This is the story of ‘Jenny’ who spoke out about abuse after reading about ChildLine. Names and identifying details have been changed.
My childhood was a fairly miserable one. My dad had a very bad temper and a loud voice and my sister and I were constantly walking on eggshells around him waiting for him to erupt. He never hit us but the threat was always there. He’d give us a look and say ‘I’ll use my belt on you’ and that was enough to frighten us.
My mum was quite a weak lady and she wouldn’t stand up to him. She was scared that he would shout at her too so we spent most of the time trying to stay out of his way. Mum said he was very controlling as well and he’d write all the shopping in a book when she returned back with it and if she’d bought anything that was not on the list he would shout at her.
He started sexually abusing me when I was young and it happened throughout junior school up until I was about 15, possibly because I was older and he was worried that I might tell someone. He never raped me but would touch me inappropriately on a regular basis. I didn’t know it was wrong and that it didn’t happen to all children and dad never said why he did it. He just said ‘This is between me and you’ so I didn’t tell anyone. I dreaded coming home from school because I knew that mum would be out of the house so if I got back home before my sister, my dad would pounce on me. But even though it didn’t feel right to me, it was the one time when dad was affectionate to me and wasn’t shouting so it was very confusing for me. Even after he stopped doing stuff to me he would still give me a look like he was undressing me with his eyes and it used to make me cringe.
I was nearly 16 when ChildLine was launched and information about the service was on the TV and in magazines. I read some people’s stories and it was only then that it clicked to me ‘This isn’t right. This doesn’t happen to all children’. Because the abuse had stopped by then I didn’t call ChildLine but seeing other people’s stories made me realise I wasn’t alone and encouraged me to tell people about what had happened to me.
I told friends who were there to support me and would let me stay at their houses. I also had a boyfriend who I told about the abuse and I spent a lot of time around his house to avoid being at home. One night he said ‘Do you think he’s ever done anything to your sister? Before then the thought hadn’t crossed my mind. I was so angry. I said ‘If I ever found out that he’d done that I’d get a knife and I’d kill him!’
My sister was older than me but I didn’t know how to broach the subject with her so I ripped out a story from a magazine on someone who called ChildLine because they were being sexually abused and left it by her bed. I asked her about it and she said that he’d done the same to her.
I plucked up the courage to tell my mum and just blurted out ‘I need to talk to you. Dad’s touched me’. She just said ‘It’s probably just to do with his medication. If he does it again then come and tell me’. She was no support at all and she regrets that now but in those days it wasn’t talked about as much as it is now and she said she wouldn’t know who to turn to for advice.
My sister moved out when she was 19 and a couple of years later I rang in tears saying that I didn’t want to be at home anymore. My mum and dad sat me on the sofa and my mum said ‘Why do you want to move out?’ I think she wanted me to confront my dad but I couldn’t do it so I just lied about wanting my own space and moved out.
It wasn’t until years later that my sister broached the subject with him. My sister told my parents she was disowning them and my dad said ‘That’s it, I’m disowning you both. You’re not my children’.
I hadn’t seen either of them for months when my mum turned up at my house. We spoke about the situation and knowing she was on our side was such a relief.
My sister and I underwent counselling and I wrote a letter to my dad saying what he did was wrong and read it down the phone to him. He didn’t say anything but he cried and that’s the first time I’ve heard him cry. A while later he came to see me and he said ‘I can remember doing it to your sister but I can’t remember doing it to you’.
My sister never saw him again but I slowly built up a relationship up with him as I didn’t want what had happened to rule my life anymore and I was tired of being bitter. I could see that he’d changed the way he was and that he was treating my mum a lot better. I slowly built up a relationship with him until his death ten years ago and despite what he’s done I miss the dad that I got to know in the five years running up to his death.
I wish ChildLine was around earlier so that I could have spoken to them while I was being abused but hearing about ChildLine made me realise that what was happening was wrong. It also helped me speak to other people about it so that I could get help from them. If any young people are suffering from sexual abuse I would tell them to call ChildLine because they are there to listen, they won’t judge and they can give people the help they need to put a stop to the abuse.