Victim of Saltford rapist speaks about how he still suffers from decade of sexual abuse
A man who was sexually abused as a child by his stepfather for a decade has spoken about the mental trauma it has caused him.
David Eslick, 54, from Saltford was jailed for 10 years at Bristol Crown Court in December 2017 after being found guilty of 20 different charges dating back to the 1980s.
The offences included: eight charges of indecent assault on a male person, six charges of indecency with a child, and five charges of serious sexual offences, including rape.
Eighteen of the 20 charges were fro crimes against Kurt Knight and two later offences against another victim in 2001.
Mr Knight told Bristol Live how between the ages of five and 15, he was subjected to relentless abuse from his stepfather, who forced him to endure years of suffering.
He said the violence waged against him ranged from being threatened with a gun and forced to watch animals being killed, to sexual assault and rape.
Eslick’s campaign of abuse began when Kurt was just five years old, and the troubled family were living in the Highridge area of Bristol.
One of Kurt’s earliest memories, he recalled, is of being at the gates of his infant school and wondering if the other children in the playground were facing the same torment he had been subjected to.
He said: “As a little boy I didn’t even realise that what was happening to me was unusual, that’s how much it was normalised at home.
“I just knew that I was scared of him [Eslick] and never wanted to go home at the end of the day.”
He added: “Everything he did to me was based on intimidation.
“I was constantly on edge – he wanted me to know he was in control at all times.”
Eslick would frequently come up with new ways to terrify him throughout his early childhood, Kurt explained, exposing him to extreme violence and threatening behaviour.
“One day, when I was about 10, I had a friend to come and play after school at my house,” Kurt said.
“He [Eslick] came home and took out a revolver handgun, and started waving it around.
“He showed us that it was loaded, and then told us that he wanted to play Russian roulette with us.
“We were children, with no choice, having a gun pointed at us at point-blank. I’ll never forget how powerless that made me feel.”
Hysterical, Kurt’s mother’s screams alerted neighbours at the time and police were called, but Eslick managed to escape before they arrived.
Eslick disappeared from their life for a few months but eventually returned – a pattern that would come to dominate Kurt’s childhood.
On other occasions, Eslick would show Kurt the animals, such as cats, he had killed, and even committed the violent acts in front of him.
Despite police being called to the address several times, Kurt claims, serious enforcement action was never taken.
Kurt only found out decades later, during Eslick’s trial, that another child’s parent had reported their concerns about Eslick to the police.
After recounting his trauma time and time again throughout the police investigation, legal process, and therapy, he chose not to explain the details of the sexual abuse he had suffered in detail.
However, he said the intimidation and violence he had suffered as a small boy continued throughout his childhood until it became sexual in nature, with regular assaults against him.
By the time Kurt was a teenager, Eslick had begun to use rape as another method of abuse.
At around the age of 12 – to his relief – Kurt was taken into care.
Shockingly, however, it was decided he should be released into Eslick’s care at the weekends. He would take him to Eslick’s mother’s house, Kurt explained, where he would be free to abuse him.
Kurt said: “It got so bad that I would run away, even when I was really small.
“I would try and tell adults how I felt so I could go to a children’s home but he terrified me so much that I could never explain exactly what was happening. I was just a child.
“The school and social services were involved at points, but they actually told my family that he was a good influence on me. They thought he was a role model.
“I feel that I was failed completely, by everyone around me. It’s taken me a very, very long time to come to the realisation that it was never my fault – for so many years I blamed myself and thought there must be something wrong with me.
“That feeling of guilt stuck with me, especially as I got older and the abuse became increasingly sexual.
“I felt wrong, dirty – I was manipulated into feeling like I wanted it at points and so I thought the problem was me. That sense of shame kept me quiet for so long.
“In reality, I was failed by everyone around me.”
Now aged 40, Kurt lives with mental health problems, including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, which have a severe impact on his day-to-day life.
He struggles with insomnia, and regularly has nightmares about the attacks he endured as a child.
Despite training as a plumber, he has been unable to hold down a job due to his anxiety, and acute paranoia has resulted in him living separately from his former partner and three young children.
He said: “My children mean more to me than anything in the world – even when I’m struggling I know that I need to be here for them. Having them is really all that gets me through the day sometimes.
“Rationally, I know they are safe, but after years of what Eslick put me through I am constantly paranoid that they are in danger. It’s been more than 20 years and yet I still feel like I can’t escape.”
He has undergone years of counselling and therapy in order to escape the emotional trauma wrought upon him by Eslick.
As a teenager he found himself homeless and his desperation to escape life on the streets meant he was extremely vulnerable to the risk of being caught up in criminal activity.
As a young man he was convicted of several offences mainly relating to theft, and spent several sentences in prison and young offenders institutions.
He said: “I was angry, confused, I had no idea how to conduct myself in the world outside my abusive childhood.
“I was constantly on the defensive, and just doing whatever I thought I had to do in order to survive.
“There were people who helped me, but their help came at a price and I found myself relying on crime to stay afloat.”
It was, however, during a spell in prison that he was finally able to access some level of support.
He said: “We had a counsellor in prison who encouraged us to work with her – I was really closed-off at first but she was amazing. She made me realise for myself that I needed to get help.
