‘I want fellow survivors to come forward after I was sexually abused by my brother’ – Woman launches awareness campaign to help others affected

Zoe Cunningham is determined to support others who have been victims of sibling sexual abuse.

Zoe Cunningham is determined to support others who have been victims of sibling sexual abuse. - Credit: Archant

A woman has started an awareness campaign to help sexual abuse victims who are suffering in silence after she says she was abused by her brother.

Zoe Cunningham – who lived in Clifton and worked in Shefford before moving away – has waived her right to anonymity and told the Comet she was sexually abused by her brother, who was four years older than her, from the age of five to 12.

She said: “The abuse was mainly sexual and went beyond just touching.

“When it first started I thought it was a new game. I was a very young little girl at the time.

“We had just been ‘playing’ in his den and afterwards I went downstairs and was about to tell mum about this new game, when my brother put his finger to his lips to signal silence. These new games became our secret.”

As a direct result of the abuse, Zoe says she grew up and turned to alcohol, began to self-harm, battled with severe depression and even contemplated suicide.

Zoe said: “I am an intelligent woman, but that intelligence has been wasted while I concentrated on surviving.”

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In her mid-20s, Zoe had confided in her partner and close friends for the first time, but it was not until this year – at the age of 42 – that she decided to tell her parents about the sexual abuse. The following day, her brother hanged himself.

She said: “My parents blamed me for my brother’s death and my whole family pushed me out completely.

“The sad thing is I never hated my brother. He certainly didn’t need to kill himself – just own up and turn his life around.”

Zoe has now started a campaign – The Willow Project – to help other survivors of sibling sexual abuse, and intends to turn it into a charity and establish her own helpline.

She said: “The aim is to boost awareness, minimise isolation, fight the stigma and encourage survivors to come forward.

“I started this five weeks ago and people are already coming forward.”

For more information about the campaign, visit www.thewillowprojectmk.co.uk or email contact@thewillowprojectmk.co.uk.