Suffering in silence

Behind the laughter, I'd been forced to keep a sordid family secret all my life...

Published by: Jean Jollands
Published on: 14 March 2013

Turning 18 should have been one of the most exciting days of my life. But here I was, doing the vacuuming and tidying my parents' bedroom. ‘Not exactly glamorous,'
I chuckled to myself, smoothing down the crinkles in their duvet.
But I didn't really mind. My mum Evelynne worked hard, despite being in poor health because of her diabetes. So I tried to help as much as I could.
‘We'll celebrate your birthday properly when I get back,' she'd smiled earlier, before heading off to her launderette job.
Just then, my dad David appeared in the bedroom doorway. ‘Hi, love,' he grinned, heading to the wardrobe and rummaging around.
‘I haven't given you your birthday present, have I?' he winked at me.
Suddenly, that familiar evil glint sparked in his eyes. He launched himself towards me and pushed me back on the bed he shared with Mum, pressing his weight on top of me.
‘You know exactly what I want,' he growled, pulling down my jeans.
The stale stench of his pipe smoke filled my nostrils as I defiantly bit back the tears. I knew better than to put up a fight. Dad wasn't tall but he wrestled in his spare time, and I was powerless against his muscular bulk.
As he had his sick way with me, I stared helplessly at a mark on the ceiling. Trying to pretend this wasn't happening, that my own father wasn't really raping me.
When Mum came home hours later, I was curled up on the sofa, staring blankly at the
TV screen.
‘What's with you, birthday girl?' she grinned. ‘Thought we were going to celebrate?'
‘I don't feel well,' I mumbled. Mum looked concerned, but didn't push. And when she handed me my present - a writing set - I plastered on a smile. How could I tell her that my dad, her husband, had raped me? Or that he'd been abusing me since I was just four years old?
The first time it happened, he'd crept into my room while Mum and my two older brothers were fast asleep. Dad had lifted up my nightie and touched me down below.
At first, I didn't know it was wrong and thought all daddies did it. But soon, whenever we were alone, even if Mum was in the house, he'd flash himself at me or try to feel under my dress.
When I was six, he'd attempted to rape me for the first time, as I played with dolls in my bedroom. He only stopped when he heard a noise and thought he might get caught.
Dad didn't need to threaten me not to tell anyone, I was terrified of him anyway. But my real concern was for Mum.
Her life was one long round of arguments and beatings. She'd been in hospital on four occasions because he'd hurt her so badly. The slightest thing could set him off - even someone sneezing as he watched TV. If he lashed out at me or my two brothers, Mum would throw herself between us and take the beating.
Now, it was my turn to protect her. If I said anything about the abuse, he'd take his rage out on her.
But it was impossible to bottle up my shame and anger completely. When I was six, I'd shot myself in the leg with an air rifle. Aged eight, I'd swallowed a cup of bleach. As I grew older, I'd pick fights and steal from the newsagents.
Over the years, I'd learned to dread the sound of creaking on the stairs after Mum went out. And now as a sick ‘birthday present', Dad had finally raped me.
But there was no way I could say anything. Mum's life was miserable already. This would break her.
Three years later, when I was 21, Mum gave birth to my baby sister Jane and I doted on her. But as she grew older, I was terrified. Dad had started abusing me when I was just four. What if she was next on his list? So even though I was an adult now, I still submitted to his sick attacks.
If I gave him what he wanted, at least he didn't need to find another victim.
Aged 23, I finally moved out and the abuse stopped. But I got a place just a few minutes away from Mum's so I could keep an eye on things.
Over the years, she grew weak as complications with her diabetes took hold. Finally, her sight went altogether and she suffered a stroke. I was round all the time, cooking and making sure she took her medication.
‘I don't know what I'd do without you, love,' she smiled.
When she was having a good day, I'd take her to see her niece Lynn. There was only eight years between them and, growing up, they had been like sisters.
‘You should have seen your mum when she was younger,' Lynn chuckled to me. ‘She was so skinny and all the boys fancied her.'
It made me so angry. Mum could have had any bloke - but she'd ended up with him and
he'd ruined both of our lives.
I got married and divorced and none of my relationships ever worked out. I was too damaged to get close to anyone.
But then a glimmer of hope finally emerged.
‘I want to leave,' Mum confided one day when Dad was out. ‘I just can't live with him anymore. Will you help me?'
‘Absolutely,' I said. ‘I'll do anything you want.'
Terrified of Dad's rage if he found out, we began preparing in secret.
We persuaded a neighbour to take Dad on a day trip to Margate. And I confided in Lynn who agreed to lend us her car so we could drive to my brother's in Preston.
‘About time, too,' she said. ‘She should have done it years ago.'
‘I can't stand what he's done to her,' I agreed.
‘Believe me, I hate him too,' she nodded.
The day arrived and as soon as Dad headed off with the neighbour, we packed Mum and Jane's stuff into two suitcases. Then Lynn arrived with the car.
‘Thank you so much,' I said.
