My mum died when I was quite young, and my abiding memory is of my father raping her while she was dying. With her gone, I had no protection or defence against anything that my father wanted to do. He was a very manipulative man. He had a string of girlfriends and one of them was an abuser herself. Her own children had been removed from her into Care, and so I was the substitute. Some of the dissociative parts of me carry faint memories of my father’s friends – memories which trigger my body into remembering things that I can’t make much sense of yet. But younger parts of me have horrific memories of multiple abusers and sadistic rituals. I have been amnesic of this for most of my life so I was unable to tell anyone at the time. But my life has been a battle to disclose what happened to me and get the help that I didn’t get from my family – the help that I needed to rescue me from my family.When I was at school, a teacher noticed my frequent bruising and I was put on the ‘at risk’ register under the category of physical abuse. But in many ways that was the least of my concerns. I told my teacher that my father was horrible and she would encourage me to call my social worker from school, but often I would only manage a few words before I clammed up out of fear. From about the age of 10 I was frequently running away from home. I would climb out of the bathroom window and then walk the streets for hours. We used to have regular ‘Core Group’ meetings at our house. We would sit with the child protection investigation lady in our lounge and talk about how things had been that week. Usually my father would dominate these meetings and talk about how bad I had been. Sometimes he would get me to play something on the piano to make it look like we were a normal family.As I got a bit older, I heard about Childline and I began to call them from phone boxes. I would try to talk about the distress I was feeling, but it took a long time for me to build up to be able to tell anyone directly. Firstly I told indirectly: I took an overdose when I was 14 and spent Christmas that year in hospital. Really I just wanted to die at that point. I was put in Care a few times but I had an overwhelming fear of ‘telling’: the threats that my father had made, that he would kill me if I told anyone, were very real to me and dominated both my waking and sleeping lives.

Eventually I was placed with my aunt and uncle as kinship foster carers. They were my mother’s brother and his wife. They had two children of their own and it was only really my uncle who wanted me there. But after living with them for a while, I began to trust them and I wrote down some of the things that had been happening to me. It felt safer for me to write this stuff down rather than to say it out loud, so I put it in a letter and gave it to my uncle. He told me that it would go no further, but he soon broke that promise. Later that day, I was playing in the yard and my uncle called me in, saying that someone wanted to speak to me on the phone. I went in and picked up the handset. The person on the other end of the line said that they were from the police and that they wanted to ask me some questions, but that I hadn’t done anything wrong. I finished the call feeling very numb and confused. Was this a good thing or a bad thing? I’m sure now that that kind of intolerable conflict, of wanting rescue whilst dreading the consequences of it and knowing that it is a matter of sheer survival not to ‘tell,’ drove some of my dissociation. I had to partly cut off from what was happening – hence the numbness.

My social worker turned up and drove me faraway to an interview suite for children. It looked like a normal, family house, but inside there were cameras everywhere. My social worker had to wear an earpiece through which she said that the policewoman would be speaking to her. There were lots of toys in the room, dolls and teddies and so on, and on the other side of the wall there was someone in a room looking at me from a variety of screens that were showing the images from the different cameras. I was really frightened and desperately wanted support from someone. I now know that the interview suite itself was a reminder of some aspects of abuse that I had been subjected to, but at the time it was just overwhelming and petrifying and didn’t make sense. I was wearing short, white dungarees and in my pocket I held a stone that I had picked up from my mum’s grave the last time I had been there. That was all the support I was going to get: I desperately wanted my mum to be with me, but there was no one. Inside my head, I just kept telling myself that I was doing this for my younger sister, who was still living at home with my father. I wanted to be brave for her, and also for my mum, for what she’d suffered too.

The interview seemed to last forever. When did that happen? Where did that happen? Who was there? What happened next? Thousands of questions, with precise details that I couldn’t remember. I wanted to be accurate in everything I said, and so I held a lot back because there were so many missing pieces. Other parts of me held those fragments of memory and in that context, being triggered by the cameras, without any emotional support, I couldn’t think straight. My voice was strangled and weak, and I found it difficult to get my lips to verbalise the right words. By the end of the interview I was exhausted.

When I came out of the room, I was told that my sister was being interviewed in the next room and that my father had been arrested. I was terrified that he would be coming soon and that when he found me, he would kill me. After all, that’s what he had always promised to do. I felt that I had stirred up a hornets’ nest without meaning to and now I was at risk of being stung to death. There wasn’t any protection or comfort from anyone around me; I felt totally alone.

