A few months ago, around when lockdown was biting, a friend asked if I’d take a look at some writing her friend had completed, and see what could be done with it.
Initially, I was reluctant. I get asked to read a lot of pieces from people, from short stories through to articles and on to whole novels. If I know that person, and I know they are a good writer, it is usually an honour. If not, it can be a chore. I didn’t know this woman, didn’t know what her piece was about other than ‘very personal’, and was immersed of my own solipsistic anxieties as the Covid crisis intensified.
Nonetheless, I gave it a read.
This was no simple piece of misery-lit. This was an intensely personal, articulate story that lays bare not just the primary abuse of an individual, but the layers and webs of abuse, neglect and coercion that accompany it. Sexual abuse rarely takes place as an outlier, with the abuser striking randomly, leaping from the shadows and onto their victim before fleeing into the night. The NSPCC and other bodies are unequivocal about this: the vast majority of sexual abuse happens whereby the abuser is someone the victim knows – a staggering 90%. It also exposes how power works between unequal groups, and how the most basic deprivation -poverty- is a key marker in cases of abuse.
During the process of getting this to publication, I consulted several experts in the field of child sexual abuse, have ensured the author has a support network in place, have given her full anonymity and given her full control of this piece: she has complete rights to the content and I have agreed to remove or alter it should she request, without questions asked, or hesitation.
I’m usually reluctant to add trigger warnings, but in this case feel it is essential: this article contains rape, child sexual abuse, violence and other elements that some people may find upsetting.
“Nothing lasts forever” I told you. I was around 15 or 16 at the time.
Your reply was “Yes it does. Love does”. Back then it seemed profound. Now I see it for what it was: one of many romanticised bullshit lines you used to constantly fill my head with .The sort of comment that made me so confused about you and me.
It was the sort of comment that made my inner child – and although I didn’t feel it at the time, I was very much a child on the outside – hold onto the belief that everything that happened between us was borne from a deep and burning love you felt for me. You were the one consistent source of comfort in my life, someone who took an interest in the various dramas of my teenage years and listened tentatively when I described what life was like at home.
To many, your attentiveness and concern would have marked you out as a great guy. Yet 20 years on and I look at you with very different eyes.
Today I was told by the police that there will be no further investigation into any of your actions towards me or your stepdaughter, who we will call Emma. Until that moment, I’ve foolishly let myself imagine what it would have been like to look you in the eye in the courtroom. I wondered whether you would finally admit accountability and regret your actions? It’s not that I’m naive, life has shown me repeatedly that people lie and hurt others, but I prefer to fill my head and soul with positivity and cling to the belief that there is still humanity in this world however scarce that sometimes seems.
This optimism is wearing thin today. I wanted to be heard just for once to feel like me and her mattered then, and now. I won’t get that day.
Throughout this whole process -with the exception of the leading police officer and a few close friends – no one has ever wanted to hear what really happened. They cut you dead mid-sentence. Professionals, family, I can’t confide in them or it might affect the case. I guess some things nobody wants to hear.
So, this is my testament. While writing on here I will call you ‘The Taker’, because despite spending so long believing that you gave me so much, I now see that all you ever did was take.
The First Assault
First and foremost you took my dignity that night. I can’t definitely recall the date, but I definitely remember the day: it was the day I had been allowed to go into town with my friends shopping on our own, a big day, a rite of passage. I was wearing my favourite vest top with a thin strip of lace around the chest line, it wasn’t cut low and as I was still only a AA it hardly revealed anything that could be regarded as a cleavage.
Over that I had a little woollen cardigan that had a tie string in the middle of the chest, I remember this so clearly because after when my hands were shaking, I couldn’t get that tie back into a bow. The vest top was dark grey, and the cardigan was black, I think I wore it with a pair of black flares. This detail perhaps seems irrelevant in the context of what was to happen, but you blamed that top on what you did next.
We were drinking our cans of lager, I kept trying to keep up with you, who couldn’t wait to get me another can. I had hardly eaten all day and was starting to feel lightheaded. It was late and we were listening to eighties ballads, a favourite thing to do with you, as we both had a love of music. I would use it to escape and let my mind drift away in the lyrics, deeply feeling the words. When reality is bad, being a dreamer is not a luxury but essential. We were chatting and even then, I just thought you liked talking to me because I was grown up for my age, thought we had a friendship, that you were a good man, that you were kind and excited to hear how it had gone for me. Few adults ever acknowledged my existence back then, let alone wanted to hear my thoughts. I was intrigued, I didn’t know men -actual adult men – would ever want to listen to me, and discuss with interest my inner life.
You were so quick in your actions and I was unprepared. Looking back, I can see we were sitting too closely. It was now well into the early hours and I should have been home long before. One minute we were talking with you telling me how lovely I was, there was a quick stroke of my hair, and then you were ramming your tongue into my mouth. I couldn’t breathe, or shout. I don’t doubt that was intentional.
