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A police officer who was abused as a child is now fighting to help rape victims.
Growing up in a 'poverty stricken' council estate in northern England, Jon Needham's life was bleak from an early age - and it was to get much, much worse before it got better.
His dad was incarcerated and his mum ended up spiralling, having a 'massive breakdown' which saw her taken to a secure hospital.
Aged seven, he was taken into foster care, for what would become the most isolated and traumatic period of his life - which has had an enduring impact across the decades since.
He was put in a room with an adult who raped him regularly for around a year.
"I would fixate on a light in the distance, like an orange light, or something coming through the curtain, because it wasn't always at night, it was in the daytime as well," the 46-year-old told LADbible.
"People say I'm a good poker player because I can get to this place in my mind where I show no emotion, show no feeling.
"I've even used it at the scene of a couple of terrorist attacks in recent years, or sudden death or something like that, and I actually use it on purpose. I think I just go to that place where it sort of protects me, mentally and emotionally."
The perpetrator of his abuse had a military background and would burst into the room wearing a gas mask and wielding a knife, prompting Jon to wet the bed.
Unsurprisingly, he was a 'nervous wreck' growing up. In fact, his experiences left him with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
"I had nightmares about a guy with a gas mask and knives coming up to my throat for 20 odd years," he recalled.
He eventually got out of foster care when his dad was released from prison and he spent his 20s floating from job to job, feeling lost.
But in 2009 - after trying and failing on numerous occasions - he made it into the police force.
Now working in law enforcement, he felt duty-bound to report his abuser, and having told nobody for decades about the abuse he suffered, he felt like a 'walking pressure cooker'.
Jon said: "When I got to court, the judge said to me, 'Why didn't you speak sooner?', because it took me 26 years or something to talk about it.
"I said to the judge, 'If someone put a blowtorch to my face, the shame and the stigma was that powerful and that strong that I would never, ever mention it'.
"That's why it takes so long for many people who have been through similar experiences to me to talk about these extremely difficult circumstances."
But after digging up all of his trauma in court the jury was hung - twice - and the perpetrator walked free.
In the aftermath, Jon said he was the lowest he's ever been. Plagued by panic attacks and depression, he scarcely left the house.
But after a lot of apprehension, he credits counselling for helping him turn his life around.
He said: "It turns out to be the most amazing release. She was just brilliant, and she just absorbed it.
"She didn't judge anything I said, and I felt believed, and I felt like I had my say, almost.
"It's a bit like if you have an operation - initially it's painful, for a few sessions, and then once you get a few weeks down the line, I started really feeling a lot better."
Jon now works in a lifetime offender management unit, where he deals with serious and organised criminals; he is also working to help his colleagues understand the experience of abuse survivors, and is aiming to establish a 'victim survivor ambassador' in every force in the UK.
Jon said: "They would give victims and survivors a true voice within the service, rather than any sort of token box-ticking exercise.
"What they would do is get involved in training - maybe specialist units or new officers - where they would sort of help them to improve their empathy and understanding and put themselves in the shoes of the victim."
As for Jon, he's finally reached a great place in his life.
He said: "Things have never been so good. I don't suffer with depression. I don't have any regrets. The guilt, shame is all gone - I have none.
"In fact, I'm extremely proud. I walked down the street the other day, I was smiling to myself, because I was thinking about how far I've come on. It's almost a miracle really."
Where to get help: If you've ever experienced sexual violence or sexual abuse, you can get confidential support from specialists who will listen to you, believe you and understand how hard it is to talk about.
Do you know someone who has experienced sexual abuse or violence? You can help by listening and telling them that you believe them. You can also help them to get support if they wish to.
Visit gov.uk/sexualabusesupport to see the support on offer.
Featured Image Credit: Jon Needham
Topics: Daily Ladness
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