Sara claims she was raped by a church official who was in the Orange Order after performing at a Methodist Church in Fermanagh over 40 years ago, then sent to a Christian therapist when she told a Methodist minister.

She says she went missing for three days and contemplated taking her own life before informing her minister who feared alerting the authorities to the allegations surrounding the Orangeman in case it “would affect the church’s work in the community”.

Sara (not her real name) claims to have been sexually abused by a man in his car at a layby overlooking Lough Erne less than an hour after he watched her singing at the front of the church.

It was right in the middle of the Troubles and tensions were high and as members of Sara’s family were involved in the security forces so too were the levels of personal security.

“If we had to perform in churches in other towns in Fermanagh [names alleged abuser] was one of the men who would volunteer to bring me and that’s when the abuse took place,” she said.

She claims the sex abuse she faced, including rape, occurred at least once a month and took place in his car.

“He always dressed up for church; he was in a suit. I remember mum bought me a blue denim coat, I thought ‘wow, I can wear this to church with all the buttons and buckles and he’ll never be able to get it off me’. But it didn’t matter.”

She remembers having to sing at the front of the church while her alleged abuser watched from one of the pews. She remembers the look on his face, glaring at her as she performed.

“You’d have to stand up there on the pulpit and there he would be somewhere at the back, looking at you, with a smirk on his face. You knew you had to go home with this man, you knew what was going to happen when you did,” she said.

As a result of the alleged abuse Sara “went off the rails”, her mental health suffered and she thought about taking her own life. Yet time and time again she could not muster up the strength to tell her parents or the RUC what was going on.

“I had just tried attempting suicide again. I went missing for three days, I was going to take my own life, I was ready to drive into the lough. When I finally went home mum sent me to a Methodist Church minister. She asked the minister to tell her why I was the way I was and what was going on. She thought the minister had some sort of magic wand. The minister prayed with me, said lots of prayers. I was in bits,” said Sara.

The meeting wasn’t anything but fruitful and days later Sara got into her car and drove to the minister’s house where she says she told the minister about the alleged abuse not only at the hands of one of the church officials but by the Orangemen.

“The minister didn’t want to know because it might affect the church’s work in the community. What? I had just told the minister I had been sexually abused by a church official and by all those Orangemen.”

During our interview, Sara shared notes from a journal she started writing in 1998, months before she formally reported the allegations to the RUC.

One entry reads: “The minister didn’t want to know in case it would affect the church’s work in the community. There was another man in the room who said he did not think the response would be favourable.”

Instead the minister prayed with Sara, they drank tea and ate buns and then suggested that she should visit a Christian therapist and seek help.

“The advice of the therapist in Moira was that I had to learn how to forgive as forgiveness was the only way forward. Forgiveness! Can you believe that? The church organised that, they referred me to that guy. As far as I am concerned they wanted it to go away,” she said.

Sara claims in the time ahead her alleged abuser’s daughter visited her personally to “apologise for what he did”.

Sara is critical of the response of the church and believes she was “let down by those who should have cared”.

“It comes back to the age-old Catholic/Protestant thing; the belief that only Catholics do nasty things like that to their children, that only Catholics could be alcoholics, or be abusers or paedophiles or victims. And that we protestants are much better than that, and there is no way we can let the side down.

“It is rotten. We have spent years ripping the Catholic Church to pieces focusing on priests and all of that. But I am telling you it is not just the Catholic Church; it is the protestant churches too. I should know, it happened to me,” she said.