Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Sexual abuse: Victim had nowhere to turn after life long rape and abuse by 'uncle'

The rape victim says the family pretends nothing has happened. Photo / Greg Bowker
The rape victim says the family pretends nothing has happened. Photo / Greg Bowker

A South Auckland woman has been raped repeatedly by her stepfather for most of her life - but has never told the police about it.

The abuse started when she was only 3 or 4 and continued intermittently even after she left home at 17. She is now 47 and says: "He still turns up in my life occasionally. The last time was five or six years ago."

Each time she endures her worst nightmares all over again.

"He held me down and banged my head against the floor until I literally started seeing stars," she says of one of those times. "When I stopped fighting back, he raped me. Then he left me there, semi-conscious and bleeding, on the floor, like a piece of trash."

Yet she has never reported him to police because she would have had to disclose that he also forced her into prostitution from the ages of 14 to 17.

"He decided I could make him a bit of money on the side and took me to a woman's house. She ran a brothel," the woman says. "He literally made me sell myself to other men, and then he'd take the money for it."

By the time she felt strong enough to do something about it, as an adult, she had built up a corporate career that would have been destroyed if her time as a prostitute had become public knowledge. It would also have been her word against his, and his lawyer could have pointed to her prostitution to undermine her credibility so that in all likelihood he would not have been convicted.

"As the alleged perpetrator, he would have the right to remain silent," she says. "As the victim, I would not. The odds of him being found guilty were about one in 100. It just wasn't worth it."

The woman's stepfather was originally her father's best friend and neighbour. She called him her uncle.

"He was in and out of my life from when I was about 3," she says. "He lived next door, and after we shifted he'd still turned up on a regular basis. I'd see him three or four times a week at least."

The abuse got worse when her parents separated when she was about 9 and her "uncle" moved in.

She told her mother after a talk at school about "bad touching", but got an angry response.

"I actually got a hiding from my mum for saying horrible things," she says. "So I didn't tell anyone else again for a long, long time. My uncle always used to say, 'If you tell, I'll kill you'."

She has never talked about it with her real father.

"My dad is the sort of person you can talk about the weather with quite safely. He was one of those people, the minute he hears something he doesn't like, he shuts down."

"I don't know how much he knows, but he knew my mum was an alcoholic, yet he walked out and left her with her children. Looking at it as an adult, I don't know how he couldn't have known, but adults can bury their heads in the sand."

At the brothel, she found other girls caught up in similar abuse.

"I wasn't the only under-age sex worker there. I'm guessing the others were probably there against their will as well," she says. "I was still at school. Over the time he probably made quite a lot of money out of it. He used to buy me stuff, that was kind of payment. It wasn't stuff that I wanted..."

She once told a guidance counsellor at her high school about it, but "she didn't believe me".

Her mother drank so much that "she didn't really notice I was gone".

Her uncle drank a lot too, but he always knew what his step-daughter was doing.

"I think he is just sick," she says. "Everything for him was about sex. I think he kind of got off on the fact that he had total control over me."

She finally escaped from the sex trade at 17.

"I started working extra shifts so that I had money. I left home and never went back. The difficult bit was that I left my younger siblings behind, I was really scared about what might happen to them."

She forged a successful career in the corporate world, but her uncle never let her go completely.

"Every few years he came back and abused me," she says. "One time when I was 20 or 21 he turned up on my doorstep out of the blue, I didn't think he even knew where I was living. He brought me a present, which was his normal pattern for 'I want sex now'."

Eventually she sought counselling, in her 30s, and she is now in a stable long-term relationship.

"I still have moments when I think, don't come near me," she says. "My partner is very understanding about that and he just accepts that I'll come right eventually."

Her younger siblings are "okayish" but "not unscathed". "We pretend like none of it ever happened. That's the way the family copes."

- NZ Herald

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