Trigger warning: Abuse.
This started as a way for me to deal with my experiences of domestic violence. As I wrote, it became the truth that I have managed to hide for most of my adult life. I have kept this anonymous because I don't want to upset people who don't know the full story, and because I am not brave enough to face the world with this over my head. Perhaps one day, but not yet.
I was 15, it was summer and I was pissed off. My best mate had met a bloke, and suddenly my (previously quite promising) social life seemed to consist of sitting in his living room, smoking fags, drinking special brew and trying to drown out the sounds of them fumbling away upstairs by the power of Pointedly Loud Telly. It wasn't working. I wasn't happy, and finally I snapped. I was fed up of listening to her witter on about her boyfriend, and fed up of being boring. I needed a change.
'He' was my best friend's uncle and he groomed me.
At first things were normal. He was at college, and as far as I knew he was 18. He had a flat. We used to eat Chinese food and watch films. More often than not, Amy and her boyfriend would be there. There was no pressure. He was actually the perfect boyfriend. He met mum and dad and they liked him. He bought me daft presents and told me the kind of stupid stuff that 15 year old girls want to hear.
I became besotted with him. Looking back it all seems so bloody obvious. Although I was intelligent, clever and outwardly confident, I was incredibly naive, insecure, and needy. Oh so needy. I'd been abused and I had also been bullied quite badly. I had just started to blossom - I had good friends but a damaged, fragile ego. I was ripe for the picking. He made me feel like I was the centre of the universe and that only he could see it. He made me need him.
Our relationship became sexual. I thought the things he wanted to do were normal. He watched a lot of porn, and he would get me to watch it with him. He'd make suggestions, and not wanting to disappoint, I went along with them. Because he loved me, and that's what people who love each other do. I felt mature. Adult. Special.
We were together for a few months when the cracks started to show. At first it was subtle. He would talk about his ex, how she wore her hair, and how he thought I would suit the same hairstyle. He would comment in passing about how pretty she was, how she still smiled at him in college...how she wanted him back. Then one day he told me that he thought we should try an open relationship, because I wasn't enough for him. I wasn't giving him what he needed. I was heartbroken, but it agreed. I didn't want to lose him. He went back to his ex. He played us off against each other, and to my shame I went along with it. I accepted that he told her I was his friends daughter that he was babysitting. He lied about my age, making me out to be younger than I was. It didn't matter, he was still with me. We were still having sex. He still told me he loved me. Eventually they split. I'd won. He came back to me because he loved me most.
Wasn't I lucky?
I remember the first time he hit me. We were play fighting with my brother, and he offered to teach me how to punch someone. He punched me, full pelt on my arm. He was a bodybuilder, and though he had run to fat, he still had some clout. It hurt, and I cried. He couldn't apologise enough, and swore it was an accident, and he'd never do it again. I forgave him, because it was a silly accident. He didn't mean it. I brushed it off and forgot about it. The criticisms got worse. I couldn't get anything right. I needed to lose weight, change my hair, change my clothes, By now I had started college, five minutes away from his flat. He began insisting that I called to see him before I started lessons, which on some mornings meant that I had to get up before 6am just to get to his flat. I was exhausted, and trapped. He would tell me how my parents controlled my life, how my dad was too controlling, too aggressive, my mum favoured my brother, and how I should leave them and move in with him.
The 'accidental' slaps because deliberate kicks and punches, and I never ever knew what would trigger it. That was actually worse than the violence. The fear and not-knowing. I haven't ever forgotten it, and I'm not sure I ever will. The older I got, the more adult I appeared, the worse the violence got. He stopped pretending to care about what people thought. He would openly criticise me in front of people and when we were alone, he would lash out for the littlest thing. He would hold his hand over my mouth but tell me that it didn't matter if I screamed, nobody cared - nobody would come to get someone as worthless as me. I believed him.
I became skilled at lying to my friends, my family and myself. I became an expert at covering up bruises and marks. He would encourage my eating disorders, rewarding my 'self-control', and punishing me if I failed. He would lavish attention on my friends (notably anyone who looked younger than me), telling me I should be more like them. The abuse both physical and verbal got worse and worse and my life spiralled out of control. I tried to leave, I really did. As I grew older, I realised that this wasn't right, it wasn't how things should be. I wanted to be a normal teenager, I wanted my life back. I wanted to just be a kid. He always talked me round, but when this began to fail, when I was getting strong enough to stand up to him, tell him that what he'd done was way out of line, he did something that even my shattered psyche couldn't comprehend.
He raped me.
