I thought my husband would protect me, but I couldn’t have been more wrong…
By Tina Roper, 56, from Brighton
The engine revved, and I climbed into the back seat of the limo. Aged 14, this was the best thing that had ever happened to me. I felt like royalty!
“This is the life, hey Tina?” my Uncle Robert said.
“It’s amazing,” I replied.
He got behind the wheel and we set off on the long drive home from Bolton.
Uncle Robert owned a limo company, and I was keeping him company while he picked up the car from a specialist garage up north.
Sitting in the back of the gorgeous black stretch limousine, I could almost imagine I was a famous princess being chauffeured back to my palace.
I drifted off to sleep, my fantasy playing out in my dreams. It must have been hours later that I woke with a jolt.
Bleary eyed, I sat up and looked around to see where we were. I caught Uncle Robert’s eye in the mirror, looking back at me.
“What do you think you’re looking at?” I asked, jokily.
“I’m looking at you, you’re beautiful,” he said.
He’d never complimented me before, and it made me feel uneasy. I didn’t understand what he meant.
Then, instead of driving me home he pulled over in a secluded spot at the Epsom Downs. I froze in fear as he turned off the engine, and stepped out of the car.
He climbed in the back, beside me.
I pressed myself up against the far side of the car, but Uncle Robert inched closer and closer. He started pulling at my clothes, before undoing his trousers.
That’s when he raped me, as I sobbed for him to stop.
Afterwards, he tugged his trousers back up and fixed me with a steely stare.
“Don’t you dare tell anyone,” he said.
“I won’t,” I replied.
“If you do, I’ll make sure you don’t see your grandparents again,” he said.
I was staying at my godmother’s house, and he drove me back there in silence. My mind was reeling. I’d gone from feeling on top of the world to worthless and dirty.
One thing was for sure though, I had to keep Uncle Robert’s sick secret.
Over the next few months my bright and bubbly personality vanished.
I became quiet and withdrawn. I tried to push the ordeal to the back of my mind… yet it was Uncle Robert who wouldn’t let me forget it.
Every time I saw him at a family party he’d corner me.
“You’ve not forgotten your promise, have you?” he’d ask, drink in hand like we were having a friendly chat.
I’d be shaking as I answered that his secret was still safe. I couldn’t imagine ever speaking the words to describe what he did.
That’s until, aged 17, I met Michael.
Me and my friends had decided we wanted to go to a party, but it was a little way out of town.
That’s when someone suggested we phone Michael, who was a few years older than us and could drive.
It turned out he lived just a few streets away from me.I actually had a boyfriend at the time, but Michael made a really big impression on me that night.
Then, a few months later, I came home from work to find my mum grinning at me.
“This nice boy came looking for you,” she said.
“Was it Michael?” I asked.
It turned out that it was, and that’s when we started dating. I was never confident around men, after what happened with my uncle.
But somehow, with Michael things seemed different. I knew I could trust him. So, not long into our relationship I decided to confide in him about my past.
“Something happened with my uncle, he raped me,” I said.
It felt like a weight was lifted off my chest.
“I’m furious. That shouldn’t have happened to you,” Michael said.
He was angry on my behalf, and so sympathetic. I felt safe with him. From then on, he always had my back at family parties.
If he saw Uncle Robert sidling over to me for one of our chats, he’d step in and steer me away. I knew Michael would always look after me.
Aged 20, I fell pregnant with our daughter, Claire. Michael came round to speak to my mum and dad.
“I’m going to do the right thing and marry Tina,” he said. It was hardly romantic! But, in April 1980, we tied the knot.
At first, married life was idyllic. It wasn’t long before my illusion was shattered though.
I suddenly couldn’t seem to put a foot right in Michael’s eyes. He’d fly of the handle if I hadn’t dusted properly, or made his tea to his satisfaction.
One evening, when I was eight months pregnant with Claire, he came home from work in a terrible mood.
I could tell he was spoiling for a fight.
“You’re a useless wife,” he raged at me.
That’s when he grabbed me, punching me in the head.
“Please don’t Michael, what about the baby?” I said.