After a while, my uncle came and picked me up and we went to one of the other foster homes where I had been living with another family. There were lots of children there and being around everyone made me feel more grounded. I sat on the swinging chair in the garden and had a cup of sweet tea. Soon after, my sister arrived. I hadn’t seen her for a long time and I was afraid that she would hate me for what I had stirred up, but the first words she said to me were “Thank you.” She told me that the police had arrived earlier that day at my father’s house and had arrested him for sexual and physical abuse. His girlfriend had been there and she had started screaming and crying. My sister had been told to pack a few things, but she only managed to get hold of a tiny yellow suitcase. She evidently felt quite overwhelmed by what was going on, but she knew exactly what was happening and why. She asked if she could come back to my uncle’s house with me and it was eventually agreed that she could – much to my father’s dismay, who wanted us to be kept apart because he said that I would manipulate my sister into turning against him. The next day my aunt, who was a barrister, took the mattress off my bed and burnt it in the field at the back of the house. At first I didn’t understand why, but later we figured that it was to get rid of some evidence, although the police never did carry out any forensics at the house. It was the first sign of whose side she was on.

As part of the investigation, I also had to go and have an internal examination. Again it was without any kind of support, and was distressing both physically and emotionally. While the doctor was examining me, he let ten students come into the room, all wearing white coats. They all had a look at what they called “an abuse case.” I felt incredibly dirty and ashamed, and that I must look in some way different for them to be peering at me like that. It was like being re-abused all over again. I was just a child and these adults were making all the decisions about me and failing to give me either any choice or any support. But to me at the time, that’s just the way it was, and it was the way it always had been.

Months went by during which the little support I had came from my NSPCC worker who used to take me for rides on his motorbike. I was living with my extended family, but my aunt was helping my father prepare for the trial. It was a very warped sense of ‘family’. Then my granddad died before the case went to Court and when it came to the funeral I wasn’t allowed to go. My father was on bail and not allowed to see me, so given that he was going to be there, I wasn’t allowed to attend. It again felt upside down – that I was the victim, but it was my freedom that was restricted.

My NSPCC worker was really helpful and he showed me inside a courtroom so that I would know what to expect during the trial. There was a lot of messing around with the dates for the trial itself. I would be all ready to go to Court and then we would get a phone call saying that the hearing had been changed to another day. It was very frustrating and unsettling and it felt as if my life were on hold. Eventually the day came for me to go and give evidence. It was a school day, and I put on some black trousers and a top to try to look smart. My uncle drove me to the Crown Court where my NSPCC worker was waiting for me. He took me to the children’s room where we had to wait. When I was called in, we went into the video-link room where I was giving evidence – this meant that I didn’t have to go into the main courtroom and face my father. Inside the video-link room, the NSPCC man was allowed to come in but he had to sit behind me with an usher and not talk to me at all. In front of me was a TV screen which showed the person who was talking to me – either the defence barrister, the prosecution barrister or the Judge. I was told that the jury and everyone else had screens in front of them so that they could all see me. It was supposed to help, and maybe it was preferable to having to give evidence in front of my father. But the cameras and the screens were just a trigger for many of my parts who had suffered particular kinds of abuse. I felt totally alone whilst also being watched from every angle.

We began by watching the video of the interview that I had given a year ago, which was really difficult to see. At the end I was asked lots of questions, but then suddenly the trial was stopped as three members of the jury said that they couldn’t handle sitting on the case, and produced doctors’ certificates to support them. It felt a little ironic that bystanding adults couldn’t cope with hearing details of what had happened to me, whereas I had no choice but firstly to suffer it to start with and secondly to sit and be quizzed on it now. So a new jury had to be sworn in and the whole trial started from the beginning again – watching the video interview, being cross-examined. I was asked questions such as, “What did you wear to bed when you were seven?” and “Was it provocative?” I had to take a break at that point as I spiralled into thinking that it was all my own fault. I couldn’t even tell which ‘side’ was asking me the questions as they were all wearing wigs and I hadn’t met any of them beforehand. I felt frozen and dissociatively numb – I gave my evidence in a “clear and unemotional way” as it was described later, and two days later it was all over. I had done all I could do.

The trial continued for several more weeks and then the jury retired to make its decision, which took them a few days. My NSPCC worker was a retired policeman and knew the Judge personally. He told me that the Judge was anticipating a custodial sentence of twelve years for my father. I was at school when the jury returned their verdict, and after school I went to reception where the NSPCC worker was waiting for me along with my social worker. They told me that my father had been found not guilty by majority decision. The room started spinning and I went into a dissociative fog. I watched myself walk through the playground and past my school friends. None of my friends knew what was happening – only the teachers knew. I was in a daze.

When we got back to my foster home, we were sitting in the lounge when my social worker’s phone rang. It was a message from my father: he wanted me to know that he still loved me. I don’t even know what emotions that evoked in me, apart from the fact that it felt like a threat. I went into my room, got into bed, covered myself with the duvet, and lost the next few weeks of my life. The family divided into ‘sides’ and lots of my relatives ended up hating me for what I had done. I had to leave my whole life behind and move out of the area, away not only from my sister but also from my friends, which as a teenager was a massive thing to do. I lived with an overpowering sense of dread, worrying incessantly that I was about to be killed or kidnapped. I was having constant nightmares and my foster carers would report that I had literally been climbing the walls in the middle of the night. One of the many parts of my personality seems to have been formed at this time – a part who is tough and takes stressful things in her stride. She presents as being about 15 years of age and very much functions as my protector. Looking back I can really see how my mind’s ability to dissociate and split off unbearable experiences was the only thing that helped me to survive psychologically.

