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A Belfast woman who was s*xually abused by her stepfather as a child has renounced her anonymity to speak about what happened to her.
Haileigh Ashton Lamont said that she wanted to tell her own story, in her own words, but also to share her experience of the prosecution process.
She said she did so in the hope that she could help prepare other victims and survivors who are considering coming forward.wikipedia
Her abuser, Tommy Harris, 48, pleaded guilty to 42 counts of s*xual assault.
The charges against Harris, who has an address on Wynchurch Road in Belfast, included rape, attempted rape, indecent assault and gross indecency with a child.
The abuse took place over a decade, from 1999 to 2009.
It started when Haileigh was seven and didn’t end until she was 18.
Judge Rafferty said: “Ms. Lamont is commendable for the courage she has shown in bringing this case before this court.
“The crimes that this defendant committed against the victim in this case were a vile litany of depravity.
“I have very little doubt that the defendant treated his daughter like a s*x toy.
“He groomed her and abused her. He abused her for her own s*xual gratification.
“A child who was expected to feel nothing but love and protection from a father figure received nothing but s*xual abuse.
“This behavior in which he engaged was a serious breach of trust. The 10 years of abuse amounted to nothing less than a campaign of s*xual abuse and rape. He inflicted humiliating and degrading behavior on his victim. ”
Judge Rafferty said Harris would spend eight years in prison, followed by a similar period on supervised leave.wikipedia
PPS Chief Prosecutor Jenny Burns said
PPS Chief Prosecutor Jenny Burns said her felony unit worked closely with the PSNI to prosecute Tommy Harris.
“I want to pay tribute to the survivor of this case, who is now an adult. She has shown tremendous courage in reporting the abuse she suffered to the police. The abuse occurred a considerable number of years ago and this case shows that the passage of time is not necessarily a barrier to successful prosecution in these cases.
“We know that it is not easy for victims and survivors of s*xual abuse to come forward and talk about what has happened to them and the criminal trial process can be overwhelming. Our Serious Crimes Unit prosecutors are experienced and trained to handle s*xual crime cases, and we treat victims and survivors with sensitivity and respect at all times.
Fight for justice
Last year, after seeing how her physical and mental health was affected by the pressure, Haileigh informed the police of what happened.
Now 30, she said: “On July 7 I walked into a police station in Belfast. I was hysterical, I was in a panic, I couldn’t breathe.”And that’s when I said for the first time in my life: ‘My stepfather s*xually abused me when I was a child.’
“I thought I once said that out loud at a police station that it would be enough.
“But since then, I have had to fight to get justice, and it has been a fight.”
‘Feeling of dread’
Haileigh said her first and most complete memory of her s*xual abuse was of her when she was seven or eight years old.
She said that she lived in fear all the time.
“If you can imagine the feeling of dread you’ve had or the worst day of your life, that was my day to day,” she said.
“Whenever I was a small child, I did not know why my skin stood up, why I wanted to die, because I was a person in a position of trust and I was too young to understand.
“And then as I grew up I was still a child, but I understood that it was s*xual abuse that I was suffering from and so often I had to live with all of it and pretend it was okay, because it was so wrong.” afraid of what she would do if she gave him away or if someone found out.
A Laganside Court judge told Haileigh that she should “hold her head up high”
Haileigh said that she still feels an overwhelming urge to apologize to anyone she brought into her life because they were exposed to what had happened.
“But he was so in survival mode that I didn’t see him like that at the time,” she said.
“I managed to divide it between me and him, and I chose myself.”
Haileigh wanted to give up the anonymity that she is legally entitled to as a victim of s8xual abuse in order to “take control” of her story.
“You can’t do what he did to me and get away with it. There have to be consequences,” she said.
“If I can share my experience and this resonates with one person and they think that if they show up they might have a better understanding of what to expect, then it’s worth it to me.”
‘Don’t be afraid anymore’
Haileigh said that she wants justice, but what is justice for her now?
“If I had answered that when I walked into the police station, I was so focused that I needed a conviction,” she said.
“All my life I fantasized about justice.
“For me, justice now is the sound of my voice: to be able to talk about this and not be afraid anymore after living my whole life in fear.”
Haileigh said that she is now “excited” about her future: she is in college, studying to become a counselor.
“I feel like I’m on the starting line, like I can do anything,” she said.
“I am an excellent example of not knowing what happens behind closed doors, because I know that no one would have suspected what I have been through or what I was keeping to myself.”
Harris will be sentenced next month.
On Thursday, at Laganside Courthouse in Belfast, a judge told Haileigh that he should “hold his head up” after reading his statement about the victim’s impact.
She said, “You have done absolutely everything that could be expected of you to bring this case to a conclusion.”
Haileigh has this message for her abuser.
“I will not be remembered as the little girl who was s*xually abused,” she said.
“I will be remembered as the young woman who boldly and courageously defended herself and exposed a pedophile.
“That is not a representation of defeat, it is victory.”