I thought I could trust my stepdad Ray, so what did he mean when he said he was trading Mum in for a younger model?
By Aimee Downing, 20, from Willenhall, West Midlands
I’d just packed my last teddy in my little suitcase when I turned to take a final look at our dingy council flat.
‘Come on, love,’ Mum smiled as she held out her hand. ‘It’s time to go to our new house.’
I couldn’t wait to move into our new place with Mum and her boyfriend, Ray. They had been together for about a year before Mum decided to bring Ray into our lives full-time.
I couldn’t explain it, but Ray gave me the creeps. There was just something about the way he looked.
But Mum liked him and he was like a knight in shining armour, whisking us away from our cramped, run-down flat and into a proper house.
‘You’ll like it here,’ Ray said, as he lugged our boxes inside and started unpacking. I nodded as I returned his awkward smile and ran to my new bedroom.
We enjoyed days out and trips to the cinema as a family but it was only a few months before the cracks began to show.
‘Do that thing again,’ Ray said one day, a serious tone in his voice. ‘You know, when you wiggle around on the floor.’
I looked up at him as I got down on the carpet and lay on my back. I’d done it since I was a little toddler, writhing around and wiggling.
I was just innocently playing, being a kid – but Ray was looking at me intently as my body arched and jerked on the floor.
‘If you do that again, I’ll take you horseriding at the weekend,’ Ray said a few days later. This time I noticed his breathing become heavy as he watched me, rubbing his hand over his trousers.
The next time he offered me a McDonalds, and the time after that he bought me a Chinese from the takeaway.
At just 11, I was too young to understand what was happening but I just shrugged as I got down on the living room floor, and gladly accepted the treat afterwards.
In time, we moved into another lovely new home, but Ray’s behaviour only grew more sinister. ‘I’ll pick up Aimee from school today,’ Ray told Mum one day.
‘That would be a real help, thanks love,’ Mum said as she went out to work.
That night, at home alone with Ray, I asked him to tickle my back. I loved having my back tickled. ‘Sure,’ Ray smiled. ‘Come over here.’
But after tickling my back, Ray’s hand snaked lower towards my bottom.
I thought it was strange when Ray starting asking me if he could tickle my back after that. And when his hands made their way down to my bottom or my vagina, I froze.
I loved having my back tickled but I didn’t love this. I didn’t really know what was happening but when Ray made me touch him too, I knew it was wrong.
‘No,’ I said. ‘I don’t want to.’ I watched Ray’s face cloud over with anger. ‘Don’t be silly, I’m your stepdad. You’re supposed to make me happy,’ he spat.
He threw whatever he could find on the floor in a fit of fury. He never hit me with the objects, but he hated not getting his own way.
Then one day, after I’d turned 12, I was getting ready to go out and play with my friends. I ran down the stairs, grabbed my coat and was just about to head out of the door, when Ray appeared.
‘Let’s go upstairs for a tickle,’ he said. ‘I want to try something new.’ Something about the way Ray looked at me, told me I didn’t want to play his new game.
‘No, I can’t,’ I told him. ‘I’m going to my friend’s house.’
But before I could turn towards the door, Ray had launched at me, grabbing me by the throat. ‘Please, stop!’ I cried, ‘you’re hurting me.’
But it was no use. Ray grabbed a fistful of my long hair and dragged me all the way up the stairs. It felt like my scalp was on fire. I was in agony.
He shoved me down onto my bed and as he tore my clothes off, I tried to focus on the posters of horses and Hello Kitty on my bedroom wall.
Ray grunted as he forcefully pushed his fingers inside me. I reached out for a blanket, clutching it to me as I winced in pain.
Then, as Ray climbed on top of me and brutally raped me, I covered my face with the blanket. I didn’t want to look at him as the pain tore through me.
‘This is our little secret,’ he smirked afterwards. ‘Be a good girl, Aimee.’ I went to the bathroom and sobbed. I’d never felt more scared, or more alone.
It was just two weeks before Ray pounced again. He’d sent Mum out on an errand and knew that he had me alone.
‘Shall we have a tickle?’ he said. My heart hammered in my chest. I didn’t want to, Ray’s tickles hurt.
‘No,’ I said, as I fled upstairs and locked myself in the bathroom. Ray thundered after me, banging on the bathroom door so hard I thought it would cave in.