After the Criminal Court saga, there was still the issue of who my sister and I lived with, so attention was turned back to the Care Proceedings that we were involved in with Social Services. The Court appointed a Children’s Guardian whose job was to work independently from both the social workers and my father, and be the eyes and ears of the Court. She appointed a solicitor called Nicky to represent me, and eventually a Care Order was granted, meaning that Social Services shared Parental Responsibility with my father, but could make the majority of decisions. Nicky helped me a lot and has continued to do so since that time. She applied to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) for damages for me and was successful despite my father not having been convicted in a Criminal Court. It’s a strange thing to receive money from the Government because your family have hurt you, but it doesn’t exactly make up for it.

After the Court case, I was very upset and my foster carers very quickly became annoyed with me, saying that I should be over it by now, even though only a few weeks had passed. On Christmas Eve they threw me out of the house and I was placed in an emergency foster home in another town. It was strange spending Christmas with total strangers. The foster carers ran the church at the back of their house and tried to persuade me to attend their services. I couldn’t face it, but at the time I didn’t know why, being amnesic for some of the ritualistic abuse I had suffered. I stayed with this family until I was 16, when I moved out into a young person’s bedsit. There were 40 young people like me living there and we all shared the lounge and the kitchens. There were support staff in the office day and night, so it was like a giant children’s home. Was this family? I tried to block out everything that had happened, but each night when I was alone I would self-harm by repeatedly dropping the leg of the bed on my foot, or scraping my spine up against the corner of my cabinet. The physical pain was preferable to the emotional pain.

My family had been absent, neglectful, abusive and rejecting. But I’d had some positive experiences, like the NSPCC worker and Nicky the solicitor – people who weren’t my family but who still tried to help me. So I tried to do the same and model myself on them rather than my family of origin. I went to see the Head of Social Services with a list of questions to try to change some policies: “Why does my father still have the right to see my school report? Why does he still have a say in my medical or dental treatment? Why can’t we ‘divorce’ our parents in the case of abuse, like they can in America?” I’m not sure it had any effect but I also got involved in setting up the first “Leaving and after-care teams,” contributing my ideas of what would help when we moved out of foster care at 16 into this rootless, family-less existence. On the surface, therefore, it looked as if I was coping really well and just turning my negative experiences into positive ones. But partly I was throwing myself into helping others so that I didn’t have to face my own life and try to repair it.

My experiences of therapy during childhood had been far from positive. I had been seen by three child therapists at this point, and a Child Psychologist who encountered one of my younger parts who behaved like an animal. One counsellor, whom I saw before criminal proceedings were instigated against my father, insisted that I talk about the death of my mother as this was what the GP thought was at the root of my problems. Unbelievably, my father sat in on these sessions for two years. During the Court case I saw a very good therapist whom I began to trust, but I could only manage to talk about how difficult it was living with my aunt and uncle, and the breakdown of the placement. I couldn’t face talking about my father. When I was placed in the emergency foster placement in another town, I couldn’t go to see her anymore and I didn’t even get to say goodbye, so this felt like yet another big loss in my life.

Another consequence of the Court Case was a disclosure from another member of my family. My father had two siblings – a brother, who was a successful businessman who had his own airline business as well as being a pilot, and a sister. After the trial, she came to visit me and told me that my father had sexually abused her when she was a little girl. My father had always led the family to believe that his sister was ‘mad,’ and she was an outcast from the family. Now I understand why: it was all part of the manipulation and deceit that goes hand-in-hand with abuse. If the perpetrators can make out that we, the victims, are just ‘mad,’ then no one has to believe anything we say. Maybe if someone had listened to my aunt earlier, maybe if someone had seen beyond her label of just being ‘mad’, then my father wouldn’t have been able to abuse me and my sister for so long.

So that was my childhood. Adult life continued to be a struggle, as I wrote about in My Experience of Living with DID: the NHS. There have been failures in so many of the ‘systems’ that I have been involved in, but there have also been a few good individuals who have made the world of difference to me. I now work on a voluntary basis one day a week for the NHS helping to raise awareness of mental health conditions such as DID, giving talks to junior doctors and other health staff amongst other things. DID makes so much sense to me. It’s obvious that in my life it was caused by the massive abuse I suffered for years and years, but it was also caused by the family matrix that I grew up in as well. Being in Care, Christmases in hospital or with strangers, getting support from a few, kind professionals but not from your family … it all has a massive impact on the developing brain of a child. If you don’t know who you are because you can’t make sense of your family life, it’s hard to develop a unified sense of self.

It has been hard to accept that there was no justice for me. My father was killed 8 years ago, so that robbed me of the possibility that he might ever apologise to me for what he had done. It’s unlikely that he would ever have done so anyway, but now there is no chance. Such have been my family fortunes.