Manchester United legend, Patrice Evra has recounted the horrific sexual abuse he suffered as a child and how it continues to affect him.
The French football coach and former professional player had already opened up about his sexual abuse experience in his autobiography but has now come out to speak again as he hopes to help any child in the same situation.
The 41-year-old icon says he kept his experiences a secret for over a decade, saying it left him feeling shame, but realised how important it is to speak out.
According to Evra, he was 13 and living at his headteacher’s house at the time because his own home was too far from his new school.
The teacher would force his way into his bedroom at night and, believing he had gone to sleep, try to touch him under the covers.
“I knew what he was doing was wrong, so I tried to push him away and punch him,” Evra wrote in his autobiography, I Love This Game, published in October.
“There were no words spoken in the dark, but he was touching himself and getting sexually excited by what was happening … On the last night at that man’s house, when he knew that I was going back to my family, he finally succeeded. He put my penis in his mouth.”
“I didn’t tell anybody. I was too ashamed to speak to my mother and I didn’t know if anyone else would believe me.”
Before going public about his abuse, Evra was nervous that people’s perception of him would shift. He also felt guilty. Years earlier, aged 24, he received a call from police asking whether he had been abused by the headteacher, but, fearing the consequences, he did not want to admit that he had.
“Some kids had complained about this man and the police wanted to know if he’d ever tried to do something to me,”
he wrote in his book.
“Because I was famous and worried about the reaction, I lied and said no. They asked me if I was sure and I assured them I was. I have lived with that lie for many years. I can’t tell you how much I regret that.”
And he felt shame.
“It was: ‘What are people going to think about me? They see me as a strong man, as a captain, as a leader. When my teammates know, what are they going to think about it?’”
For years, rather than allowing himself to open up, “the way I coped with it was I had to shut down all my emotion”, he says.
“I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t show if I was too happy. I don’t want kids to live the same way I lived for so many years.”
It was only after stepping back from elite sport – when the potential knock-on effects would be less – that he was able to speak out. He says further:
“It’s something that has to come from yourself; not because someone pushed me. For me it was because I was watching a paedophile programme. [Margaux] saw my face change and said: ‘What’s the matter?’ and I said: ‘Nothing,’ and she said: ‘Come on, we don’t lie between each other. What’s the problem?’
“Then I opened myself because I felt safe. I felt like I couldn’t lie. She didn’t force me. And we had this conversation. So that’s why I say: ‘It’s tough to open [up].’”
Even now, looking back, he isn’t sure speaking out while he was playing would have served him well.
“I was thinking to myself: ‘Would the Patrice right now – where he’s more open, emotional, more feeling – succeed in the same way that I succeeded as a robot?’ With that robot, with that machine, winning winning winning was all that mattered.”
To encourage more reporting of abuse, and to lessen the stigma, it isn’t simply a case of telling victims to speak up, Evra says.
Instead, it is a matter of educating people and creating an environment where they can talk publicly. The same applies to encouraging footballers to come out as gay, and being open about other personal things, he says.
Evra told the BBC’s Today Programme:
“When I was 13. I was in a school too far from home, so I have to take a train, a three-hour trip. So my teacher proposed I sleep in his house, he was living inside the school.
At the beginning it was like a dream, he was cooking for me, letting me play video games. But every time when I was going to bed it was a nightmare, that’s when he was trying to sexually abuse me.
Every night it was fighting, and then one night he succeeded. I told my mum: I don’t want to sleep any more in that teacher’s house. She asked me why and I didn’t say why.
I lived with that until I was 24 years old, when I was playing for Monaco, and the police called me and said: This man has had a lot of complaints about other kids being sexually abused, did he do anything to yourself? And I said no.
I lied because first of all you feel shame about yourself, you feel guilty, and also you’re scared about what people will think – I was already a famous person. I regret, because it’s not about me, it’s about the kids.
That’s why in my autobiography I’ve been open about it, and thanks also to the woman of my life, Margaux, she helped get rid of that toxic masculinity and feel safe.
I felt like I could trust her, I opened myself and I talk, and you release something. I decided to put it in my book. My book was already finished and I called the publisher and said: I need to add something really important.”
The most devastating moment was when I saw my mum and telling her face to face, after I was 13 years old, at the age of 40: I’ve been sexually abused. Of course she was devastated, and I told her: I’m going to put that in my autobiography. She said: No, that is too personal. and I said: No, mum, it’s not for me, it’s for the children.”