Before I had a chance to register what was happening you had hold of me and were pulling at my clothes, I remember feeling the cold of the air on my naked top half, I didn’t like this and by now felt a wave of nausea and disorientation. You grabbed my legs roughly from under me and I fell back on the bottom of the sofa, my head and neck flipped back hard and painfully and I really thought I was going to be sick. You were snatching at my trousers, wrestling with the cheap material that refused to part with its owner, you struggled for a while, but your fat fingers were insistent.
Every time I tried to speak you rammed that tongue into my mouth slobbering your disgusting saliva all over me. I tried to reach down into my pants to keep some form of barrier between us but you smacked my hand away and resorted to just pulling them harshly to the side before climbing on top of me, simultaneously unzipping your flies. At this moment I felt like I was detaching from myself, as if I was watching from the corner of the room. I tried to say ‘No!’ I tried to say ‘Stop ’twice, but just like in a nightmare the words sounded small and distant I couldn’t make it louder, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move.
My body became rigid. I could smell your aftershave and the carpet was burning my skin. I felt so bare and exposed, I tried to hide my breasts, I was cold yet clammy as fear coursed through my body, spinning my head with all that lager threatening to come back up. Your 16 stone body was entirely on my 8 stone body, stopping me struggling, stopping me breathing, denying me all control. That was the most terrifying part.
I take perverse glee that when you entered me you didn’t take my virginity. That’s the first thing you said as you forced your way inside my body, as you felt me tense and heard me cry that little gasp of pain. “Did I get you as a virgin? Am I your first? I wish I got you as a virgin”. Even then, I was so compliant with fear I said ‘no’ almost apologetically, the same feeble voice that said ‘please stop’, falteringly emerging from the same size 6, 14-year-old body that was being crushed under the weight of your physical strength and sexual greed.
You weren’t the first man to take what he wanted with little consideration to whether I wanted to stop, but you were the first I was invested in. The other stuff was to fit in with my mates: it was in exchange for fags or weed, rides in cars or whatever. While probably still damaging to my soul I didn’t care about them. I was 12 when you began your mission – that’s when I first looked after Emma and the boys.
Fair play: you spent a long time gaining my trust, drawing me in. It probably started with complimenting how well I looked after the kids, filling me with much -craved for confidence. I had spent a decade living in a domestically volatile household and feared most men. My own father was a controlling, angry, violent man who, until my mother left him, terrified me. Even once we escaped, he would stalk us relentlessly. He hated women, and left in me the impression that we were here to be subservient, a lower order to men.
I had no experience with looking after other kids, but you and your wife still enthused about me looking after your 9-year-old, an 18-month-old and a 3-month-old baby. You know Emma taught me to put a nappy on despite her being deemed the “Problem” of your family? She never stood a chance.
It was the late ‘90s. I was babysitting at least every Saturday and sometimes in the week. You and your wife worked long shifts and initially you paid me well Your house was always freezing cold and often had the sickly-sweet smell of milk on the turn. The boys were always desperate for milk, with hindsight I recognise this was probably due to a need for comfort; what I deemed to be a loving family home was in fact chaotic and complex.
It was well kitted out with a big TV and games console, but these were paid for by the Provident lady that came knocking each week. Once I’d let her in, she would stroll through the house and help herself to the owed cash from its hiding place in the pantry. That pantry was always full of food, but you and your wife were so strict on what the kids could eat, especially Emma. You took from me the ability to be intimate, to be soft or gentle. I am always on my guard, always willing it to finish.
You plated up sandwiches and crisps and that was all any of them were allowed until you returned home. However, once you were home the offer of food to me was abundant and takeaways were common. At the time I was very body conscious and liked to control my food intake, which became like a personal mission for you to try and feed me up: expressed as a token of your concern for me. Food was just another means of control.
I noticed you staring at me all the time when we were alone. Sometimes I would be playing with the boys and you would appear silently but I would feel you watching, always for a little bit longer than felt comfortable. You didn’t speak, just smiled fondly at me.
I became more comfortable at your house and grew to love the boys. Emma was always in trouble with school: you and your wife explained to me that she was jealous of her siblings and didn’t like The Taker. She often was confined to her room before I even arrived. When she was allowed down she would spend hours and hours watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, mostly ignored by everybody else. You would make her go to bed before the boys and even though I was only three older than her, she and I had to play this weird role-play where I was the adult and she was the child.
I confess, at the time she annoyed me. She often woke the boys up by pinching them, but there were plenty of times where we had to deal with sickness or unsettled children and she and I did our best to alleviate their distress. Sometimes I would have to ring my mum off the landline, and she would teach me how to settle the youngest by rocking him in his pushchair for hours. Still no one questioned my new-found responsibilities. My own home life was also complex and difficult: since we’d left my Dad life was chaos: much moving around, missing school, looking after my sister while my mum tried to drink her demons away. This is not to excuse. Unlike you, my mother was not a Taker. She just struggled to give.
I think you took her under your wing because she was a lost soul and sought reassurance from you both. You, a predator, saw her vulnerabilities. Nights out became common with you three and my sister would tag along with Emma, and often end up sleeping at yours. You three loved to forget that you had responsibilities: promising to be back by ten, which would be followed by several drunken phone calls to the landline saying you would only be another half hour.
