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Ruby says ‘You can be different people in a lifetime, I think, if you are given the chance’

All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

As a young girl Ruby suffered cruelty and abuse in her home at the hands of her stepfather. She describes how she has worked at recovering and says she feels lucky.

She says ‘It is really important to get people to voice things ... there is a need to recognise that you are a victim but that it isn’t your fault’.

Ruby and her younger brother were born to a young unmarried mother. The three of them lived with Ruby’s grandparents along with several of her mother’s siblings. Ruby describes it as ‘a big supportive family’.

But her mother, who had mental health issues, wanted her own place and to find a ‘dad’ for her two children.

Ruby was about four or five years old when her mother began a relationship with a man called Brad. Within a short time of moving in, Brad became very controlling. He was particularly strict when Ruby visited her grandparents – where she says she had always ‘felt very comfortable’. The children would have to ask permission from Brad to do anything, even something trivial, like accepting a drink their grandparents offered.

The abuse intensified over the next few years, psychologically and physically. Brad, who was a primary school teacher, was very calculating about physically punishing the children. He would add up in a book the amount of punishment they were to receive for different things and would cane Ruby and her brother, or hit them with a belt, accordingly.

But, she says, if they had PE lessons coming up where any marks might be seen, he would ‘save up’ the punishments for the weekend or the holidays: ‘One massive beating and I wouldn’t be able to sit down for like a week or something”.  

Brad extended his control over the children in various ways: when they went to the toilet they had to keep the door open; he forced them to eat food he had deliberately made disgusting; he hurt their pets; he made them write an essay about ‘why our real dad doesn’t love us’.

When Ruby was about 10 years old the abuse by Brad started to become sexual. He would tell Ruby what he wanted to do to her. He would point out women’s physical attributes in the street and tell Ruby she should look like them. She says she constantly compares herself with other women as a result of this and has to work to overcome this.  

Brad would show Ruby inappropriate images and talk about sex in front of her and her brother. He also forced her brother to read books about violence and murder which caused him great distress.

Sometimes when he beat the children, Brad would make them watch each other being hit. He once made Ruby’s mother hold her head so she could not turn away from the sight of her brother being beaten.

When Ruby was 14 years old her mother divorced Brad and met another man, Tyrone, who offered to protect the family from Brad. Ruby told Tyrone what had happened to her. When her mother went away for a few days and left the children with Tyrone he got into bed with her.

She was very confused by this, so she got out of bed, but over time she and Tyrone then started to build up what she thought was ‘an intimate relationship’. Her mother would take medication to knock herself out or stay over with friends, and on these occasions Tyrone would abuse her.

Ruby describes what Tyrone did as ‘different abuse from my stepfather … it sounds horrible, but it was … more straightforward … incredibly horrible and messed me up a lot, but it wasn’t so psychological’.

Tyrone was violent towards Ruby’s mother. She recalls walking in and seeing him with his foot on her mother’s head, about to punch her. Ruby called the police who took a long time to arrive. Ruby eventually told her mother that Tyrone was abusing her, and her mother made him leave.

Ruby says that she didn’t want to tell the police but her mother made a report. A child protection investigation followed and Ruby was allocated a social worker, but the case did not proceed to court.

The abuse Ruby endured had a significant effect on her life and later relationships, because, she says, she had ‘no marker’ as to what was abusive.

However, she took a course in her 20s which was ‘a massive life changer’. She later achieved a first-class degree and now has a fulfilling and successful career. She has read a lot about abuse and paid for therapy.

She has built strong and healthy relationships with loved ones and feels mothering has been a big part of her healing. She worked hard to bring up her daughter with a strong sense of self-worth, and Ruby is now in a happy relationship with an ‘amazing partner’.

She adds that she understands her mother was very vulnerable and has read that abusers can spot people who are an easy target. Although it has taken some work, she and her daughter also have a good relationship with Ruby’s mother. ‘She is an amazing nanna’, says Ruby.

Ruby thinks that the police need to be trained to pick up signs of vulnerable children. If the police had behaved differently in her case, Ruby says ‘that could have potentially changed that situation’.

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