To the outside world, Abigail’s (not her real name) childhood was idyllic – a stable family of mum and dad with four children, living in a nice house and enjoying family caravan holidays.
However, the reality was totally different. Abigail’s dad was a manipulative controller and a sexual predator. He kept his wife on such a low budget so that she had to work in the evenings – leaving him as sole carer for the three girls and their brother.
Abigail was the youngest daughter and, although her eldest sister did all she could to protect her, she was regularly sexually abused by her father.
The eldest daughter disclosed what was happening behind closed doors when she was 16 and the father was given a short prison sentence.
When Abigail also disclosed at the age of ten, the CPS did not regard her as a strong enough witness and would not take it to court. However, when the middle sister disclosed, her father, who pleaded not guilty, was given a lengthy prison term and the wider family turned against him.
The trauma led to Abigail’s mum quickly re-marrying and she did not have a good relationship with her stepfather so she rebelled. She left school with no qualifications and was kicked out of home at 16 with no option but to move into a hostel for the homeless.
Angry, hurt and alone, she was vulnerable to whoever showed her compassion and she fell pregnant at 18
As a single parent, she met her first husband but the marriage was doomed to failure from the outset as Abigail had a natural mistrust of all men and thought that everyone was out to hurt her.
She explained: “My first husband was a good man and did everything he could to look after me and my children. We had three children together and he was also great with my first son. He left when my youngest was one and, quite frankly, I don’t blame him.
“I met another man online and moved to the city where he lived. At first he was charming and moved in with me and the kids but the relationship soon turned physically abusive and I now realise that he had simply preyed on my vulnerabilities.
“I went through hell for two years and was under the same coercive control that my dad had got over me – constantly telling me that I was worthless and that no one would believe me if I said anything.
“Things came to a head one evening when he tried to strangle me in front of my eldest son. He told his teacher who thankfully set the wheels in motion and I knew the abuse had to stop. I reported him to the police who turned him out of the house but he didn’t go quietly and stalked me for ages.”
Abigail was determined to rebuild her life and met another man who she then married and moved away.
She enrolled at the local college which helped build her confidence and, now aged 41, is studying for a master’s degree at university with her sights set on being a social worker specialising in child protection.
“Over the past 12 years, I have been on a roller coaster of emotions. I tried counselling when I was younger but was not in the right head space and, over the years, I have battled with anger, guilt and shame.
“I haven’t wanted to share my experiences as I thought people would judge me. With both my dad and my previous relationship – I constantly questioned whether I was to blame.
“Over the years I have been particularly angry that the CPS would not take forward the prosecution against my dad. That decision took away my voice and just reinforced what he had told me that I would not be believed. I still experience self-doubt every day and I work hard to manage depression and anxiety.
“However, healthy relationships in my life and particularly returning to education have helped give me gain the confidence to speak out.
“I hope that, by sharing my story, other women and girls will recognise the red flags of an abusive relationship earlier, have the courage to seek help for what they are or have gone through and be open to the counselling and therapy available at places like SV2 to help them rebuild their lives.
“I have wasted too many years living a negative life but I am optimistic about the future and am determined that abuse will not define me or my children moving forwards.”