It was always midnight or later – or not at all. My mother by this point would be paralytic and you and your wife would usually be arguing. Somehow you were always portrayed as the victim: she was harsh; you did most of the chores and she never gave you sex, which as the years went by was often offered to me as an explanation as to why you did what you did. I struggle in my adult head to credit that with any form of justification but as I’ve learnt, my opinion is minimal.
The Abuse Deepens
Remember the time we stayed whilst my mother was away on a field trip? She had started a Uni course and had to go away for a few nights. I was about 12 or 13. Of course, we could stay with you, and my sister and I camped down on the boy’s floor. We were treated like royalty during our stay while Emma was treated like shit, spending the majority of the time being yelled at. In one argument she asked if she could help your wife at tea time to which she snapped back “yes, you can drop dead.” In those moments I was scared of that vicious side to you both, but Emma was always winding you up, so it was justified, right?
That night you had a bath after we had gone to bed. The airing cupboard was in the boys room, you must have forgotten your towel, because the door opened and the light from the landing illuminated your naked silhouette clearly. I lifted my head a fraction and our eyes met. You carried on to the cupboard not speaking. I knew you had seen me and vice versa. An innocent mistake? Or were you testing the waters to what I would or wouldn’t say?
I had a strange feeling in my stomach like bubbles popping and my heart thudding fast. I felt uncomfortable and wrong, but I would never tell anyone because I wouldn’t know how to explain it: it was a mistake that anyone could have made. Plus, I should have been asleep. As such, that night, you took away my ability to trust my gut instinct. I knew it felt wrong, but I didn’t have anyone to tell, and from that moment on I would second-guess myself constantly, always justifying your actions. It was clever of you because had I spoken out it would have been so easy to explain why you had to dash in and grab a towel, only now do I wonder why you didn’t just shout down to your wife to bring one.
You have a new life abroad, have another baby and now your boys have moved over with you. I do wonder whether I will ever be able to let you go though, because even though I hate what you did, my mind has a way of tricking me into remembering the good bits exclusively, how it felt to think that you loved me, cared and would have protected me from anything. You have a fresh start, you have wiped the slate clean. I do not have that luxury, and that is why I need to write this to you. I need things out there, to see what they look like on the page rather than stagnating in my mind. Your reality, your justification insulates you and protects you from consequences, even from the police.
But… that’s not real is it? Your selfish motives drove all of your actions. It’s just I was so desperate to feel something, anything, that I was your perfect victim. Me, as a person -with feelings, fears, hopes and desire – was not relevant to you, you just wanted something to own, feel powerful over and ultimately convince yourself you were, in fact, a man.
The one thing I am grateful to is you introducing alcohol into my life. After the time my friend and I came home drunk when I was 13, it was suddenly decided that I could be treated like an adult and therefore drink with the adults. My mother’s theory, I suppose, was that I would be safe and responsible doing this and allowed it to happen at your house. What actually happened is you and your wife got more and more lax with paying me actual money: instead she left me 5 fags each time, and an offer of a can as soon as you returned from wherever you had been.
Note to adults: 14-year-old girls who have issues with eating and body image cannot handle the same volume of alcohol as a fully developed and experienced drinker. The first time I was sick with booze was at your house. My Mum ran over, took one look at me and said “she can stay here.” You’d already raped me by then.
Earlier that day, a friend and I had been ice skating. I fell on the ice and cut my finger, which I still have the scar today. .. it reminds me of you. You were attentive, re-dressing the wound, and offered me a drink. I subsequently downed around ten cans of Stella and in due course threw my ring up in your kitchen sink. My friend was panicking as your wife was in bed, but you were serenely calm and said, “just leave her.” You watched and smiled as I felt like I was going to die, then fetched me one of Emma’s nighties. When I was crying in that nightie you came and slipped your hand up it and told me you loved me. I woke up really early the next morning cleaned the sick away, tidied up and went home all before you or your family woke. Never happened.
Alcohol has been the most faithful friend I’ve ever had, and I am truly grateful to you for introducing us to each other. We never did anything sober and that warm protective shield it provided meant I could endure most things. It gave me confidence: still does now and it took that initial anxiety away of having to keep up that lie when around your wife. I never did let it slip, did I?
Of course, alcohol has caused me some grief, my mental health, my marriage (parts of it), nearly lost me my kids, it’s led me down dangerous paths and risky behaviours. See, after you and me, I was never the same. My basic understanding of what a relationship consisted of had by-passed me. I learnt that sex was a tool that could be used to negotiate and control. You just had to know your place in the business agreement and then you would be rewarded with the presents and stuff that you needed. You taught me that sex hurts and it leaves you with a feeling that I could never name but it made me want to cry. Sometimes you would hold me like a baby after and I would silently cry, you would stroke my hair and put on my favourite song.
Of course, you weren’t the only assault I ever experienced, especially in the recent years after that night and into those late teens. Some more demanding than you, some violent, some thanks to my trusted friend alcohol I don’t even remember happening.
