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Social services pressured Pollie to allow her stepfather back home after he had sexually abused her

All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Pollie’s mother found the ‘shame’ of being a single mother very difficult and married a man her daughter did not like.

Even after he admitted sexually abusing Pollie, he was allowed to return to the family home.

Pollie’s parents separated when she was a small child, and her mother was left alone to bring up two children. 

She remembers the few years that she and her sibling were alone with their mother as a happy time. ‘There wasn’t a lot of money, but we were well looked after’ she says.

But it was the 1970s and relatively unusual for women to bring up children alone. Pollie says her mother found the stigma hard to live with.

When Pollie was seven, her mother introduced her children to a man called Dewie. She recalls ‘I just didn’t like him’. He started visiting and always brought the children presents, but Pollie says this ‘made me more wary of him’. 

Her mother asked if she liked Dewie, saying that if she didn’t, she would send him away. Pollie told her how she felt, but about a year later, her mum and Dewie got married.

Pollie describes how Dewie presented himself as a ‘doting father … someone who’d come and rescued a mum’ and her children. She adds ‘everyone was completely taken in by him’. 

Very soon, Dewie started coming into Pollie’s bedroom at night, supposedly to check she was all right. He told her she was very special and the reason he wanted to join the family. He started coming into her room partially undressed. He would touch her and make her touch him, saying it was their secret, and that if she told anyone he would go to prison and she would end up in a children’s home. 

Dewie wrote pornographic stories and made Pollie read them. He also made her watch pornographic films with him. The material often featured violence against women. She adds that he was very skilled at engineering situations where he was alone with her.

He told Pollie he would not have ‘proper sex’ with her until she had started her period, and she says the dread of that was always on her mind. ‘The physical thing was probably the bit I could handle the most because I could go somewhere in the back of my head … that aside, it was really what he did to my head – that's the bit that stays with you.’  

At one stage Pollie began sharing a room with her sibling, hoping this would stop Dewie abusing her. But he started abusing both children, and she felt very guilty about this.

By the time Pollie was in her early teens her period had started. The abuse was escalating and ‘there was more menace about him … I knew it was just a matter of time’. 

In an attempt to escape Dewie, Pollie arranged to go and stay with a friend of her mum, and told her what Dewie was doing. Her mum’s friend reported it, and the police and social services got involved. Pollie’s mother ordered her husband to leave the house. She was upset that Pollie had not told her about the abuse. 

However, when the police and a social worker came back to the house, the police said Dewie had admitted the abuse, and asked Pollie what she wanted to happen. Pollie said she didn’t want anything bad to happen to him – she just wanted not to have to see him. She added that she didn’t want to have to go to court. 

Pollie trusted that she would not have to see Dewie again, but after that she did not see the police again and the social worker did not ask her how she was or offer her any help.  

She says Dewie used all his skills as a manipulator and made such a show of admitting his weakness that many family members supported him. ‘He was the hero because he hadn’t denied it’ she says.

During their marriage, Pollie’s mother and Dewie had a child together. After a few weeks, the social worker visited and told Pollie that Dewie should be allowed back in the house because her mum was alone with three children, and her young sibling needed to see their father. 

Pollie felt pressured into letting Dewie back. They assured her ‘he’d never lay a finger on me again’ but she still asked for a lock on her bedroom door. 

Dewie did not sexually abuse Pollie again, but he became increasingly verbally abusive and aggressive.

Pollie has been affected by the abuse she experienced. She has disturbing nightmares. She became involved in an abusive relationship and at times she has struggled with parenting her children. She has felt guilt and shame about being abused.

She believes that processes and attitudes about child sexual abuse have changed, but there is still room for improvement. ‘I like to think that if I were to make that disclosure today that I would be treated differently’ she says.

In particular, Pollie emphasises that children are often unable to make explicit disclosures of abuse and that professionals need to be alert to other signs, and ask questions. 

She has had a successful and fulfilling career. 

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