WARNING: Graphic

Annie Jones never planned to tell her mother Tracey Morris she was being sexually abused.

Instead, the 15-year-old's heartbreaking secret came hurling out of her during an argument with her mum and the man who had been sexually abusing her since she was 13 — her own stepdad.

"It was an accident, I couldn't even believe I just said it," Annie, now 19, told news.com.au. "There was just so much hate built up, I just turned around and spat it out."

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The horrifying truth would change Annie's life forever, as it triggered a three-year legal fight for justice that saw her "dad" sentenced to 17 years behind bars last year, news.com.au reports.

Now the brave Sydney teen is sharing her story in a bid to help other child abuse survivors feel empowered to come forward and seek help.

'HE WAS PRETTY MUCH MY DAD'

Annie's stepdad had been a part of her life from an early age.

"He came into my life when I was four, so he was pretty much my dad. He married my mum when I was six," she said.

He began abusing Annie when she was 13, having spent years grooming her.

"It started off as just like him touching me," she said.

But the horrifying incidents escalated fast.

"Then he began full-on raping me," Annie explained, saying she was "abused twice a week".

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No one knew what was happening to Annie, with her stepdad — who news.com.au has chosen not to name at Annie and Tracey's request — having "everyone fooled".

In photos Annie looked liked any other happy teenager, but she was hiding a secret. Photo / Supplied
In photos Annie looked liked any other happy teenager, but she was hiding a secret. Photo / Supplied

Tracey was unaware of the horrors her husband was committing under the roof they shared.

"He was just so sneaky, it was horrible," Annie explained, revealing it wasn't until she was having a fight with her mum and stepdad in October 2015 that the truth came spilling out.

'SHE'S TELLING THE TRUTH'

"I was getting in trouble for sneaking out with a friend to go to a festival and then they saw I had a hickey.

"As I was getting in trouble, he turned around and said to me, 'You're nothing but a slut'."

It was the final blow for Annie, who responded to his cruel jibe by yelling: "Well, it's nothing more than what you've ever done to me."

Annie's mum Tracey instantly believed her daughter. Photo / Supplied
Annie's mum Tracey instantly believed her daughter. Photo / Supplied

Her words came out in front of her mum, who said she was "absolutely dumbfounded".

"She just looked straight at him and said it, and I was like, 'She's not mucking around, what the hell is going on?'" Tracey told news.com.au.

"I asked a few questions; when did this happen, where did this happen, just things like that. She just went bang, bang, bang with answers, there was no stopping and thinking about it."

Tracey described hearing Annie's ordeal as soul-destroying, but she didn't for one second doubt her — despite her husband's denials.

"I was looking at her going, 'This is absolutely killing me, but she's telling me the truth'," Tracey said.

Her husband quickly became angry and tried to convince his wife Annie was lying.

"He just jumped up and just started pacing around the room, telling me that I was making all this stuff up," Annie explained.

"But mum just went into mother's instinct and couldn't believe what I had just told her and was then just trying to look after me … she straight away believed me, she just was in shock because it was her husband."

JUSTICE FOR ANNIE

Tracey immediately kicked her husband out of their home. Just a week later, Annie made another brave decision: She was going to report her abuser.

"I remember I was in the car with mum and I just turned to her and said, 'I think I need to go to the police, I can't leave this'," she said.

Annie's stepfather was sentenced to 17 years in jail last year. Photo / Channel 7
Annie's stepfather was sentenced to 17 years in jail last year. Photo / Channel 7

The decision triggered a nearly three-year criminal case against her stepfather.

After he was charged he spent two-and-a-half months in custody until he was released on bail in February 2016.

For the next two years as the legal case dragged on he was living in Queensland and was understood to have become religious and joined a church

At first he denied all charges, but in May 2018 on the day his trial was about to start — with Annie ready to testify against him in court — he struck a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to 20 counts of sexually abusing his stepdaughter. This included 10 counts of aggravated sexual intercourse with an underage person.

In sentencing, the court heard the former air force officer, who was once recognised in the Queen's Birthday Honours, abused his stepdaughter repeatedly when she was 13 and 14 years old.

He was given 17 years and nine months behind bars and will not be eligible for parole until May 2029.

"I hated him so much, I was ready, because I was telling the truth the whole time," Annie told news.com.au.

Despite getting justice, the moment was bittersweet for Annie and Tracey — for while her abuser was behind bars, the pain didn't go away.

He had been a former air force officer. Photo / Channel 7
He had been a former air force officer. Photo / Channel 7

"It's not that simple, because you live with the scars of what has happened," Tracey said. "She's been through some really traumatic stuff that is not going to leave her, she has to just learn to live with it."

During this time both tried to seek help, but found finding the right person to deal with their trauma difficult and expensive.

Their struggle to find support eventually motivated them to turn their negative experience into something more positive for other victims and their families.

HELPING OTHERS

Annie and her mum — who now live on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland — have started No More Fake Smiles, a not-for-profit which aims to assist other victims of child sex abuse get access to mental health services and support through the legal system — which officially launches this Thursday during Child Protection Week.

"No More Fake Smiles is pretty much a safe space that I've created that I wish I had to go when I was being abused," Annie said. "It's a place where young kids can come to, a social media place where people can go to and seek help."

Annie Jones was just 13 when her stepfather began abusing her. Photo / Supplied
Annie Jones was just 13 when her stepfather began abusing her. Photo / Supplied

The organisation has a Go Fund Me page to raise money to fund its mental health program, which aims to provide care for child sex abuse victims through specialist psychologists as well as alternative services such as art therapy, yoga and boxing.

They also want the charity to provide support for families seeking justice against abusers in the courts, a process they know first-hand can be incredibly gruelling.

Further down the track they hope No More Fake Smiles can move into schools so they can help teachers in recognising the signs of a child being abused.

For now, Tracey has a simple message for other parents going through what she went through.

"I would just say that you must always believe your kids, especially in these circumstances because I don't think the words that they bring forward around sexual abuse are not the words that they would know in everyday life," she said.

"I really do think that you have to believe and you have to act, actions are very important. You have to hold their hand and go through the process, you have to."

For more information go to nomorefakesmiles.com.au

If you're in danger now:

• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours of friends to ring for you.

• Run outside and head for where there are other people.

• Scream for help so that your neighbours can hear you.

• Take the children with you.

• Don't stop to get anything else.

• If you are being abused, remember it's not your fault. Violence is never okay

Where to go for help or more information:

• Women's Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 - 0800 refuge or 0800 733 843 www.womensrefuge.org.nz

• Shine, free national helpline 9am- 11pm every day - 0508 744 633 www.2shine.org.nz

• It's Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450 www.areyouok.org.nz

• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and middle eastern women and their children. Crisis line 24/7 0800 742 584

• Ministry of Justice: www.justice.govt.nz/family-justice/domestic-violence

• National Network of Stopping Violence: www.nnsvs.org.nz

• White Ribbon: Aiming to eliminate men's violence towards women, focusing this year on sexual violence and the issue of consent. www.whiteribbon.org.nz

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