Once, on New Years Eve, I woke up in the woods with no underwear on, bruised, cold and soaked through. The only thing I saw was the guy running away. You see, Taker, you also took my self-worth and that is something slow to rebuild. With each assault, a little less of me exists, to the point where I wonder that beneath the surface I am just hollow?
You would probably blame this on the way girls present themselves, the way we dress. ‘I led them on’ Remember how you’d justify your actions? Indignant that you had to be teased and tempted by girls that tried to be women.
A few years ago, while I was trying to get through my degree course as a single parent, I found myself in a position where I had to turn my hand to sex-work for a bit. I worked in this guy’s pub and he told me he would pay extra if I stayed ‘after hours’. I knew what he meant and I was so skint and trapped in a cycle of benefit sanctions and inequalities, ironically whilst trying to pull myself out of my impossible situation, I couldn’t turn down his non-negotiable offer. I had children to feed.
He wanted company, someone to massage his ego and soothe his inadequacies. In that way you and him weren’t that dissimilar. It was the most disgusting few months of my life: he was old and fat and repulsed me in every way, I needed to drink a lot to endure that. What it did awaken in me though was the realisation that I saw sex as transactional. Admittedly this was the first time I had literally been given cold hard cash for my work, but you were always buying me gifts: clothes, a necklace, little cards and lots of alcohol and fags. You even took me on a family trip to Drayton Manor; it was never ending, it was as transactional as cash.
All I had to do was to survive. To get enough money that weekend for the kids’ food and school dinners. All I had to do was work in the restaurant, then drink enough to not feel and take my mind somewhere else while he took an age to get what he paid for, running through a ridiculous play of seduction to make him feel like a man.
That didn’t work out so well; that’s around the time that all those dark feelings you planted in me seem to rush to the surface like an erupting volcano of emotion. I was trapped in a present day hell and part of me was that raped 14 year old again; there was no pleasure in this whatsoever.
I had to give the booze up for a bit when that all ended as I suddenly couldn’t bear the thought of spending the next 20 years repeating the cycle. A cycle where I am the piece of meat, with you and your fellow vultures spending so long weedling your way in, finding the vulnerabilities, planning your attack.
I contemplated what my purpose could possibly be on this earth, if all I ever felt was pain and shame. I didn’t belong anywhere, not with you, not with my real family, my exes; I couldn’t look after my kids or provide for them. I seemed to have a fundamental flaw, and nothing could change that. I was destined to be like this forever. I was lonely, so very lonely, and too outwardly proud to ever admit what a mess I was in. I no longer had the energy. There really was nothing left of me to give.
These were dark days and darker nights and if it wasn’t for the intervention of an unexpected phone call and then I would have killed myself one night, I listened and instead sought change. I stopped drinking, I started eating. I was exhausted and finally allowed myself to rest, to be still.You took from me the ability to be intimate, to be soft or gentle. I am always on my guard, always willing it to finish.
My biggest defence mechanism over the years has been moving, keeping busy, cleaning and cleaning and bleaching away the badness and dirt that I could physically feel under my skin. I have cycles of sleep deprivation, I lose weight and I never stop still. I drown out noise with headphones of music – sweet sweet music – as loud as I can bear. Doing this means I don’t think, and I don’t have a chance to feel the panic or irrational fear that threatens to overwhelm me. It keeps that bleak darkness that makes my limbs feel like they’re made of lead; every moment is like drowning, enticing, telling me that death would be such a peaceful and blissful release.
Taking away the gentle
You know the one thing I struggle to do now as an adult? Stay present after sex. Even when I was married I preferred to sleep alone, and all I want to do after is get clean, wash away the evidence and get out of that wet patch. You took from me the ability to be intimate, to be soft or gentle. I am always on my guard, always willing it to finish.
I’m not even sure I am attracted to males anymore. It’s a running joke with my friends: I’m the eternal singleton. When I first left my husband there were relationships; one night stands; meaningless nothings; a constant need to move on, to run away. When there were some decent ones I could never settle, never shake that claustrophobic feeling of needing to escape. You set me running. You did this.
There is also the strain that this life has had physically on my body. It has left scars- physical ones from self harm, and psychological ones that make me avoid mirrors: I don’t like what looks back. I know it’s irrational. I know it ebbs and flows. I also know you put the shame into me, you took away my self-worth, you made me feel like I was my own enemy. Let’s go back to that night.
After The First Attack
Time didn’t stand still that night, my mum came knocking on your door looking for me. You had locked it from the inside, so had time to yank yourself out of me and literally toss me aside. You quickly got yourself presentable and anxiously waited by the living room door, swearing. My mum was shouting through the letterbox and you were panicking – that’s when I couldn’t do the cardigan back up. You spent some time placating her with lies about me being upset, punctuated with apologies. She was angry at me for being drunk, and before I knew it, we were marching home with her screaming and ranting at me. I don’t think I dared speak.
I do recall you coming round in the morning. I had slept on the sofa. I remember you coming in. I was alone and desperate to convince myself that I might have dreamt it. There goes that gut instinct, you see, my ability to trust my own perception. I’d managed to convince myself it had all been a mistake. I was drunk, and I had imagined it.
