobiography is interspersed with many more positive or hopeful interludes, for instance Keri's time at boarding school. We see a strong, resilient spirit that refuses to be broken, a feisty temperament that refuses to be cowed. Encouraged by her Nana and later some of the nuns, teachers and friends at the Catholic boarding school she attends when a little older, her love of learning and her questioning nature is fostered and she starts to blossom. At boarding school, away from her family, she gets a different perspective on the world and the family dynamics start to change when she returns home in the holidays, particularly her relationship with her brother, and without Keri to scapegoat, her mother and stepfather turn on each other until their relationship deteriorates. Observing their relationship through Keri's eyes we start to see her mother as a pathetic, weak figure, and very rarely we get glimpses of a woman who is almost human, for instance when she shows solidarity with Keri over her spider phobia.
As Keri reaches adolescence she reaches out and makes some trusted and supportive relationships in the new neighbourhood, and we start to feel the tide turning.
It is impossible not to root for Keri. On finishing this first part, I immediately wanted to read what happens next in Keri's extraordinary life, especially as part two is called: Keri: Fighting Back'. On my to-be-read list for sure.
Not only is Kat Ward a survivor if child sexual abuse, she's also a survivor of aggressive bowel cancer.
You can read about it in her book: 'A Life On The Toilet' in which she gives an insightful and good-
humoured account of her struggle with bowel cancer.
humoured account of her struggle with bowel cancer.