“Before the abuse began, I was a different person”: My Victim Impact Statement

Julie Macfarlane
7 min readFeb 21, 2020

In January the minister who sexually abused me as a teenager was convicted of four counts of “indecent assault” (as the legislation in the UK called it at that time; today this would be legally classified as rape). These were “specimen charges” — the abuse went on for a year. The following is the victim impact statement I read to the court at the sentencing hearing today, February 21, 2020.

He received a sentence of eight years in prison.

The abuse that took place when I was a teenager has affected my whole life, and continues to affect me. This was not a year that I simply moved past and then went on with the rest of my life. The fear, confusion, disorientation and horror that I experienced in those assaults has never left me. These feelings have sat on my shoulder to this day, and will do for the rest of my life.

When I went to Meirion Griffiths for help in 1975, I believed that he was a man of God. Because of that naïve faith, which he shamelessly exploited, I genuinely believed that he would not tell me to do something that was wrong. But what he was telling me to do — to give him oral sex — felt absolutely disgusting and terrifying. I had never seen a man’s penis. I had no idea that this was fellatio. I felt disgusted by what he was making me do, but this only increased my sense of utter confusion and terror. I could make no sense of it.

I do find it very difficult — and I know many other survivors have a similar experience — to explain just what I thought was happening. All I can remember feeling was revulsion, fear, and completely overwhelming confusion.

Before the abuse began, I was a different person. I was a chaste, Christian, 16 year old girl. I had no sense of any evil in the world. I believed that my faith would keep me safe. I analyzed everything — every book I read, every experience I had — with curiosity and passion. I was an intense 16 year old and for many years had written a daily journal that reflected my every challenge, question and hope. When I looked for the journals from these years, I found they had ended abruptly partway through the year that the abuse began, and I did not begin to write again for several years. My previously prolific diaries — my most trusted and important lifelong recourse — disappeared completely during this period of my life. I could not write about what I was experiencing, it was too confusing and terrifying to explain — even to myself, even to my diary.

When I became trapped in the abuse, I could tell no one. I did not even know how I would explain this. I was convinced that no one would believe me — who was I? Whereas he was the minister, holding a position of power and authority that seemingly could not be challenged. Or perhaps they would tell me that I was an awful, disgusting person, whose fault this was. Or perhaps both.

In the course of the next year, my life plunged into turmoil and chaos. I had no idea what to do. I tried to escape from him. I told my mother I did not want to go out for driving lessons with him — but impressed by the social status of a church minister paying attention to her daughter she insisted that I do so, saying “so kind of the minister”. I would leave my parent’s house with him with a feeling of desperation and terror, and get into his car — to drive to some spot where I would be assaulted yet again. Over and over again.

I did not respond to the constant notes he pushed through my letterbox proposing we meet. I told him I wanted him to leave me alone. I told my parents I did not want to stay with him and his family in France on my way home from a holiday I took in Switzerland in the summer of 1976. Again, they insisted that it was “so kind” and would break my journey back to the UK. Instead, as I knew would happen, I was trapped in a room that night, with him trying to force the door open — prevented only by my moving all the furniture aside from the bed in front of the door to keep him out, away from me.

I could tell no one the truth about what was happening to me. It felt impossible. He was completely in control and the power he exerted over my life seemed unlimited. I was trapped.

The abuse carried out by Meirion Griffiths was the end of any close relationship with my parents. I never told my father, fearing for his distress. I only told my mother many years later after my father’s death, but she could not talk about it. By then, the damage had been done.

My hometown became a no-go area for me. I only returned to Chichester in the ensuing years either with a friend — whom I did not tell either, but this meant I need never walk around the town alone — or for very short periods, when I mostly stayed inside my parents’ home.