I fell down beside our corner sofa, and he carried on punching blows down upon my face. Eventually he stepped back, looking down at my face battered black and blue.
“You’ll have to say you were carrying laundry when you fell down the stairs,” he said.
I couldn’t even squeak a reply, as the intense pain throbbed through my cheeks. But when I went to the doctors the next day, that was the story I stuck to.
He’d broken my nose, but I convinced myself that it was a one off. Back home, Michael couldn’t apologise enough.
He’s not a monster, I told myself.
It wasn’t the end of it though. Another time he punched me in his work van, giving me a black eye and breaking his fancy Rolex watch.
Of course I got the blame for that. He really went to town on me that night.
Life was miserable, but even I couldn’t predict just how depraved Michael’s actions would become.
One night, I was woken in bed to find Michael on top of me. To my disgust, I realised he was having sex with me while I slept.
I froze in horror. I didn’t dare push him away for fear of inviting another beating. Instead I pretended I was still asleep.
This must be what happens in a marriage, I told myself.
I was so naive. In time, I fell pregnant again. I was desperate for Claire to have a sibling. But after Karl was born I ended up with postnatal depression.
I was at my lowest ebb, and Michael was determined to chip away at my confidence even further.
Once he’d seemed like my knight in shining armour. Now he was my tormentor.
“You’re an unfit mother,” he said.
He seemed to hate me, but it didn’t stop him wanting to have sex with me.
I began to dread going to bed, not knowing what I’d wake up to.
Other times he’d watch porn right in front of me, drooling over the women that I knew I’d never live up to.
Then, he’d come to bed and force himself on me. He knew about what my uncle had done to me – I couldn’t believe that now my own husband was raping me too.
Eventually he stopped me seeing my family and my friends. He banned me from watching the news too.
Then, when my dad passed away in 1996 Michael even banned me from going to the funeral. I was completely isolated, with no-where to turn.
But then, a blessing came in an unusual form. We moved house to a lovely little bungalow, and Michael started an affair with one of our neighbours.
Most wives would be devastated, but instead I seized my chance to escape. I got hold of a phone number for a solicitor, and they took control of things from there.
Michael was removed from the house, and given a legal order not to even enter the road. For the first time in years, I was free.
At first it was hard. I’d been married for 18 years, and I wasn’t used to standing on my own two feet.
Suddenly I didn’t have to ask for permission to go out, or to turn on the telly. It felt really strange.
But, in time, me and the kids muddled along, and I got used to being liberated from the shackles of my miserable marriage.
It felt as if I had almost put the past behind me.
Then, in 2013, I was being interviewed by the police as a witness to an unrelated matter.
We ended up talking about the past, and suddenly everything I’d been through came tumbling out.
“Sorry to burden you with all that,” I said to the female police officer, over a cuppa in my front room.
“You know, it would have come out eventually,” she said. “I think I ought to send someone round to interview you about this properly.”
Not long later I gave a full statement, followed by a four hour video interview down at the station.
Then, both Uncle Robert and Michael were arrested. I was scared but exhilarated at the same time. Finally I wasn’t keeping their sick secrets.
Eventually the cases came to court. I gave evidence against both my rapists from behind a screen, in two trials just a fortnight apart.
First my uncle was found guilty of the rape in 1973, and I was over the moon when the police phoned from court to give me the news.
Then, my son Karl was at Lewes Crown Court on March 6 to see Michael Sicklemore, 60, found guilty of what he put me through.
This time, I couldn’t hold my emotions in any longer. I screamed and shouted down the phone with utter relief as I heard he’d been sentenced to eight years and two months in prison for GBH and multiple counts of rape.
My uncle, Robert Parr, 81, wasn’t sentenced until March 26. The judge at Lewes Crown Court gave him an 18 month probation order.
I was disappointed that he didn’t get a prison sentence too. But he’s an old man now, and I’m a strong woman. I don’t need to be afraid of him anymore.
Now, with the help of my children and my close friends Tracey and Joy, I’m rebuilding my life.
I owe huge thanks to the Survivors Network in Brighton too.
I want other women to know it’s never too late to get justice. I waited decades, and endured 20 years of hell.
Trust me, this feeling of freedom is worth fighting for.