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Predator Young mum sexually assaulted by 'father figure' family friend urges women to speak out

Brave sex assault survivor urges other women to speak out despite public abuse from predator's friends and a four-year wait for justice

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Dad-of-three Chris Hammond assaulted the teen as she slept in his house

Dad-of-three Chris Hammond assaulted the teen as she slept in his house

Dad-of-three Chris Hammond assaulted the teen as she slept in his house

A sexual assault survivor has urged other women to speak out despite her four-year wait for justice.

The 23-year-old was preyed on by former family friend Chris Hammond, who had told her for years she was like a daughter to him.

Hammond, of Creeslough Park in west Belfast, was convicted of sexual assault by penetration. He will now have to sign the sex offenders register and will be sentenced in May.

He had preyed on his victim while his wife was in the family home after the victim had been out for Boxing Day drinks with the couple.

She was just 19 at the time and regarded Hammond as a father figure. He denied assaulting her which led to abuse from his friends who branded her a liar.

The young mum still feels numb after a jury reached a unanimous guilty verdict and says giving evidence in court was harrowing.

But she is determined to rebuild her life after waiting for four years for the court case and has urged other women to tell police if they're attacked, and to seek counselling if they are struggling with the trauma of a sexual assault.

Hammond, a father of three and well-known in west Belfast as a takeaway food delivery driver, attacked the young woman four years ago after a night out with her and his wife.

"He was a friend of the family and we thought he was a good friend. We would have had a drink together and when he came into our family home, he'd just have opened the door and come on in," she says.

"He used to say he was like a second daddy to me and I was like a daughter to him.

"I was friends with his wife as well and we all went out for a drink on Boxing Night. We got a taxi back to their house and I was drunk, and I took myself off down to their bedroom. The houses in Creeslough have the bedrooms downstairs and the rest of the rooms upstairs.

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"I could feel his wife getting into bed too and she fell asleep. Later I was woken up by the sound of them fighting upstairs, all this shouting going on and I drifted back to sleep again."

The young woman says she was woken later by the sounds of heavy breathing in the room.

"He lay down and started touching me down below. I was just so disorientated. It was like it was happening in slow motion, but it didn't happen in slow motion. I froze. I was in pure shock."

She grabbed her clothes and fled into another room and hid under the bedcovers. Hammond followed her in and straddled her on the bed.

"He was saying 'kiss me' and 'f*** me'. I pushed him off me and ran upstairs and hid on the landing. I waited until I heard the bedroom door closing and then let myself out.

"I just wanted to get a shower. I just felt really dirty."

She confided in a neighbour who encouraged her to tell police, and several weeks later the young woman made a statement. She says that was a crucial part of the process as the tiniest detail became a battleground in court.

"You don't realise how much detail you have to put in. I didn't think it would ever get as far as a court. I didn't think I'd be given the opportunity to give evidence. It's only 16 per cent of girls who come forward, and I can see the reason why they don't.

"Being in the witness box and being torn apart is draining."

During the lengthy wait for a court hearing, partly caused by the pandemic, she also had to deal with the fallout of Hammond's denials.

On a rare night out at a music gig she was approached by one of his friends who hurled abuse at her.

"She was shouting at me. I couldn't say anything back to her because people would get their phones out and it would be all over social media and it would have been used in court against me.

"Four years was a long time to wait and I got fed up with people thinking I'd made this up. What intention would I have to make this up?" At Hammond's trial in Belfast Crown Court he was convicted of sexual assault by penetration and there was a hung jury on a second charge of sexual assault.

The young woman had expected to feel elation at the guilty verdict but still feels numb.

She's also been left feeling suspicious of people she doesn't know at her workplace, and less trusting.

However, she is in no doubt she would do the same thing again.

"I just want to put out there what happened because I was living in such a quiet area and you wouldn't think there was a predator in it.

"I think there has been a delay taking it in. I feel like I've been taken apart like a jigsaw and I'm trying to put myself back together again.

"I probably would do it again, just because there are not enough women who go forward.

"I've also got therapy now through my GP and I'd encourage any woman to ask for help if this has happened to them," she says.

roisin.gorman@sundayworld.com

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