An international campaign to end violence against women and girls — 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence — runs every year from 25 November to 10 December.

To help raise awareness of the campaign, Penny has shared her story of violence and abuse.

Penny Snowball was sexually assaulted when she was a young child. However, it wasn’t until years later when she visited her doctor that she began to have any memory of the traumatic of events that took place in her childhood.

During an examination, Penny had an emotional outburst. Suddenly memories of sexual, emotional and physical abuse she’d repressed for all these years came flooding back. This day marked the beginning of her 20-year journey into therapy.

Penny’s flashbacks started with memories of her uncle who had sexually abused her. This was confirmed when she was 38 and at her aunt’s birthday party where her uncle touched her inappropriately and made vulgar comments, saying, ‘You are such a handsome woman. I can remember a time when I could do to you the things I’d like to do to you now,’ as he ran his hands down her breasts standing in a hotel reception area.

Penny completely froze.

She found the courage to tell her mother, as everyone was preparing to go to the birthday lunch. She was harshly silenced and branded an attention seeker. It was only when Penny told this story the next day at an AA meeting that it was confirmed to her that what she was describing was sexual assault.

For two years she was emotionally traumatised and too paralysed to take action, until one day when she decided to write a letter to her aunt explaining what her husband had done to her. Once again, Penny was silenced, branded a liar and made to feel like an inconvenience to the family.

Penny not only felt that she deserved to be heard, but she was also aware that her uncle now looked after his granddaughter once a week and she wanted to prevent the same things happening to her.

Penny’s difficult upbringing and lack of security at home put her in a vulnerable position growing up. When she was just three and a half years old, her mother left — leading her father to remarry a woman who terrorised and abused Penny, slapping her so hard that her ears used to ring. Penny has been left severely damaged from this; physically, neurologically and psychologically.

Growing up, Penny’s family ran pubs. It was in one of these pubs, before the age of seven years old, where she suffered further abuse.

One of the pub barmen used to come and see me when I was alone. I remember I would be lying on the sofa and he would talk to me. I don’t really have any other memories apart from the fact that he used to come and do things to me while I was on the sofa. I was a very sickly child and would often be off school and on the sofa.

It sounds strange, but I felt like we built up a very good relationship and I used to enjoy it when he came and spent time with me. This is part of the shame of sexual abuse — you are made to feel so special you cannot actually see that it’s all so wrong.

Alongside the abuse at home, Penny was badly bullied at school by the other children. When she came home and told her stepmother, Penny was told that it was no surprise she was bullied, because she was such a nightmare. The recurring pattern for Penny is that she was constantly being blamed for the abuse she endured — never listened to or taken seriously.

Penny’s life started to spiral out of control as she got older, using alcohol to suppress the torrent of nightmares and flashbacks.

In 2015, when Penny was finally able to address the abuse she had suffered, she was told by her psychiatrist that her story was one of the worst cases of child abuse she had ever heard. She was encouraged to contact the police and an investigation was started for both sexual abuse cases. However, because one of the alleged perpetrators had died, and the other could not be found, the cases were dropped. A case of domestic violence relating to her stepmother was also subsequently dropped.

The police put Penny in touch with Victim Support, and her caseworker, Sam, is now helping her appeal this decision. Penny and Sam meet regularly to talk about the issues she faces.

Sam has been amazing. She comes to see me at my house because sometimes I get so distressed I don’t want to travel afterwards, or I just need to lie down as it has become too much. It took us a while to get to know each other, but now, I’m able to talk about stuff and Sam listens.

Penny is now settled in London. She has been sober for over ten years and is slowly piecing her life back together.

If you’ve been affected by violence or abuse, you can contact us for free and confidential support.