‘Get out here, you stupid little girl!’ he raged. ‘No one loves you, you’re worthless.’
I cowered in the corner until I heard the front door click open. Mum was home. I listened as Ray ran downstairs and tore into her. He’d found his next target.
I heard them crashing and banging around as Ray yelled at her, and in that moment I realised if I didn’t do as Ray wanted, he’d hurt my mum.
Ray’s abuse was unbearable – but I had to protect her. She was my mum.
After that, I quickly learned to read Ray’s moods. More often than not, he’d lead me upstairs for a ‘tickle’ whenever Mum was out. Every time, I’d pull the blanket over my face in a bid to black it out.
‘You know, you’ve got a nicer body than your mum,’ he told me. ‘She’s too fat for me now. I’m trading her in for a younger model,’
As he turned to look at me, a sick glint in his eye, the true horror of what Ray meant dawned: the younger model was… me.
‘If you don’t make me happy,’ he spat, ‘I’ll strangle the dog and beat your mum.’ I had no choice but to comply.
By the time I was 14, Ray was raping me almost daily. I didn’t dare tell anyone, but I was desperate for it to stop.
I had a little notebook, which I called my diary, and in the middle page I wrote, my stepdad is abusing me. Help.
I took the book to school and even left it on my desk – desperate for a teacher or a friend to pick it up and read it.
Only, the person who found it was… Ray. I’d left it at home one day and Ray had found it in my room.
‘Have you got anything to tell me?’ he asked, before slamming the book hard into my face. My eye wasn’t right for weeks afterwards. I was tortured, trapped – and alone.
After Ray had forced himself on me, Mum would come home with a takeaway and as she laid the food out on the table, Ray was in a great mood.
As I watched them tuck into the pizza or Chinese, I felt sick to my stomach. They were enjoying a cosy family meal, only no one knew the terrible secret that was holding the family together.
For two more years, I endured Ray’s sick abuse. As I grew older and more able to resist, he even tied my hands behind my back as he raped me. He even begged me to kiss him. Sick.
Then one weekend, when I was nearing my 16th birthday, I stayed the night at my real dad’s house.
I relished the opportunity to get away from Ray but he wouldn’t let me forget him. He bombarded me with text messages.
I’m coming to pick you up, he typed. And when I didn’t respond, he just resorted to abuse. You stupid girl, he wrote. And, you know what I’m going to do to you when you come home.
It was relentless and Dad must have picked up on the barrage of messages and my anxious mood.
‘Is everything alright, love?’ he asked, gently. I couldn’t keep it in any longer. In that moment, I broke down.
‘He’s abusing me,’ I blurted as I dissolved into tears. ‘Ray, he’s sexually abusing me.’ Dad’s face crumpled in pain but he rushed over to me and wrapped me in a reassuring hug.
‘It’s ok, you’re safe now,’ he soothed. Dad and his wife called the police who came round to take a statement.
Officers apprehended Ray, who had seen the police car at the end of our street and fled through the back garden and over the fence. He didn’t get far before he was arrested.
I was taken to a safehouse and officers ran invasive tests. discovering Ray’s DNA inside me. In December 2010 his trial went to court.
When he was handed an indeterminate sentence with a minimum of 52 months for rape and sexual activity with a female child family member, the relief was enormous.
Finally, I had justice. That monster wanted to trade Mum in for a younger model but I was just a child. Now, we’re both moving on – without him.
Aimee’s mum, Nikki, 43, says: “At the time I couldn’t see it, but looking back, Aimee was his girlfriend, not me. Ray told me I was too fat and ugly to have sex with. Ray was obsessed with timing. He would always call me at work to find out precisely what time I’d be home. Now, I realise it was so he could make sure I’d never walk in on him and my daughter. When Aimee told me about the abuse she suffered my world collapsed from under me. I had a nervous breakdown and ended up in hospital. It was my job to protect her and I failed her. She doesn’t blame me, but I’ll never forgive myself.”
Aimee knew that selling her story to the national press would help her raise awareness of sexual abuse and support other victims. We sold her story to Take a Break magazine, reaching a wide readership of women. If you want to speak out about your experiences, fill in the form here on the right and one of our talented team will ring you for a confidential chat to discuss the process.