Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

An apology

My life has been about keeping secrets for as long as I can remember and now that I'm an adult, wife and mother of two beautiful children and I'm my own boss in life I have a strict 'no secrets' policy. For many secrets may be good things, but for me they are destructive and serve no purpose at all of any good.

I've written on here before about when, as a teenager, I dated a man who was abusive to me. I kept this secret for a long time, fearing the 'I told you so' and judgement from people around me. In truth though I was keeping secrets a long time before then - this time not as the abused but as a 3rd party.

It all started around the time I was 9 or 10. I recall hearing my mum and stepdad (I called him Dad) shouting at my sister (who was 2 yrs older than me) that they were going to go into school the next day as she had forged my mum's signature on a detention slip. It was a real ruckus, followed by slamming doors and then silence.

The next day I got in from school to find the house empty. Remembering the previous evening I didn't think much of it, however half an hour later my mum came through the door crying.

'whats up' i asked shaking
'your dad's been arrested, your sister says he abused her - he's at the police station'

I don't recall much after that other than being told to go get my 7 yr old brother from the local park. I ran hell for leather, feeling like my legs would go from under me at any time, got him and went home. The evening was a blur but I do recall my mum asking me if he'd ever touched me, me replying no (which was the truth) and then him walking through the door. 'they had no evidence so they let me go' he told me. 'your sisters in care' my mum said as she packed my sisters bags.
'Im glad they didn't put you in prison' i said as i hugged my dad.

I don't really remember having any thoughts about my sister other than wondering why she made it up and how she could do this to us. We hadn't really got on growing up. She was always favoured and I guess I resented that. I was a child with childish feelings and grown ups telling me she was a liar.

The next time I saw my sister she was in a children's home. She seemed like a stranger to me and I just felt confused and angry at her. She was a trouble causer I was told and she'd nearly wrecked my family. I was lucky she hadn't...

My mum sent me to school the day after the abuse allegation with strict instructions to 'not tell anyone'. This didn't last very long because as soon as I saw my best friend I blurted it out. I needed to process it, to get answers but no-one was saying anything. My sister had been removed and social workers would be coming to see us kids, we would be put on an at risk register, but it was brushed under the carpet. Life went on after all - except it didn't - not really.

With my sister's allegation went my childhood. The social workers asked us lots of things - things I was too young to really know about. My Nana - the one person who seemed grounded accepted that her grand daughter had been taken into care. How could that be?
Because no-one questioned anything I didn't either. My sister was a liar and that was that.

But as I got older I started to see things differently, constantly wondering who was telling the truth (something I believed they would take to the grave as neither would ever admit they were lying). The fact that my dad always waited until i was in the bath before he decided he needed the toilet, or how he questioned me on what I liked sexually after finding a diary I had written about my 'first love' , telling me very sexual lewd jokes and describing his and my mums sex codes.

There were also the times he would pull me close and whisper in my ear about how much he loved me, (making my skin crawl) then would move away when anyone came in the room, and lets not forget his 'your mum loves me more than she loves you - I've got rid of one of you I can get rid of you too' comments if I upset him. He encouraged secrets too, like helping me see a boyfriend behind my mums back.

The whole 'who's telling the truth' questioned haunted me and I longed for one of them to just crack and admit they lied so the non-stop wondering could cease.
I recall one day when my mum packed all her bags to leave my dad - she would come back for my brother and i apparently - except half an hour later she returned because my dad had said 'after what happened with (my sister) are you sure your kids are safe with me'. I was horrified - my mum stayed and that night I listened in disbelief as they had sex.......HOW COULD SHE?

The real turning point for me came though when my sister and I were talking one day about it all and she said she would kill him if he ever touched me. It was the first time we had spoken about it, though at least 5 years had passed since she went into care. There was something in her voice and eyes that made me realise that she was telling the truth. All this time I'd been angry at her for damaging my family. I felt so guilty and then I got angry with my dad.

The man who was supposed to protect us and care for us had hurt my sister. More than this, the woman who gave birth to her and was supposed to lay down her life for her had chosen an abuser and in doing so had, by her actions, told my sister that she was to blame for her abuse - something my sister likely felt already. At a time when my sister needed someone to step forward and say 'I believe you, you're not to blame' no-one did. The important people didn't - they let her down.

Following this conversation I tried to talk to my mum about it. Later when my sisters ex told me my dad had admitted the abuse to her I again approached my mum, convinced she would believe my sister now - needing her to admit that she was wrong - but she didn't. She continued to live with him and go to bed with him each night - despite none of us kids living with her.
I'm a mum now and I can hand on heart say I would die for my kids. When my son's dad and I broke up and I started dating again I was terrified incase I met an abuser, or that I wouldn't see the signs of one. When my now husband and I started dating I wouldn't let him in the same room alone with my son for any length of time, and when I finally did I would sneak up to make sure everything was ok. I told him from the off that should my child ever make an allegation like the one my sister did I would always choose my son.

For me it's simple: the damage done by believing a child who may be lying about abuse is much less than the damage done by believing an abuser. In the latter you are telling an abused child they are wrong and to blame. Its my job to protect my kids. They are priority. Its not even a choice - its gut response.
My sister and I haven't ever really talked about the abuse in detail. Im not sure she wants to and Im not sure if I could bear to hear. To think of how lonely and alone she must have felt being punished for something that was never her fault makes me cry as it is so to hear specifics may not do either of us any good.
I have no contact with my stepdad now. As far as I am concerned he is evil. he birth of my son ten years ago put the final nail in the coffin as there was no way I would ever let him near him. With my mum, I always believed she was 'under his spell', but I'm old enough and wise enough to know now that she isn't. She made a decision to stay with him, alienating family and causing her to miss out on three wonderful grandchildren.
I'm sorry that this post is long, but I guess I just wanted to say that abuse has many victims, directly and indirectly. Its really important to support victims of abuse and rather than blame them help them get justice and heal. I believe my sister was abused, without hesitation or question, I believe - Im just sorry it took so long.


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2 thoughts on “An apology

  • Elizabeth. says:

    Cheryl that is a very powerful post. Im sorry that youve experienced this. Please please dont blame yourself. NONE of it was your fault You were just a young child confused by what was happening at home. I wish you and yr sister good thoughts and best wishes x

  • Jan Williams says:

    Thanks for your bravery and clear-sightedness in posting this. It is very helpful to read the story of a manipulative and abusive man managing to get away with repeated abuse over years and years. Shocking but I am sure not unusual.