Dance star tells of sexual abuse ordeal

By Simon Collins

Aaron Gilmore says it's important to tell people about sexual abuse. Photo / Richard Robinson
Aaron Gilmore says it's important to tell people about sexual abuse. Photo / Richard Robinson

When Aaron Gilmore told police he had been sexually abused by a woman, the police officer's first response was: "I'm failing to see a crime here."

"It was like being hit with a sledgehammer," says the Dancing with the Stars performer, who will tell his story at New Zealand's first sexual abuse survivors' "summit" in Auckland tomorrow.

Mr Gilmore, now 31, was sexually abused from the age of 12 by a woman 23 years older than him.

The offender, Hendrika Margaret Shaskey, was jailed for five years in 2003 for the abuse. But she would have faced a longer sentence had she been a man having sex with a girl because the law then had not conceived of the possibility of a woman abusing a boy.

"When she was first charged she was only going to be charged with cruelty to a child," Mr Gilmore says.

Charges of sexual violation were added later and the law was changed in 2005 to raise the maximum jail term to 10 years for any "sexual connection" with a person under 16 of either sex.

A survey of 9000 New Zealand high-school students in 2007 found that 5 per cent of the boys said they had been "touched in a sexual way or made to do sexual things they didn't want to do". Mr Gilmore believes many boys still don't admit to having been abused, and that the true abuse rate of males is closer to a US estimate of one in six.

"My personal opinion is that it's much more common than we realise," he says.

Mr Gilmore's abuser, Mrs Shaskey, was the mother of two other children at the Christchurch dancing school Mr Gilmore attended. She spotted him as a vulnerable 11-year-old. "She was genuinely nice to me," he says. "I didn't have that kind of relationship with my own mother - she didn't know how to connect with me."

Mrs Shaskey started taking him on activities with her own children, and at the same time cultivated a friendship with Mr Gilmore's mother. "I looked at her like a second mother."

After about nine months, when he was 12, Mrs Shaskey drove him to a carpark alone one night and started "full-on kissing". He was "in a state of shock", but also liked the physical closeness.

"My mother wasn't demonstrative at all. She didn't cuddle. So as a kid you want those things," he says.

Over the next few months he started staying the night at the Shaskeys', and Mrs Shaskey took him on a holiday to the West Coast.

In a hotel in Greymouth, she got into bed with him. Even though he had not yet finished puberty, his body responded. "That's one of the challenges of being abused as a guy ... It's a reaction to physical stimulus."

Mrs Shaskey's marriage broke up a few months later. She kept the children, and soon after Mr Gilmore's parents let her take him in as a boarder because she lived closer to his new high school and dancing school.

He rebelled once early on, but she "burst into tears ... and went storming down the hallway saying, 'That's it, I'm going to tell your parents'." He gave in, accepting that everything must be his fault.

"After that she really changed," he says. "She became quite mean and cruel and really, really controlling."

It took him more than five years to escape. Finally, when he was 18, he took up an offer to dance in Australia. Later he came back to Christchurch and, when he was 22, was referred by a workmate to free counselling funded by ACC.

The counselling gave him the courage to tell his parents, and then the police.

Now, he believes the only way to stop sexual abuse is to talk about it. He has his own children now, aged 7 and 5, and wants to make sure they never feel unloved.

On the web: www.sosanz.com

ABUSE BY NUMBERS

* 20 per cent of high-school girls, and 5 per cent of high-school boys, say they have been touched in a sexual way or made to do sexual things they didn't want to do.

* Only 43 per cent of the abused girls, and 29 per cent of the abused boys, have told anyone about it.

Source: www.youth2000.ac.nz

- NZ Herald

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