A brave grandmother has found peace after facing her father in prison, 40 years after he repeatedly abused her as a child.
Having spent her childhood, teenage years and adulthood suffering with anxiety and feeling she had to “play happy families” while keeping the abuse a secret, the now 53-year-old says she finally feels free.
The mother-of-two, who is remaining anonymous, said: “My anxiety has meant I have often spent all day in bed, unable to face the world.
“Now, as soon as I see sunlight, I am up and out of bed and ready for the day.”
The grandmother-of-two, from Essex, was sexually abused by her father “four or five times a week” from the age of five until 11 – when a sex education lesson at school opened her eyes to what she hadn’t realised was abuse.
She said: “My father would come to the school and tell my teacher I had a dentist appointment. He would take me out of class, take me home and rape me – then take me back to school.
“I realised from the reaction in that lesson from the other girls at school that what was happening to me was wrong. From that moment, I stopped it. I would hide or not go home from school.
“I suffered such bad anxiety; my hands would constantly sweat as I felt like everybody around me knew.”
In fact, the first person she told about what had happened to her was her doctor – but not until she was 28.
Having then had an unsuccessful experience with cognitive behaviour therapy and having received ongoing support from the South Essex Rape and Incest Crisis Centre (SERICC), it was a meeting with her father recently that finally turned her life around.
The Essex Restorative and Mediation Service scheme was set up to hold offenders to account and to help them to take responsibility for the harm they have caused.
It was an opportunity for the victim to explain to her father how he had impacted her life, to ask questions and to take back control.
The Restorative Justice team worked with the victim and her father for 13 months before the face to face meeting took place in prison, to ensure both knew what to expect and were prepared for seeing each other for the first time since the court case.
She said: “My father pleaded guilty in court, so this was my only opportunity to tell him how he had made me feel all those years ago as a child.
“I had some anxiety over seeing him again, but the team were so good at making me feel at ease; I could not have wished for better support. They make you feel like they are there just for you. They are just amazing.
“As soon as I saw him, I saw him as a dirty old man. I wanted to know his history; did his parents abuse him; why did he abuse me. As the four-hour meeting went on, I could feel my strength building. You have to be strong to face your abuser; but on that day, I felt such strength. I thought ‘this bloke needs to hear exactly what he has done’. I looked him in the eye and gave him everything he had given to me. That was a great feeling; amazing.
“I feel like I am coming out the other side now. I do not want to see him anymore, I do not think about him, he is never going to be a part of my life.
“The Restorative Justice scheme has given me freedom; I feel free. Without it, I would still be struggling to get out of bed.
“I would still be shutting my eyes to the world and overthinking everything. I still have some low days, but I have learned not to give him my good energy.”
Convicted of several counts of sex with a child, the now 79-year-old is serving the last months of his prison term.