“I opened up to her about what had happened in my childhood, and how it had ended up with me being there in prison.
“She was the first person to ever tell me that it wasn’t my fault, I was just a kid. She said ‘the child is always innocent’.
“That was a huge turning point for me – it felt like someone had flicked a switch and I could start to make sense of the nightmare I had been put through.
“Even though I was in a really bad situation, I knew at that moment there was a possibility I would recover. I had never let myself imagine it before.”
By the mid-2000s, almost ten years after Kurt had last seen Eslick and with the encouragement of his former partner, he decided to approach the police.
However, after forcing himself to recall the harrowing memories he had been trying to suppress for years, he found himself unable to go through with it.
His fears were later compounded when Eslick contacted him via social media and sent him a chilling message which read: ‘aren’t we friends anymore?’
At that point, Kurt realised Eslick knew he had tried to report him to the police.
It was another 10 years before Kurt summoned the strength to return to a police station in 2016, and this time go through the process of giving several taped interviews which were eventually used as evidence during the trial.
He said: “The second time I think I was at a better point in my life – although it was horrible having to talk through everything that had happened to me and quite humiliating at times, it was much easier than it had been before.
“The police were really helpful, and talked me through how everything would work once the proceedings started.
“It was hard to hear about the other victim and realise that he [Eslick] had continued, but it did strengthen me a lot to know that I wasn’t going to be alone.
“It was the thought that I could finally get some closure, both for me and my family, that really pushed me to do it.”
Although the other victim remained behind a screen for the duration of the trial, Kurt decided that he wanted to come face to face with Eslick in the courtroom – partly so he could see what he now looked like, and partly to show him just how much his power over him had weakened.
Kurt said: “The trial was everything I’d feared for the past twenty years coming to life – being forced to go over and over what had happened to me and actually come face to face with him.
“I just wanted to be able to look at him and show him that he didn’t scare me anymore, even if on the inside I was incredibly anxious.
“There was just one moment where he saw how scared I really was, when I picked up a glass of water and he could see my hands shaking.
“There was a stare he used to do when I was small that would absolutely terrify me – just a really cold, intimidating look – and he used it then.
“That time though it worked in my favour because I was able to point it out to the jury, and they could see for a moment what a monster he really was toward me.
“I think he was treated too well during the trial, but that look showed him for what he really was.”
The jury at Bristol Crown Court eventually found Eslick guilty of 20 historic sexual offences, meaning that for the first time, Kurt was able to see the power imbalance between them finally start to shift.
The moment of sentencing itself, however, brought new challenges to light.
Praise for Kurt’s bravery
“In a way I was relieved,” Kurt said, “because it meant that there would be years where I wouldn’t have to worry about him coming to find me. Even though I hadn’t seen him for such a long time before the trial, the thought that he would track me down had always stayed with me.
“It wasn’t until afterwards that the reality of the sentence really hit me. I just thought to myself ‘I’ve been struggling my whole life because of this man, and he could be out within a few years?’ I feel like I’ve been given a life sentence instead of him.
“Despite the ways I believe I was failed by them as a child I think the police did a good job, and I’m so grateful to the other victim who came forward, but I think ultimately we were really let down by the sentence.”
In addition to the 11-year sentence (ten years’ custody and one year on license), Eslick was handed a Sexual Harm Prevention Order, and is banned from working with children indefinitely. He will also remain on the Sex Offenders Register for life.
At the time of sentencing, Allie Longhorn, the head of CPS South West Rape and Serious Sexual Offences (RASSO) Unit and district crown prosecutor, said: “Eslick was a sexual predator and his actions had a profound effect on his two young victims.
“Their bravery in coming forward must be commended; it is only with their support that we have secured his conviction.
“This case demonstrates that any complaints of sexual offences, whether recent or historic, are taken seriously and we endeavour to ensure that all perpetrators are brought to justice.”
According to the CPS, between 1983 and 2001, Eslick repeatedly subjected his victims to serious sexual assaults which have had life-long ramifications for them.
On sentencing him, His Honour Judge Lambert said: “You have previous convictions but these are old and of little relevance to the sentencing process. You were convicted after a trial of 20 sexual offences against two young victims which span the years between 1983 and 2001.
“Your offending abated for some time during that period but you are responsible for severely damaging these young victims via your predatory sexual advances.”
Eslick was sentenced to a total of 11 years – 10 years’ imprisonment and one year additional licence for an offender of particular concern. Eslick was also given a Sexual Harm Prevention Order and is barred from working with children indefinitely.
‘I want people to know exactly what he has done’
When it came to making the decision to share his story, Kurt explained, there were several reasons that prompted him to reach out.
“First of all, I just want him to be named and shamed,” Kurt said. “In many ways he has ruined my life – my sense of self worth, my relationship with my family, dreams of a career. It’s so hard to stop that from just completely eating away at you.
“He won’t be in prison for half as long as he has made me suffer, and I feel like he could easily come out and go back to living a normal life. I want people to know exactly what he has done, and what he is capable of.
“I often think about what I could have done, what my life could have been like, if he hadn’t been in it. It’s a powerless position to be in, and I want to leave it behind.”