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Ivy’s father returned from the war and imposed a regime of tyranny and abuse on his family

All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Ivy was born in the 1940s. Her mother gave birth to a number of girls before she had a son, and her father physically and sexually abused his daughters.

Ivy and her sisters were sure that they were worth nothing to him, because he only wanted boys.

Her father was serving in the armed forces during the war, and he was away from home for the early years of her life. He was a violent man and his wife was completely under his control, and Ivy says that when he returned, she was the only member of the family who was not scared of him. 

But, she soon learned to fear her father. She describes how when he was hitting her she would hold her breath until she went blue, so that he would stop. 

He sexually abused Ivy and her sisters ‘in every possible way’ other than raping them.

Ivy’s father kept her mother so short of money that after buying food there was nothing left over. They had few blankets, no linoleum on the floor and hardly any furniture. 

She believes that neighbours must have heard the noise and cries of distress from their house, but says ‘there were a lot of difficult families in our street’. 

On one occasion, after he beat one of the girls severely, Ivy’s eldest sister went to the police. But back then, Ivy says, ‘A man’s home was his castle ... behind that door he could do as much as he wanted’. The police came round but simply warned him they would be back if there was another complaint.

Even after the much-wanted boys were born, life continued to be just as miserable for the girls. Eventually Ivy and a number of her sisters went to the police, and their father was arrested and held in custody.

Ivy only has praise for the police response, but says what followed was equally difficult. She and her sister were roughly examined by a police doctor. When they cried, the doctor told them they could ‘expect worse’ when they got married.

The case took ten months to come to court. Ivy says their mother was completely traumatised when she realised what had happened to her daughters and they ‘had to help her survive’.

During the court case Ivy and her sister had to sit next to their father. She describes the cross examination by her father’s lawyer as ‘worse and more degrading’ than what her father had been doing to her. 

She says ‘I believed that once I told, they would take over and make it right. Because the police were so great, I was not prepared for others not believing me’.

Her father did admit his guilt, but because he had been in custody for some time, he was released and went home the same day.

A number of Ivy’s siblings were taken to a children’s home for a period of time. Their father moved into a psychiatric hospital and remained there for 20 years. 

Ivy describes how she has been affected by the abuse she endured in her childhood. She finds it hard to trust people and she prefers to live alone, where she is in control of her environment and feels at peace. She did get married but found she could not share her life or space with someone else. 

She had therapy and found it very helpful in understanding more about herself and her responses. It has also made her aware of signs that people are in distress. 

Ivy decided to share her experience because she wants to make a contribution to help victims and survivors of child sexual abuse. She emphasises how important it is for investigations and court processes to consider the children involved. She believes that the first interaction with the child can determine how much they disclose.

She says ‘It isn’t always what happened to you, it’s what happens to you after’.

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