Yvonne Ellis, founder of the community support group Daughter Arise, tells Celia Buzuk how being abused as a child made her determined to help others recognise and overcome the trauma of child abuse
Yvonne Ellis’ father had begun to sexually abuse her when she was just nine-years-old. Now 39, she speaks of a culture of inertia and denial in her family that allowed the abuse to continue for over half a decade, motivating her to found the Brixton support group, Daughter Arise.
The group helps survivors of sexual abuse to speak out and get the support they need.
“Every Friday and Saturday night, when my father used to sexually abuse me, he would take me across the estate to my nan’s house. He used to get me up out of my bed, put on my coat over my night dress and tell me to go and wait under the stairs in our living room.”
She discovered years later that her father had been her grandmother’s partner first (a year separated them in age) before moving on to her mother who at the time was only a teenager.
“He used to come into the bathroom every night and assault me. Years later, when I asked my mother about this, she said it was normal for Jamaican fathers to come into the bathroom and do that with their daughters.”
Yvonne Ellis only found the words to describe what had happened to her when Childline visited her school in 1988 to educate pupils about sexual abuse.
But when Yvonne reported the abuse to Childline, the family closed ranks to protect her father from prosecution: “The police took me to hospital where I was examined and they confirmed my physical scarring.
“During this time, my mother and grandmother stripped bare the room that I was abused in every Friday and Saturday night for five years to remove any evidence, and he walked free.”
Yvonne was taken into the care system where she describes grieving for the loss of her family and her childhood.
At her lowest point, she suffered depression, two nervous breakdowns and suicidal thoughts.
“I ended up in a clinic in Chelsea. I was broken. I was very destructive. I smoked weed. I drank alcohol. I went through a stage of promiscuity. I was a reckless person and I did anything I could to avoid facing up to it.”
Despite the enormous personal and emotional cost of coming forward, Yvonne wants to encourage others to do the same.
“If you asked me if I would do it again, I would in a heartbeat, because I couldn’t go on. I am not going to live my life in secret.
“I want people to find the courage to come forward and get the support that they need.
“While I won’t be able to forget, I will move on and use all that energy to help other people and take some good out of that.”
Yvonne formed Daughter Arise in 2011. It holds a support group in Brixton once a month and provides a helpline on Tuesday evenings from 7.30pm to 9pm. The first point of contact is to email.
“A lot of people come to me through my Daughter Arise Facebook page. If I have given talks, they will contact me through the literature that I have left behind.
“Me and a couple of girls go to Brixton and Peckham and speak to people in the street. You will be surprised how many people come and talk to me and say, ‘I was sexually abused’,”
Yvonne found that, while organisations such as NSPCC exist to help younger people, there is little support once survivors reach their late teens.
“That was the age when the care system pushed me out and that was the gap that needed to be filled.”
Her group offers practical help and emotional support for those going through the legal process as well as mentoring and befriending workshops.
“I’m a Christian, so my faith in Jesus has helped me to talk about it, but also know that I have done nothing wrong.
“The workshops that I have created are about looking at things that can help you start facing what has happened to you and move on to have a more hopeful future.”