Stevenage woman who was subject to sexual abuse by Hitchin dog trainer urges others to speak out
- Credit: Archant
A woman who was sexually abused as a teenage girl has urged others who have suffered not to stay silent after helping to convict the paedophile responsible for her ordeal.
Joanne Walker gave evidence which helped convict Vincent Mitchell and waived her anonymity to speak exclusively to the Comet about the experience in the hope other employees at Kirkmore Kennels in Gosmore who may have suffered can seek help or come forward.
Joanne, who was just 14 when she joined the kennels in 1977, suffered abuse on a ‘daily basis’ until 1982 at the hands of Mitchell, 82, who lived at Lodge Farm Cottages prior to being sentenced to eight years in jail earlier this month,
Speaking about her ordeal, Joanne said: “His abuse has had a profound effect on my life. I feel I lost out on my teenage years. I can’t relax and find it hard to trust anyone. I’m 52 and feel totally burnt out.
“The psychological effect is like coming back from a war. You can’t explain it to anyone who hasn’t experienced it – it has been a waste of a life in a way.
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“Some days I feel like I can’t get out of bed, and all I want to do is pull the sheets over my head. But you try to move on even though I still have a lot of anger towards him. I feel like he has not only ruined my life but the lives of all those around me, including my two daughters, my mother, my ex-husband. I am so lucky to have the support of my partner of 14 years who has been my rock. She has been to hell and back with me and I can only thank her for all her support.
“I also have an excellent counsellor – but there’s no support groups for partners or families are there?”
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Following a trial at Cambridge Crown Court, Mitchell, a former Crufts judge, was found guilty to seven counts of sex offences dating from May 1976 to July 2008.
Passionate dog-lover Joanne, who is now a successful entrepreneur, said: “During the trial I had the option to give evidence behind a screen but I wanted to face him. He still looked arrogant, even at 82. I remember when I finally got the courage to stand up to him and say no to the abuse when I was 19 – all he did was laugh, smile and accept it, despite his reaction it was hugely empowering.
“I said to him during to the trial: ‘You know what happened – you’ve abused me and whatever happens now we both know the truth’.
“At 14 I was a very shy girl, and working with dogs was all I wanted to. I’ve been through all the questions as to why I stayed at the kennels when the abuse started. But I stayed because I just loved being with the dogs. It may sound incredible but how I used to deal with the abuse which happened on a daily basis was by rationalising it like it was cleaning your teeth – once it’s done you can move on with the rest of your day. I tried to put it in a ‘box’ and move on.
“I never told my parents or anyone because if you met him you’d say he was a nice bloke. I was 40 when I got together with my partner Debs after my marriage broke-up due to the emotional issues caused by the abuse. It took me all through my 40s to recognise ‘it’ and report it to the police.
“I can never understand why people belittle victims who retrospectively report abuse. Peole say: ‘Why do women bring it up thirty years later?’ Well, they lived with it every day for those thirty years – so people need to be brought to account whether the abuse happened last year or thirty years ago. It was horrible victims who reported Jimmy Saville in the 70s weren’t believed. Back then no-one talked about abuse, there weren’t many agencies like Rape Crisis or Childline to help.
“The main reason for me speaking out is if even just one local girl – or boy don’t forget – from the kennels or anyone in general who may have experienced abuse can stand up and report it, or even just talk it through with someone to help give them some peace, then me speaking up with have been worth it. And if it takes 20 or 30 years before you are ready to tell someone then so be it. You have to do what’s right for you.”
Understandably Joanne is still raw at Mitchell saying: “I do still have bouts of anger at him, and at wasting my life in terms of what I’ve gone through. I try not to be bitter, but I have to say I want him to have a bad time in prison and I want him to spend what time he has left behind bars.”
However, inspirational Joanne says her love of dogs has helped: “It is draining, however, I don’t feel ashamed or dirty, and have nothing to hide anymore. Debs and I have ten dogs and walking them every morning, epecially during the trial, helped us greatly. I love dogs as they love you unconditionally.”