Except you came to apologise to say you shouldn’t have done it, and please can we keep it our little secret? You were so pathetic in those moments, pleading, crying, bumbling over your words. In the cold light of day, you were an adult who I babysat for, and you had a wife and kids. If I was to speak, you implied, there would be consequences that I would regret. I was mortified and somehow felt responsible and was scared of how much trouble I’d be in with your wife and my Mum. I would break up a family and it was wrong. It would be my word against yours. I was the tearaway teenager, you were the devoted family man. Who would they believe?
I couldn’t even tell my mum I’d started my periods so there was no way I was ever going to be able to even try and talk about this. So, we carried on as normal. Emma was shipped out to foster care for a while due to her being unmanageable, the boys grew up, had birthdays and I carried on babysitting.
You would often come home before the others to check on the boys and I started looking forward to this. Back then, it felt like a special time, there were the secret looks and the odd bobble or piece of jewellery you would have to sneakily return to me after I’d left them at yours. I suppose those parts felt exciting, I felt special, wanted and part of something. You knew that was my weakness, and exploited it.
Emma eventually returned home and you spent a lot of time in her room, having to tell her off. You put a lock on the inside so you could keep the boys out – supposedly. Nobody ever questioned that you’d lock that door when you went in with her. There were lots of late-night parties, with you making us all laugh with your obsession with Queen and general geekiness. Your house was always full of people. You were the life and soul.
Emma’s Mum Leaves
Suddenly, you and your wife split up. You moved out to a friends house but still came to mine and still visited the boys. A few weeks later, your wife rang you to sit the kids while she popped to the shop for some fags. She never came home. Emma and the boys were abandoned in your care. It would be decades later before I saw her again.
I was sad she had gone and the whole community was outraged that she could leave the kids: the boys were still only toddlers. You took on the role of wronged husband and loving dad with aplomb. I didn’t know at this point that you were abusing Emma, and I can only imagine the utter despondency she felt being left there with you. You weren’t her biological Dad and you made it clear that you didn’t want her, at least not as a daughter.
In the weeks after her Mum going, I distinctly remember her sitting on the windowsill looking so lost and pissed off at life, which we all put it down to the shock of abandonment. You apparently requested social services that she stay with you permanently but not long after she went to live with a neighbour.
Emma’s story is not mine to tell but let me assure you that in the last year I have spent hours with her piecing together our different accounts, things I remember, things she does, things about you, about your “technique” that only someone who had been raped by you would know. Even writing this the bile rises in my throat at the memory of that nine-year-old girl, a girl nobody wanted, who still sucked her thumb, who was belittled and ignored and told to shut up repeatedly. I feel utter shame that in my blinkered infatuation I didn’t see what was really going on. It is because of these commonalities that I wholeheartedly believe her. Also you admitted it to me.
When I was around 16 and still running back to you when things went wrong at home, you were questioned by the police or a solicitor, and you were crying, saying how you had once got into bed with Emma when her mum was working nights and gave her a cuddle and she had got this confused with something else. She was trying to hurt you because she wanted to see the boys and her Mum was drip-feeding her poison. In the same breath you said that although you had been out of line with me and it was wrong, the same thing hadn’t happened with Emma.
You asked me to forgive you, sobbing and begging. I told you I forgave you and I comforted you, and then the night ended in its usual way. This is something I have gone over and over in my mind for the last year and it haunts me. It makes me hate myself to the inner core of my conscience. I can weep for Emma and her utterly shit childhood, I can imagine how she must have dreaded you coming into her room. Those long nights alone with you, how she never was given anything like a compliment, but instead took beatings to submit her into silence. You didn’t have to try with her, like you had to try with me. No lures, no presents and drinks. She was captive.
I can imagine her resentment towards me, a few years older than her laying down the rules, never able to put a foot wrong. Your puppet on a string, controlled by bittersweet lies, ready to perform on command so I could scavenge a snippet of your affection.
The Two Forgotten Girls
For a while I felt a tsunami of sadness for those lost years, two forgotten girls that for their own different but similar reasons were invisible to the outside world. When this happens it’s strange, I can feel real compassion for Emma in her own right but for me it’s like remembering it in the third person. Like it was happening to somebody else. I can recall how it felt to be lonely and scared at home, having to constantly worry about my mum and sister. I can feel the desperation of a kid who spent her days cleaning and hiding the carnage of her home life so that the authorities wouldn’t take us away. I can remember how hard it was to keep up with mates, and stay present in class, when I was constantly tired and hungry or hungover. To keep up this pretence that all was well to my grandparents and the world, to hold on to my secret life with you and silently pray that just for once I could have a simple life like the other girls in my class. Those confident girls who were pretty and smart and sorted.
Now, the professional in me – I work with young people at risk of sexual exploitation – can recognise and highlight all the safeguarding concerns from this scenario and points of contact that should have happened but were neglected. I can want to help that girl to see another way and offer support, but I can’t seem to really admit that girl was me and allow me to forgive my part in it all completely.
