I was devastated when mum and dad split up. But things got a lot worse when Stan* moved in…
By Sarah Gilbert*, 33
I felt a lump form in my throat as my dad pulled me up onto his lap.
‘Me and your mum are splitting up, Sarah,’ he explained softly. ‘I’ve got to move out and live somewhere else. But I’ll always love you very much.’
I was nine-years-old when my parents broke up and I felt my world as I knew it crumble around me.
My mum was never much of motherly figure, at least not towards me. My little sister got any scraps of affection.
Just a few weeks after splitting from Dad she moved her new boyfriend, Stan*, into the house. Full of smiles and reeking of aftershave, Stan was only eleven years older than me.
‘Fancy a trip to the swings?’ he asked, with a smile.
I replied: ‘Yes please!’ as I quickly pulled on my coat.
Stan made a real effort to get to know me and I liked having him around to play with. But soon, our playfighting became something far more sinister.
Three months after he moved in, I woke to raised voices. I sprinted to Mum’s bedroom where I found Stan looming over her, raining down vicious punches.
I tried to pull Stan off her but he was too strong for me and after that, I learned to grow afraid of him.
By the time I was 13, Stan’s attentions took a different turn and every time Mum left the house, he pounced on me.
‘Oh come on, it’s just a joke,’ he sneered as he clumsily pawed at my breasts and pulled down my trousers.
But it didn’t feel like a joke to me. Instead, I felt full of shame. Then, when I was 14, the unthinkable happened – when Stan raped me for the first time.
I felt physically sick as he forced himself on top of me. After sex education classes at school I knew exactly what Stan was doing but I froze in terror. I was utterly powerless to stop him.
I prayed that Mum would somehow notice and stop him and I felt sure that she had her suspicions.
‘Why does Stan act like your boyfriend instead of your dad?’ she asked. I simply shook my head, scared and in denial.
I longed for her to come out with it and say ‘what is he doing to you?’ but she never did. Love is blind and she was smitten. I had nowhere to turn.
Meanwhile, Stan’s sick abuse continued and the monster would rape me at least once a week.
I tried begging, pleading, crying, everything I could to make him stop – but Stan was merciless. As time went on, it became easier – and safer – to keep quiet and go along with his evil abuse.
Just a child, I was terrified. So I bottled it all up and dreamt of the day I would be old enough to run away.
By the time I was 16, Stan’s attacks were really intense.
‘I love you, Sarah,’ he told me, as his probing hands snaked over my body.
‘I love you too, Dad,’ I replied, desperate to remind Stan who I was and emphasise the father/daughter relationship.
But he didn’t even flinch. It made no difference to him.
Then, when I was 18, he made the most shocking proposal. ‘Marry me, Sarah,’ he said.
I was stunned. By then, the monster would move me into the marital bed he shared with Mum whenever he could.
We’d spend hours there together and Mum either had no idea, or turned a blind eye. She’d even given me the money for a taxi to the abortion clinic when I fell pregnant with Stan’s baby, aged 16.
She turned and asked me many times: ‘Who’s the father?’ I felt my cheeks burn red with shame – and anger – but I lied that the father was a boy from school.
I always wondered if she knew the awful truth.
But that day, as Stan’s indecent proposal played over and over again in my mind, something inside me snapped.
I realised that as long as we were under the same roof, I’d never be free of him. So I fled to a friend’s house and escaped his evil clutches for good.
Life was hard but anything was better than being at the mercy of that monster. I soon got involved in a relationship which gave me two beautiful children, now 13 and ten.
But my partner was violent and after eight years of agony, I finally summoned the courage to leave with the kids and go to a women’s refuge.
There, a steely resolve strengthened inside me. I wanted the world to be a safer place for my children. I wanted justice.
So I went to the police and told them everything about what Stan had done to me all those years before.
‘It’s ok, you’re safe now,’ the officer soothed gently. With their kindness and support, I relived those years of awful abuse and all the things I’d buried deep and locked away, came tumbling out of my mouth.
I was nervous when the day of the trial arrived in January 2010. But a few of the ladies from the Worcester Rape Crisis Centre came to support me and I was determined to be brave.
I decided to appear in the dock and face Stan in person – but seeing him standing there as his solicitor bombarded me with questions turned me into a trembling wreck.
‘I’m not scared any more,’ I somehow forced the words out of my mouth. ‘I want to stand here today and say to his face that what he did to me was wrong.’
I made eye contact throughout but Stan simply hung his head and looked down at the floor. Coward.
Then, when Mum denied that it had ever happened and left the courtroom, I faced the ultimate betrayal.
When the jury was split at 9:3 and I was told there would have to be a retrial, I wanted to give up the fight.
I had been through so much, it felt like I couldn’t go on.
‘Don’t give up now, Sarah. You’re so close,’ one of the police officers on my case encouraged.
I vowed to stay strong then and the following year, I went to court again. This time, I gave my evidence via video link and thankfully, the jury was left in no doubt of Stan’s guilt.
In May 2011, Stan was unanimously found guilty of four counts of rape and sentenced to 18 years.
I breathed a huge sigh of relief but even the guilty verdict did nothing to sway Mum’s opinion.
She stood by Stan, her own daughter’s rapist, and remains married to him to this day. She’s even moving closer to the prison so her visits are easier. Sick.
I’ll never have anything more to do with her. I’m focusing on loving and protecting my beautiful children the way she never loved or protected me.
Now, I’m engaged to be married and my fiance and I plan to wed in 2016 – the same year I’ll graduate from my university course in psychology and counselling. It will be a double celebration.
I’m just glad that Stan is behind bars, where he belongs.
That monster may have stolen my childhood and torn my family apart, but I refuse to let him steal my future.
As told to Helen O’Brien Google