RACHEL Brown was adopted from a care home by a man who went on to abuse her for the majority of her childhood. The brave Darlington woman recently decided to go public with her story, in the hope of encouraging other victims of historic sex abuse to come forward.

This week, we published her harrowing tale of grooming, manipulation and sexual exploitation in the hope that her story will give others the confidence to seek justice, no matter how long it has been.

During my time at The Northern Echo, I’ve occupied the press bench at courts across the North-East to watch innumerable trials unfold. Some of those I will never forget and most of those are rooted in sexual abuse, abuse of the kind that changed and shaped Rachel’s life, the kind of abuse that too many people must live with forever.

There are images that will stay in my memory, snapshots of lives ruined by criminals who exploited others in their quest for power, for sexual gratification, for reasons that will often never be made clear. I’ve heard numerous victim impact statements outlining the devastation wrought by rapists, by abusers, and I’ve seen sentences handed down that could never reflect, nor mitigate, harm that was done.

I’ve watched a brave woman take to the stand to recount, in excruciating detail, the times she was assaulted as a child. I’ll never forget the judge who told her abuser that those crimes were “water under the bridge” because he’d lived a decent life since tearing hers apart. I’ve listened to outlandish claims made by a man who was convicted after drawing out a horrific experience and blaming his victim for the attack that began when he raped her as his partner slept in an adjoining bedroom. His representative in court questioned why she hadn’t made more noise when attacked.

Behind the sex abuse allegations that make it to court – and most don’t – is someone who decided to speak out, who somehow mustered enough courage to set out on a road to justice that is long, gruelling and needlessly unpleasant, a road that all too often still stops at a dead end, at barriers constructed on ancient foundations of historic disbelief, blame and shame.

The trials I’ve reported on represent a tiny percentage of the tiny percentage of cases that will reach court – 2017 figures show that just one rape in every 14 reported to the authorities ended in conviction, while 2018 statistics from the Crime Survey of England and Wales revealed that 26 per cent of women and 15 per cent of men had been sexually assaulted.

Rachel Brown hid the abuse she suffered at the hands of her adoptive father for decades, finally reporting him to the police when her mother died. Doing so meant she was alienated from family members and forced to confront again the horrors he inflicted upon her. But it also meant that one more person spoke up, that one more abuser was put behind bars. More than 80 per cent of victims do not report their experiences to the police. I echo Rachel in hoping that her story, and the stories of those who have gone before her, will help to give confidence where there is fear and doubt, that eventually they will bring about a change in those damning statistics.