By Louise Walsh
A Meath victim of sexual abuse whose attacker was recently sentenced to six years in prison, has bravely waived her anonymity to urge other victims of historic crimes not to be afraid to come forward.
Trish Flood from Navan said the abuse by a cousin left her suicidal and self-harming and doomed her to live a fake life, always looking for a hidden agenda in people.
The 47-year old has just appeared in a video by the Metropolitan Police Force to highlight the fact that in England, around one fifth of sexual offences including rape are reported more than five years after the offence occurred.
After 30 years of reliving her hell on a daily basis, Trish took the painstaking decision to report her attacker - her own first cousin Frank Forte who had manipulated her naivety and loneliness at just 15 years of age for his own benefit.
She was not sure if anyone would believe her or take her seriously over 30 years later - but it proved a decision that gave her back her life.
In 1986, 15-year-old Trish moved with her family from Navan to Walthamstow in London where she was visited often by her 34-year-old cousin Frank Forte
He brought her to properties he owned in Wanstead and Walthamstow and plied her with alcohol before sexually assaulting her. The abuse wasn't confined to these addresses however, he would visit Trish at her parents' home, join family trips and even assaulted her in Epping Forest.
He told the teenager that she must keep it a secret and that nobody could find out.
"I was flattered at first by the attention but the first time the abuse happened, I was like a rabbit caught in headlights. I was only 15 and it didn't register with me what was going on," she said.
The assaults continued eight times over six weeks before it stopped.
Over the years, the long-term effects of the abuse resulted in her falling for all the wrong guys in an effort to feel loved and boost her almost non-existent self-esteem.
At the time, Trish was unaware of how wrong Frank's behaviour was. It was only as she got older and underwent counselling that she was able to come to terms with the terrible ordeal she was put through at such a young age.
"I got to the stage where I said I could either pretend it didn't happen or do something about it and with the support of my husband Don and my fantastic group of friends, I got the courage to report it two years ago to Navan gardaí who then went through Interpol.
"Four months passed and I thought that was it as I hadn't heard anything and out of the blue, I got a call from a detective constable in England.
"They had arrested him and it was going to court.
"I have to say, the Met Police were fantastic. They followed up every lead and went into the tiniest of details like the colour of the walls of the room at the time.
"They also made a timeline of the small amount of people I had told over the years and contacted them.
Her ordeal was doubled as the first trial resulted in the now retired Forte being convicted of only one count of indecent assault. The jury was hung on the other three counts and Trish agreed to a new trial on the remaining three.
The jury at the retrial took only three hours to bring a verdict of the three counts of indecent assault and Frank - who showed no remorse - was sentenced to six years in prison last July.
"Handing back the shame to him made me feel very empowered. The relief it was all over and the relief that they (police) believed me was the greatest thing I've ever felt in my life."
In her victim impact statement, which she courageously insisted on reading to the court, she said: "For the last 31 years, not a day has gone by when I did not think of what was done to me.
"He commented a lot on my appearance in a negative way and I believed him. He used my insecurities to inflict psychological pain before the sexual abuse started not long after my 15th birthday.
"This abuse has impacted on every relationship I have had since then.
"My weight has been an issue since my teens as I was led to believe I was a grossly overweight girl and I had a lot of self-loathing as a result.
"When I look at photos now, I see I was a beautiful young woman whose naivety and vulnerability made me a target for the likes of Mr Forte.
"At the time the abuse ended, I was suicidal. I did not have a single person I could trust to talk about it. I self-harmed in secret and my school work suffered.
After the trauma of the court, Trish understands why some victims don't come forward but she hopes her experience will encourage more to finally stop being afraid.
"I didn't know what to expect (in court) but I didn't expect my character to be torn apart. I understand now why so many victims don't report their abusers.
"I consider myself to be a strong person but this process has taken me to rock bottom more than once. It broke my husband's heart to hear what I went through when I was 15 and our marriage came perilously close to breaking point.
"I have achieved my goal of justice for these crimes but they are a very hollow victory for me. I still have to relive these crimes over and over on a daily basis for the rest of my life."
However she hopes others will find the courage to speak out against their abusers.
"You have to be really strong. I don't regret any of it for a minute, as hard as it was."
Detective Inspector Jonathan Kent of the Met police said in the video: "I really admire Trish's courage in coming forward and speaking publicly on this matter and I really hope it encourages others to come forward to police if they are in a similar situation."
"We understand that crimes of this nature can stay with a person their whole lives so we are there as a specialised investigative unit to carry out those investigations because we are there to convict abusers no matter how historic or non-recent that case may be."