I can feel so utterly overwhelmed with sadness for her and Emma that sometimes it literally takes my breath away, and it physically aches. In those moments I can’t move and it’s hard to see any colour in anything. Twenty years on and that feeling is exacerbated a 100 times over when I discover not one of those selfish cowardly adults came forward to help us get a conviction when we approached the authorities.
Not our mothers, who failed to protect us, not once but time and time again as they were so self-absorbed in their own misery they refused to acknowledge what was right under their noses. Not the boys – now men – which I guess is understandable. Not the people at the parties, not the people who raised questions all those years ago but didn’t listen to the answers: why was I allowed to be drunk at 14? Or why was I seen leaving your house at 5am? Why was I dangerously underweight?
Not the professionals who were happy to fill in reports of absence, and risk-taking behaviour, falling asleep in class. Not the youth workers, not the social workers involved with Emma, not my siblings, not the neighbours. Not the other women who also claim he raped them but refuse to take a fucking stand. Not my family members that don’t want to dig up all the skeletons in our family home. Not the egotistical dominant men in my life that tried to manipulate me into believing that my past is too heinous to be presented in a courtroom; that I am promiscuous, an unfit mother, unhinged… a liar. That is what it boils down too isn’t it? My word against yours, it never happened right?
I guess that feeling of sadness is blended with rage and indignation of the complete and the fucking senselessness of it all. I don’t want whoever comes to read this to feel pity for me: that’s not the purpose in writing this. I want you and I want them to acknowledge and understand that your actions – whether they were premeditated or opportunistic – these sadistically sexually violent acts have detrimental, lifelong consequences.
It’s like the butterfly effect isn’t it? What you or our family might regard as insignificant or not important events are tiny little flutters of inappropriateness building up to catastrophic violations of trust, dignity and safety. That they planted the seeds of years and years of damaging reactions into my adolescent brain and being.
There are a million different decisions you could have made but you didn’t, and then you systematically lied and manipulated everybody who was close to me at that time to believe you. For that I feel nothing but utter contempt for you. I will breathe out slowly and let that feeling wash over me, rather than consume me. I am done with letting you or people like you control my thinking, my anxieties, my future or my present.
We were never exclusive, there was never a time where either one of us was committed to each other (apart from a very brief few weeks which I will come to later). You flaunted your tokens of affection for your wife and then the latest girlfriends around me all the time – you’d proudly show me the flowers you’d buy them, tell me of the meals you’d take them to. Always calling the shots letting me know when I was significant or when I wasn’t needed. This left me confused and rejected but I also was happy to play along.
The Guy With the Sports-car
It was the summer I turned 15. One warm day, walking with a friend of a similar age, a guy in a sports car pulled up to us and threw a key to his flat. His name was Alex, and he told us if we wanted to have fun, we were welcome over and gave us the address. We ran to that address because when I wasn’t with you, me and my mates had nowhere to go apart from the streets and local bus stops.
This was a whole new level to anything I’d known before. This was Party Central with around 10 to 15 people from my school already involved with this guy. His flat had a huge sound system and bunk beds in the front room. Alex was so welcoming to his guests he would ask you what you liked to drink, what you liked to smoke, and what your drug of choice was, and then order it in. He didn’t charge us money, he just wanted everyone to have a good time. This generous soul was a man in his thirties, with no official job or apparent life outside partying, just a shit- load of money and good vibes.
This was next level stuff -but this happy existence didn’t last long, and his actions made you look like an amateur. He became violent and unpredictable, he existed on a diet of Class As and his whole mood depended on what part of the process the drugs were in his system. Maybe that’s not too clear, let me invite you into a moment of that time.
A typical night would start evening early with a few sociable drinks, with two or three girls from my year who had officially been his girlfriend but had now fallen out of first place.
Around 10pm out came the amphetamine and Ecstasy. You could choose anything: sometimes he smoked crack, but that was for special occasions. I was nervous and apprehensive about taking drugs, but Alex found ways to make you accept them into your system and into your life. For me, it was deciding I was his current girlfriend and kissing me passionately in front of a room full of people, forcing a parcel of speed into my mouth and down my throat.
For the next six months the lines between consent and rape blurred. Where you were evasive, he was jealous and controlling. He liked me to look a certain way, and brought me a whole new wardrobe of designer clothes. He didn’t like big women, as you did: all that hard work you put in feeding me up went to waste: in those few months with him he locked me in the flat for days, food was restricted with drugs and fags given to stave off hunger.
His nasty side became increasingly dominant, and he’d lose his temper regularly. He had a housemate with mild learning difficulties who he beat to a pulp and threw out the house because he was “pissed off”’. So, let’s get it straight with him it was different he had an enormous sex drive that needed to be placated at all times. His sexual demands were constant and different to yours: he wanted me to be adult, he wanted me to dress up, he wanted to film me, and he introduced me to anal rape.
