Sheffield mum speaks publicly about the full extent of her abuse hell and wants more survivors to join her in ‘breaking the cycle of abuse’

“I don’t want to be defined by Shirley Oaks. I am just Ursula, a survivor,” says a Sheffield mum-of-two who is sharing her story to help others.
Ursula MyrieUrsula Myrie
Ursula Myrie

Ursula Myrie has chosen to go public about the experiences she had while in care – which she previously did not want to disclose – to highlight the damaging impact childhood abuse has had on her, as a black survivor.

The 46-year-old, from Woodhouse, Sheffield, said: “My abuse – as much as I am proud to be a Shirley Oaks survivor – began before and continued after.”

She added: “We need to start talking about the culture of abuse, the cycle of abuse and mental health in the black community. Until we do, we’re going to have young people passing off abuse as culture – that is why there is an over population on mental health wards and in prisons.”

Ursula was sexually and mentally abused at home as a child - her own mother would schedule for men in the community to rape her.

This massively affected her mental health and led to multiple suicide attempts and running away from home.

As a result, Ursula was put into care.

From the age of nine to 14, she was in and out of care homes - the main one bearing the name of Shirley Oaks, in Croydon.

It is now known that a paedophile ring was running the homes, under the operation of Lambeth Council.

Ursula told how over a two year period, she was raped and sexually abused by male staff while she added female staff would ‘beat the c*** out of me’.

She said: “I have memories of going to bed at night and being given something to eat or drink then not remembering anything. I would wake up with blood everywhere and have no recollection of what happened.”

She added: “I was often locked in cupboards and sheds.

“I was put in the shower naked while staff and other kids were made to watch.

“Swimming instructors would be commissioned to come in, just to rape us,” Ursula said.

She believes that because she was a ‘defiant child’ and fought, she received the brunt of the abuse.

Ursula also suffered a lot of racial abuse while in care, explaining how terms like ‘black monkey’, ‘rubber lips’, ‘golliwog’ and other racial slurs were regularly used.

The home was meant to be a safe place for vulnerable youngsters but everyone was involved in the abuse and staff did not care.

She did not understand why she would still get sent home at the weekend.

“Monday to Friday I was being abused in the care home. Friday to Sunday I was being abused at home. It was a consistent cycle for two years,” said Ursula.

Although it was a lengthy process, Lambeth Council eventually admitted its wrongdoing in 2016 and £100 million was to be awarded for compensation payouts to victims.

Despite her case being described as ‘one of the worst’ and being offered a large payout, Ursula found it hard to accept the money.

She saw it as ‘blood money’ and asked herself what it was going to change - it could not ‘stop the nightmares’.

She has now accepted the payment - though she is not ready to spend it.

Some form of responsibility has been admitted in terms of the abuse she has suffered in care, however the same cannot be said for the abuse she suffered at home.

Ursula said: “In the black community there are millions and millions that have never spoken.

“We are brainwashed. Abuse in the black community is passed off as culture, faith and religion.”

When Ursula was in Jamaica aged two to seven, the whole community was complicit.

“There was a ‘triangle of abuse’ in this community - as far as they are concerned, abuse is not abuse.”

Ursula had spoken to doctors and social workers but no one listened as it ‘wasn’t in their best interests’.

She said: “It isn’t easy for a young person to talk. There are consequences, especially if the abuser is a powerful person. If we do talk, we are shunned by the community, church, family. Where do you go for support?

“People would say ‘Why did you talk? It happened 20 years ago. It happened to my mother. She’s okay.’ You don’t want to talk when that’s the response.”

For Ursula, her abuse began almost 40 years ago and she explained her reasons for speaking out only now.

She added: “If you drop a stone into a river, the stone sinks, end of. There’s a ripple effect of that stone, which carries on for a very long time. It takes years for acknowledgement. It takes years to deal with the trauma, either through counselling or facing the perpetrator. Then there’s the healing process.”

Ursula recently had a 65-year-old woman reach out to her, who was abused but had never said a word about it.

She believes there must be others ‘still in so much trauma’ and who will die with it.

Ursula said: “If we don’t talk, that will continue.”

She said black women can be depicted as ‘strong and angry’.

“To change the culture of abuse we have to talk about it. It is finding out what you need to do, then getting family and friends involved and coming together as a community - what we can do to alleviate some of the pain,” she added.

Ursula has been living in Sheffield for 14 years now, helping many of the black community talk through her support group, Adira, and conferences such as Breaking the Cycle of Abuse.

She told how after the latest Adira conference, young black individuals from university groups expressed their need for her help ‘because they don’t know where to go’, stressing the importance of all organisations needing to work together.

Ursula said the predominantly white organisations should become more culturally aware of beliefs, faiths, religions and histories, by improving how they work with people in the black community.