Real Life

Bashed at one, raped at 10, justice at 35

Antonia Davies (35) of Hamilton grew up in a nightmare of abuse and rape. But she was determined to get justice one day.

In a corner of my living room is a black and white photo of me as one-year-old. At first glance it looks perfect. I’m sitting on a wool rug, in a studio, wearing a pretty dress with a wide grin on my face.

I look happy, until you spot the big lump on top of my left eyelid. It’s so big, it almost covers my entire eye. It was a black eye but I was told to say it was a birthmark because the truth had to be kept secret.

The saying, “What happens in your home, is your business” was the way it was back then. Getting the black eye was just one of the atrocities I went through during my hellish childhood.

I’m 35 years old and still living with the consequences of the physical, sexual and mental abuse I went through as a vulnerable little kid. And it was done by people who should have known better – one of the main offenders was my stepfather David Pearson, who was jailed for two years just recently for the terrible sexual abuse he put me through.

Six other people also abused me and they too left wounds in my life. Tragically, it has taken me years to realise I have nothing to be ashamed of. I have no regrets about breaking my silence and getting my stepfather put in jail.

As a child, I lived in a crammed three-bedroom State house in Northland, with my mother, stepfather and four siblings. I shared a room with my sister and there was never any privacy. I hated getting changed because I never knew who’d walk into the room.

The earliest memory I have is of being four years old and being forced to go into the bathroom to help “wash” my stepfather. I wanted to say, “No” but I couldn’t because I didn’t want a beating.

What started with “bathing duties” would eventually lead to more intimate touching and, when I was 10, he raped me. I remember crying and the excruciating pain between my legs. What makes me angry is that he would later deny he had done anything wrong.

People ask why I didn’t go to authorities sooner and I can only laugh. Who would have believed me? Who, in those days, would believe a child over a “grown up”? I was ashamed and blamed myself for the abuse.

There was more than one occasion when I’d walk past the police station, thinking, “Go on, go in there and tell someone!” only to chicken out because I was scared of the consequences. It didn’t help that I was being bullied at school, which made me feel even more alone, with no-one in the world that I could turn to. I became withdrawn.

The final straw was when we had to move house and I wasn’t allowed to take my horse with me. I was devastated and ran away.

Social Welfare placed me with foster parents and it was a turning point for me. My foster parents, Rose and Brian, quite simply, saved my life.

I’d grown up being used for sex, told I was no good and that I’d never amount to much, but they showed me what genuine love was all about – and it was priceless.

They supported me and stayed strong when I was angry at the world. Rose and Brian were there when I first laid charges against my stepfather and supported me when the first judge threw the case out because it had happened too long ago.

The judge decided that it wasn’t fair for charges to be hanging over my stepfather’s head. We appealed successfully and he was finally jailed for two years. The sad thing is the judge did not order my stepfather to do an offender programme either in jail or as part of his parole conditions.

He may be in his seventies now, and yes, it happened a long time ago, but I was a child and rape is rape.

I’ve had my share of ups and downs but I’m trying my best to get on with my life. That cliché, “You can now put it behind you” is silly, in my opinion, because my experience is something I can never leave in the past.

I don’t like dresses and skirts because I associated them with “easy access” for my abusers and I can’t stand the sound of birds tweeting because I used to concentrate on their noise outside the house to remove myself from the horrible things that were being done to me.

It feels like yesterday sometimes. I can learn to cope – but I’ll never forget.

I lost my partner to a car crash seven years ago and it has been hard for me to form a relationship with another man because I still don’t really trust men.

I’m a single mum to a teenager who knows what I’ve gone through and accepts that his mum will have her tough moments. I’m in counselling and it has been a great help. I’ve found that for it to work, I have to be a willing participant and talk about even the most painful, hidden things to get them out in the open.

I’m also in the last year of a science degree and it’s given me a real sense of achievement. It’s something I once thought I’d never be able to do.

What continues to frustrate me is that nobody ever denied the abuse I went through. I was just expected to keep my mouth shut.

Even today, people who see that baby photo tell me to get it digitally retouched to remove the big lump. Abuse is still a taboo topic but as a victim I won’t stay quiet any more. I blamed myself for so long and paid a heavy price.

I hope telling my story will help someone else speak out. I don’t want people’s sympathy. I just want them to hear my story and find strength from it. As told to oere oulu Photograph by Phil Crawford

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