I’ll tell you what that’s like. Anal rape – if you’re not familiar – is the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced aside from childbirth. It is so demoralising, so humiliating: I barely have the words to describe it. Every orifice in your body is leaking something, threatening to let you down with every thrust of pure fucking agony. I have vivid memories of sobbing and retching while he exerted his power and his utter force in parts of me that should be mine alone but instead were torn and damaged after. When high he couldn’t sleep until he had ejaculated, so that meant no matter where I was, at home or at his, I was expected to be there when he needed that release . On one occasion he went as far as breaking into my home, on another he turned up at my part-time job at a local hotel. I’d be dragged from home to his, then have to get up early to get to school the following morning.
There was no reasoning with him: everybody had to do as he said. Too many of my friends were caught in his web, boys and girls, as he offered a ready and reliable drug supply for many, and shelter for others. All had one thing in common: an unstable home life. He worked hard to fill that gap.
But after six months of wasting away and frequent disappearances, and after he tried to break into my home and attempted to groom my younger sister, Mum decided to call the police on Alex. They acted concerned, but it became apparent they were more concerned about the drugs than the rapes. On one occasion, I was taken to a mocked-up living room with a female officer, who asked me many questions ‘What sexual positions did you do?”. “Did you enjoy it? You must have enjoyed some of it?”. They then revealed my mum was watching via CCTV. Any last shred of self-worth, of being my own person, went that moment, and the interview concluded. Years later, when I reported you to the police, I asked for that tape to be found as evidence: mysteriously, it had disappeared.
Around the same time Mum and my Head of Year cooked up a plan where my teacher would say she could protect me from Alex if I told her the names of the local dealers in school.
I thought this was the best option for me. I was in over my head and couldn’t see a way out: stuck in another scenario where my wellbeing and safety had to be negotiated with. I was presented with an illusion of solidarity and protection when in reality I was always alone. Some of my friends got arrested, one lad went away for a long time, my friends sought tirelessly to find the weakest link, the grass who had snitched. Alex went to ground.
And do you know what happened? Fuck all.
Becoming a Pariah
Everyone in the local community – including Alex – turned against me: I had stopped their main supply of drugs. Alex’s mother rang me constantly to blame me for ruining his life. Nobody talked to me but talked about me incessantly: I was a bag head, a slut, the girl who took it through the back doors at 15. A nothing, a nobody, I left school on the advice of the headteacher fifteen weeks before my GCSEs. They had failed to protect me and keep me anonymous, so disposed of me to stop the consequences of this betrayal playing out in the playground.
No friends, no school, my ambition to be a social worker remote. I took more hours at the hotel I worked at and would work 12 hours shifts there, sleeping the rest of the day away. I was still just 15. Somehow, I managed to get decent exam results, and was offered a sixth form place: after being let down by the school beforehand, I didn’t take it. I worked, I slept, I worked.
I wanted that horrible ache to end, I didn’t want to do police interviews or talk about what had happened, I didn’t want to eat in fact I wanted to be so small that I disappeared, so I could be invisible in the hope that people would stop staring at me and whispering behind my back.
Going Back To You
You saw that I was at a weak point, and like the predator that you are, you struck. It was nearly Christmas and you took me and a friend of yours to bar after bar. I had known this trip was coming up and borrowed a top off a friend, wanting to look my best for you. It was a tailored pinstripe shirt, and now I was back to a size 6/8 it was perfect. When you later peeled that shirt off on top of your bed -not the floor, for a change – and told me you had been waiting for this I felt like I had come home.
I was so glad to be back with you when I eventually returned, especially when you told me you wouldn’t let anyone hurt me ever again. I can’t remember if I told you the exact details of what had happened with Alex but I guess I was different.
Anyway, I felt grateful you would even look at me let alone fuck me, and as you were lonely, we kind of forged this weird relationship where I became the nanny / wife. You formally asked me if I could be a housekeeper and you would pay me – there’s my lifelong skill, my niche. It was all transactional, it was always transactional.
What did you see when you looked at me? Dead inside, I was an empty carcass for you to shoot your load into. By now I was on the pill, so we didn’t need to worry about a wet patch.
Even I can see how broken I was after Alex, but to you this was an opportunity to convince me that when I turned 16, I could be publicly your replacement wife/ mother to the boys. My head was so damaged by this point, and I don’t think you really knew how to deal with me. I wasn’t compliant any more, I was unpredictable and ambivalent. I wandered the streets unnerved and without any concerns for my safety, I took risks and hated anyone trying me to tell me what to do.
Sleep Terror and Other Scars
I was – I still am – terrified of falling asleep in other people’s company. I am deeply scared of what they’ll do to me should I become vulnerable, scared to sleep in case I wake to find someone forcing themselves into me.
When I couldn’t commit, when I couldn’t drown out those awful feelings of disgust, when I became too old for you, boring, disposable, that’s when our journey ended.
Not abruptly, not dramatically. I still kept coming to see you, but other people babysat, usually my sister, who I pray you didn’t touch. Then you’d have new girlfriends, before the final whammy. You had a friend in his mid-forties (I was now 17) who liked me. I nicknamed him Grandad. He was a borderline alcoholic, lonely, divorced and predictably leering. You decided to pimp me out to him, do you remember? You didn’t like me talking to him, but despite that you made a bed on the same floor you raped me on, supplied us both with drinks and then went to bed, giving us your blessing. You didn’t, at any point, ask me if this was what I wanted.
