"I WANT other people to speak out and know they will be heard. I didn't think I was going to be believed because it had happened so long ago, but I was."

Those are the words of a young woman who had her childhood stolen by an abuser.

Despite continuing to battle depression, anxiety in her everyday life, she has found the strength to encourage others to follow her path, report abuse and get justice.

From the moment her allegations were denied by Michael Sangster, she was plagued with fear that she would not be believed.

Guilty verdicts were nonetheless returned by the jury at Newcastle Crown Court, and she described the moment as if a "weight had been lifted" from her shoulders.

Now her abuser has been sentenced she can begin to move on, but she will always carry with her the ordeal.

Speaking anonymously to The Northern Echo for legal reasons, the victim said: "At first I didn't realise what he was doing was wrong but then I got older I started to realise.

"That's when I told him to stop."

It was not until sex education started to filter through at school that the victim began to understand what had happened.

"That's when I realised what he was doing was wrong," she said.

As she kept her mistreatment to herself, her behaviour changed.

She understood she was "upset and angry", but to others – including her mother – she became violent, wouldn't listen or eat and became disruptive at school.

Having buried the abuse for a time, she decided to tell a friend.

"She said we had to tell someone and then her mum said we had to tell a teacher at school because she knew she'd be able to help get it sorted.

"I didn't know what to think. I was just really upset. I realised that it was the right thing for me to do, to tell someone."

Police became involved, but it was a slow process waiting for it to come to court.

Not guilty pleas caused further delays and pain to the victim who was forced to relive her abuse to the court.

Since a guilty verdict was returned on all five charges, recurring nightmares have subsided but she continues to struggles to lead a normal life

"I try to cope with it but I don't cope very well. The whole week through the trial I wasn't eating. I was just trying to sleep all the time and couldn't be bothered to do anything.

"I go through days like that all the time. I always feel tired and down. I remember it and try to listen to music to distract my mind and it will come back again.

"I've found that since I've spoken about it it's been easier to live with. People understand why I react the way I do and they've got better ways of helping me cope with it."

She hopes others will do the same.

Commending her for speaking out, an NSPCC spokesperson said: “This young victim has been incredibly brave in coming forward, giving evidence and speaking at length about her horrific ordeal.

“The devastating effects of sexual abuse can last a lifetime and it’s important that survivors receive all available support.

“The NSPCC visits hundreds of primary schools each year with our Speak Out Stay Safe service to teach children about what abuse is and who they can turn to for help if it is happening to them.”

Adults with any issues or concerns can call the NSPCC Helpline on 0808-800-5000 while children and young people can call Childline on 0800-1111, or get help online at www.childline.org.uk

In 2016/17 NSPCC volunteers and staff delivered Speak Out Stay Safe in 156 schools and spoke to 28,012 children in the Durham area about their right to be happy and safe.

Katie Russell, of Rape Crisis, added: "Deciding whether or not to report to the police can be really difficult for many victims and survivors.

"We'd say to anyone who is considering reporting but feels unsure, Rape Crisis can listen and give you the specialist support and information you need to make a decision that feels right for you."