‘It's okay,' she replied hugging me. ‘You and Aunty Evelynne deserve to be happy.'
And for those next precious years, we were. We found our own place and swore everyone to secrecy about where we were. Our mobile numbers had also changed, so Dad couldn't contact us anymore.
I became Mum's full-time carer and even though her health was failing, I had never seen her happier.
‘It's just the peace, love, and quiet I'd always wanted,' she said. ‘It means everything to me.'
But, sadly, she was enjoying her new life on borrowed time. When she was 58, she suffered gangrene and kidney failure and there was nothing doctors could do for her.
‘I love you, Mum,' I wept as she slipped away. ‘I'll always love you.'
Through family members, word reached Dad. And he decided he wanted to come to
the funeral. I was horrified, but I knew him too well - there would be no stopping him.
You're a woman in your 30s now, I told myself. He won't be able to hurt you.
He arrived at my house a few days before the funeral. And as we stood alone in the kitchen, that old familiar glint flashed in his eyes.
‘Want some of this?' he leered, putting his hand down the crotch of his jeans. We were mourning Mum's death, preparing to say farewell, and still this was all he could think of. Blind rage surged through me.
‘Mum's barely dead and you think you can still abuse me?!' I spat. ‘Well, you can't. I'm not that little girl anymore. You can't hurt me now.'
Sobbing, I fled the room. It was the first time I'd ever stood up to him. And it seemed to work, because he left me alone.
It took all my strength not to rage at him days later at the crematorium. Halfway through the service, Dad dramatically ran out, sobbing uncontrollably.
He'd made Mum's life hell and now he was playing the grieving widower. It was sickening.
Over those next months as I mourned for Mum, anger bubbled within me. I felt desperate to share the burden of my secret with someone. And with Mum gone, there was nothing stopping me.
One day, I popped in to see Lynn and I couldn't hold back any longer.
‘I've got something to tell you about my dad,' I said nervously.‘What is it? Did he abuse you?' she blurted out. I looked up at her startled.
‘Yes,' I said. ‘How did you guess?' There was a silence. Tears started pouring down
her cheeks.
‘Because he did the same to me,' she whispered. ‘The first time was when I was just seven.'
My stomach flipped and I felt sick. So I wasn't the only one.
We sat there together for hours, talking. Without going into the details of what he'd done, we tried to take it all in.
Dad had stopped abusing Lynn when she was 11, and started on me a few years later.
‘I'm so sorry,' she said. ‘If I'd spoken up earlier, maybe I could have stopped him from hurting you.'
‘You're not the one to blame,' I insisted. ‘He is.'
Speaking to someone who understood gave me a whole new strength.
‘I'm going to the police,' I said. ‘He's got to pay for what he's done.'
‘I'll do it, too,' Lynn vowed, eyes flashing defiantly.
So, 34 years after Dad had first abused me, I made a statement to the police. Lynn
was interviewed too and, soon after, Dad was arrested.
He denied everything, and as the months wore on, the prospect of giving evidence in court hung over me like a dark cloud. Sometimes, I wondered if it was all worth it.
‘What if they don't believe us?' I wept to Lynn.
‘You can do this,' she reassured me. ‘You've just got to be strong.'
And when Lynn faltered, I was there for her, too.
‘We've come too far to turn back now,' I'd insist.
Finally, David Parker, 68, appeared at Croydon Crown Court. As I gave evidence, a protective screen shielded me. But I could still glimpse his smug face through a crack, his thin grey hair scraped into a ponytail.
I wasn't strong enough to go to court to hear the verdict. But I had a phone call from Lynn.
‘Guilty!' she whooped.
He was convicted of six counts of committing gross indecency with a child, three counts of indecent assault, three counts of rape and attempted rape of a female under the
age of 16.
‘I can't believe it!' I sobbed.
A few weeks later, I sat next to Lynn in court as the judge sentenced him to a total of 15 years in prison.
‘Yes!' I whooped, punching the air as the smug smile was wiped off of his face. I knew he would most likely leave prison in a box.
‘I couldn't have done this without you,' I hugged Lynn outside the court. ‘And I couldn't have done it without you,' she sobbed.
Six months on, I'm focusing on my future. I've since discovered that, after all these years, David Parker wasn't actually my biological father. Knowing he's not my real dad is some comfort, at least.
Our shared ordeal has made me and Lynn so close. I wish she never had to go through what she endured. But I'm so grateful I had her by my side. I couldn't have got justice without her.

• Lynn Jordan, 53, says: ‘I was seven years old when David Parker exposed himself to me at my nan's house where I lived. He threatened me that if I told anyone then I'd be taken away from my family.
The following year, when I was eight, he raped me when I was off school with a tummy bug.
After that, Parker touched and exposed himself to me until
I was 11. I bunked off school and picked fights. I just really hated myself.
The night Davina admitted he abused her, I realised
I wasn't alone and, together, we could finally stand up
to him.
If me and Davina can help just one victim have the courage to speak up, it would mean everything to us.'

*Some names have been changed

Davina Parker, 41, Nottingham