As I carried on with my life away from Chichester, I experienced sexual violence again. I was raped at university — I became pregnant and had a traumatic, secret abortion. I was physically and sexually abused for 18 terrifying months by a violent domestic partner. I was convinced that there must be something wrong with me — not my assailants. Research now shows a correlation between early incidents of abuse and susceptibility to further assaults, and further abuse has been my experience. My abuse at his hands destroyed my faith in God, my relationship with my parents who failed to protect me, and set me on a path to other, self-harming relationships.

I have been fortunate to have achieved a great deal in my life, in spite of the abuse that has sat on my shoulder. I have learned to distract myself from painful thoughts and negative feelings by immersing myself in work. As I became older, better known in my field, and began to raise my daughters, I used every possible strategy to focus on family and on work, both of which I am passionately committed to, and not on what had happened to me all those years before. But slowly I was beginning to realize that my reactions to some events were not what they should be. That if I was — as I understood better much later again — “triggered” by a memory or re-stimulation of the feelings associated with my abuse, I would experience an impulse for “fight or flight” completely out of my control. I cannot number how many places and events I have run away from because of a triggering experience, or how many times I have walked the streets alone after a triggering event, conversation or recollection. The alternative — fight — has also happened, and has sometimes resulted in broken relationships as my irrational reactions overwhelm any sense of propriety or reasonableness. Afterwards I feel a terrible sense of shame.

I have chronic PTSD. PTSD is death by a thousand cuts.

Over the years, I have worked hard to manage my symptoms, but as anyone with PTSD will tell you, it is impossible to anticipate each time that you will be triggered. It could be a news item about the acquittal of an alleged rapist or sexual predator. It could be the dismissal in someone’s voice when they talk about allegations of sexual assault or rape. It could be the constant repetition of innumerable myths about sexual violence — for example, “why didn’t she go directly to the police?” “why didn’t she fight back harder?”. Or it could simply be someone treating me with entitlement and contempt, the same entitlement and contempt that I experienced from Meirion Griffiths. I was disposable to him, useful only for his sexual gratification. What this does to a teenage psyche is impossible to under-estimate. And it never goes away.

Pursuing justice — via the sexual misconduct complaint I brought against Meirion Griffiths when he was a minister in Perth, the civil litigation, and now this criminal trial — has in each case been retraumatizing for me. The reasons are obvious — it’s hard to talk about traumatic experiences. It’s embarrassing to talk about sexual assault and rape. I worry about upsetting people. I worry about the reaction to me — will people look at me differently? What conclusions and judgments will they draw about me? Nonetheless, for many, many years I have kept returning to a deep conviction that it was important for me to “come out” and be public about my experiences. It seems to me to be painfully obvious that few people would put themselves through what is required to bring a claim forward — what I am living, in other words.

You may look at me and see an accomplished university professor, a mother of three daughters and a son, a wife, and advocate. You may look at me, Your Honour, and assume that I have moved past my abuse. I am resilient, that’s true, but it would be naïve and wrong to see my adult self, now more than 40 years later, and divorce that from the violations I endured at his hands. I will never know what a life untouched by such an egregious breach of trust so early in my life, would have been. I have succeeded in spite of his violence, but I carry the scars of his conduct with me — in my PTSD, in my fears and terrors, and in the time I spent telling this Court my story. The impact of his abuse, which I endured when I was a teenager, has lasted a lifetime.

Finally — please close your eyes for a moment and look past me. I am just one of many. That is the community that I represent here. Survivors of sexual abuse need justice. Our lives have been changed forever by what was done to us.

Written by Dr. Julie Macfarlane, Distinguished University Professor and Professor of Law, University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada, sexual assault and abuse survivor, and member of the Order of Canada. Going Public: A Survivor’s Journey from Grief to Action is also the title of Dr. Macfarlane’s new book to be published by Between the Lines.



Julie Macfarlane

Going Public: A Survivor’s Journey from Grief to Action. For survivors, advocates, & survivor-advocates. About Dr. Macfarlane: https://bit.ly/2G9hXJ6