Scotland Must Reckon with Child Abuse

“We need to deal with historic child sex abuse and ensure we do not repeat mistakes perpetrated in the past.”

Ewan Gurr: ‘Conversation required to deal with historic abuse’ – Evening Telegraph

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph 21/12/2020

Historic child abuse is not a subject anyone should feel comfortable with. According to child abuse survivor and campaigner, Dave Sharp, Scotland has yet to reckon with an issue that has long existed below the surface of our illusion of a civilised society. Please consider this opening line as your health warning because this column is about unearth one of the most chilling experiences I have ever come across.

Born in 1959, Dave Sharp lost his mother early in life and was placed under the care of the Catholic church, where he spent the first 16 years of his life. He lived in Nazareth House in East Ayrshire and also Midlothian, both of which are now being investigated as a significant part of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, but his most vivid experiences of child abuse occurred at St Ninian’s in Fife, which was run by the Catholic order of Irish Christian brothers.

Dave, now 62 years old, recalls with devastating clarity hearing screams from outside his room as the priests and brothers would drag young boys from their beds before physically and sexually abusing them. The abuse Dave experienced started at the age of 10 years old and he recalls being trafficked to priests all over Scotland and Ireland. In one horrific experience, he was blindfolded with his hands tied behind his back and hung from a noose in a shower room before being beaten and raped.

Having escaped the clutches of St Ninian’s at 16 years of age after years of abuse, Dave fell into 25 years of drug addiction and 20 years of homelessness in over 50 homeless centres from Leeds to Liverpool and London. Whilst living on the streets of London as a young man, he recalls nights when expensive cars would draw up and pick up some of his friends as rent boys. They would ask Dave to hold their rucksacks telling him they would return in an hour but he recalls some never did.

After multiple overdoses, Dave describes an encounter he believes he had with God which became a turning point in his life. He became drug-free and launched a charity called SAFE to campaign against child abuse, even meeting with the late Cardinal Keith O’Brien and Archbishop Philip Tartaglia. In August 2016, he stood outside St Andrews Cathedral for ten days chained to an eight-foot cross handing out leaflets to church-goers and passers-by to raise awareness of child sexual abuse in Scotland.

Two months later, in October 2016, Scotland’s First Minister committed to identifying how Scotland could love its most vulnerable children and give them the childhood they deserve. As the Independent Care Review – now called The Promise – begins to take shape, Dave says: “This has the potential to be a game-changer.” He says: “We need a national conversation to help deal with historic child sex abuse and ensure we do not repeat in future the same mistakes perpetrated in the past.”