That fucked with my head, and even I in all my coerced obedience couldn’t quite bring myself to have sex with him in the same spot you raped me in all those years before. Luckily for me he was a gentle guy and settled for a blow job and after a bit of stalking eventually realised I had used him for what he had to offer: a way to make you, Taker, happy.
Trying to Fight Back
At some point around this time. me and my mates decided we wouldn’t be fucked over by men anymore, we wouldn’t be hurt. We would manipulate them and screw them over for every penny possible. I still came back to you and we argued at times, but you had that hold over me I couldn’t break. Even when you tried to have sex with my friend (we had slept at yours on New Year’s Eve, I left you and her in bed as I had work and you tried to have sex with her. She was stronger than me and told you to fuck off.. why couldn’t I do that?), even after that, I would come back to you.
You were like a bad habit, self-harm, so desperate for the niceness of you, the comfort of being held I had to endure the roughness, the nothingness where every thrust took me further and further away from who I truly was.
What We’re Left With: Recovery and Legacy
All that’s now left is this, me and this keyboard. It’s given me a source of hope and comfort ranting to you, old habits die hard, hey?
Maybe we will never meet again or maybe you will pick these words up on this website. I give you the luxury of anonymity, and call you The Taker, but you and I know who you are and what you did. You’re free in terms of incarceration but there will always be a trickle of anxiety wherever you go. Two women have spoken out already, and who knows how many more they may be?
Your wife won’t always trust you and your sons already have the first seeds of doubt and uncertainty planted in their subconscious. That chapter of my life is gone, and you are dead to me, that place where I lived, I never need to return, that family who pretend to care, I thrive without them.
You took so much from me and I wanted so badly for you to be held accountable for your actions, but don’t misunderstand me I am not broken or feeble anymore.
The life I have made for myself is worlds away from you. It isn’t built on lies or deceit or abuse. I have children that I will always protect: this vicious cycle of abuse ends with me. I can look at my reflection at the end of each day and feel assured that I have integrity, values and compassion.
I can’t pretend that a small part of my soul will not forever be crushed, saddened and disappointed at the outcome of the police investigation into what you did – my word against yours – but do not for one moment think this is the perimeters of my destiny. I can’t make it right for Emma and me, or dole out the just punishment you deserve but what I can do is absolutely vow to devote my whole career to supporting young people in a similar position to where I was, help them to find a way out of sexual exploitation and abuse. I can offer my unconditional commitment to young people that need guidance, refuge and reassurance without any form of ulterior motive.
So goodbye Taker, I feel strangely sad as I finally let it all go: you, me and all of the awful tangle of conflicting emotions. You have been a malign part of me for twenty years and I hate you for it but in the same breath I equally despise the systematic failings and avoidable circumstances that allowed any of this to be possible. For me, writing this is a fresh start, a new chapter, endless possibilities, freedom, love and belonging and I will sail on that beautiful wind… I will let you go. You will always have to live with who you are.
The Taker has currently faced no prosecution, living and working abroad working with children. Police have dropped a case against him bought by the author and others citing lack of evidence: his word against hers.
HELPLINES AND SUPPORT
Sexual violence is a crime, no matter who commits it or where it happens. Don’t be afraid to get help.
SARCs are specialist medical and forensic services for anyone who has been raped or sexually assaulted. They aim to be one-stop service, providing the following under one roof: medical care and forensic examination following assault/rape and, in some locations, sexual health services. Medical Services are free of charge and provided to women, men, young people and children.
Helpline: 0808 802 9999 (12-2:30 and 7-9:30)
National organisation offering support and counselling for those affected by rape and sexual abuse.
See website for local groups or contact directory enquiries.
Victim SupportSupportline: 0333 300 6389
Our services are confidential, free and available to anyone who’s been raped or sexually assaulted, now or in the past. We can help, regardless of whether you have told the police or anyone else about the attack. Our volunteers can visit you at home (if you want us to, and if doing so will not put you at further risk) or somewhere else if you prefer. If you don’t want to see anyone face-to-face, you can also talk to us on the phone, either at one of our local offices or at the national Victim Supportline.
Women Against Rape
This is the joint website of Women Against Rape and Black Women’s Rape Action Project. Both organisations are based on self-help and provide support, legal information and advocacy. We campaign for justice and protection for all women and girls, including asylum seekers, who have suffered sexual, domestic and/or racist violence.
The Survivors TrustHelpline: 0808 801 0818
Rape and sexual abuse can happen to anyone regardless of their age, gender, race, religion, culture or social status. Living with the consequences of rape and sexual abuse can be devastating. We believe that all survivors are entitled to receive the best possible response to their needs whether or not they choose to report.
Women’s Aid Federation
National Domestic Violence Helpline (24hrs): 0808 2000 247
Women’s Aid is the national domestic violence charity that helps up to 250,000 women and children every year. We work to end violence against women and children, and support over 500 domestic and sexual violence services across the country.