I couldn't tell anyone. Nobody would believe me. My friend was in the room next door, and I didn't scream. He was my boyfriend, he was just doing what I'd allowed him to for 18 months, and now I was crying rape. Boyfriends don't rape girlfriends, same as husbands couldn't rape wives - I'd already consented the first time. It can't really have been rape, he wouldn't do that. Not so long ago he'd helped one of my friends through a traumatic time following her rape, he couldn't have done that to me. That's all I kept telling myself, over and over again. Afterwards he made a cup of tea and we sat and watched telly. He acted like nothing had happened, and dropped me off at home that night without saying a word about it. You know the stupid, insane thing? I stayed. I stayed even when I found out that he'd been showing people videos of us having sex. I stayed when I found out that some of those people were my friends, people who I went to college with. I stayed after he beat me so badly that I couldn't cover the bruising up and I had to admit my shame to my employer when I turned up to work looking like I'd been in a pub brawl. I defended him to a wonderful friend who cleaned me up, holding cold compresses to my face to stop the swelling. I stayed when he battered my head against the stairs in my parents' house so badly that I ended up with concussion and blurred vision. I stayed with him because he'd stripped me of any self-worth. Everything I had was down to him, he ruled my social life, he told me how to dress, how to behave, he told me that I was lucky that he wanted me because nobody else would. I was exhausted, and there was nothing left inside me. I was ashamed to admit that I had been wrong, that I was so weak, that I couldn't get anything right any more. That this man who I believed I still loved, didn't think me worthy of him, and that I let him hurt me because it was the only thing left I could feel. I began to drink, and drink and drink. I spent a lot of that time with a bottle of vodka in my college bag, and far too many nights drinking until I didn't care what happened to me.
I couldn't tell you what finally brought me to my senses. I don't know what happened to trigger it. I was round at his flat, and something was said. I can't remember what. It was a threat of some kind, and I saw red. I threw my hot cup of tea on his crotch, and I punched him harder than I've ever hit anything before or since. I broke his nose, and I actually FRIGHTENED him. He called my parents, told my dad how I'd beaten him and that they should come and pick me up because I'd 'gone mental'. Dad never said a word, and it wasn't until years afterward that Dad told me what had been said. He had told my dad that I was taking drugs with my friends, how he was worried about my 'violent mood swings', how he was trying to keep me safe. My poor parents had been worried sick. A couple of weeks later, and I ended things completely. He'd blamed me for a burst tyre on the car (if I'd not made him stop at the shop, he would never have driven on the glass', and when he looked to hit me, I stood my ground. With too many witnesses, he drove off and left me there. Instead of the sheer panic that comes with knowing that you are going to suffer the consequences later, I made the decision that there would not be a 'later'. I went to a friend's party, a proper teenage party with loud music, drinking and normal people who were my friends. That night was one of the best nights of my life. I was finally FREE. I danced till dawn, and I never wanted it to end.
I never told my parents what had actually happened. They know that I'd been hit once. I was too ashamed to tell them them the truth of it, and now…well, it serves no purpose to drag it up. I am a mother myself, and I know how it would hurt them. I can't face doing that to them, it isn't fair.
Why do I find it so hard to accept that it wasn't my fault? Because all too often I hear people ask 'If it's so bad, why can't they just leave?', or say things like 'She's an idiot, she deserves it if she's going to put up with it', or 'She's 15, but acts older, look at the way she dresses'. There's a lot of interest in Operation Yewtree, but what terrifies me most is the number of girls who have been groomed and abused and are ignored. For every case that hits the headlines, there are hundreds more that don't. It's not about class, race, religion or culture, it is the inability of the agencies and the adults who are supposed to protect these children to grasp that these children are not making informed choices. Time and time again the victims step forward and say that they were ignored, that 'nobody gave a toss'. These girls were believed to be making an informed decision, that they were working as prostitutes through choice, and should be allowed to continue. That they were so morally deficient that they'd sleep with a man for a free kebab or a bottle of vodka. That reinforces the notion that there is a 'grey area'. That women like me were complicit in our abuse, that we allowed it to happen. That it's a little morally dubious, but not actually child abuse. There's more than a few people who hold that view, and when you disagree you find that to defend your view you have to prove you earned your right to survivor status. That you have to prove that you were taken advantage of, that you were innocent of any sexual advances. It feels like being abused all over again, so we slink away and lick our wounds and come back a little more scarred, until we just give up and accept that it must be our fault.
That's not how it should be. That is not the world I want my son growing up in. He is a teenager now, and his female friends have not a care in the world beyond their GCSEs and spots. I envy them, and I hope that every single one of them gets to enjoy the end of their childhood the way they should - but if they are in trouble, I hope to the gods that they are able to talk to someone who will LISTEN to them and keep them safe.