Writer and broadcaster

My daughter was sexually abused by her step father. The Guardian

Dear Annalisa

My ex-wife and I married when we were very young, in the late 1970s, and split up five years later. We had two children – a girl and a boy. She remarried quickly and had two more children. Her new partner became involved in a religion that was all consuming and although I saw my children frequently at first, this became less so, until such time as I decided it would be better for all concerned if I removed myself.

I found it difficult to accept what I consider to be a cult religion. I felt as if I was in the way. I tried to give my children birthday and Christmas presents, but my ex-wife would tell them there was no such thing as Father Christmas. I used to deliver my children back to their home, which was full of religious material. It was impossible to influence my children and I didn’t want to cause conflict. I felt powerless and an intruder. I walked away from my children believing I was doing the best for them.

I have recently reconciled with them. Neither are involved in this religion now. My daughter is employed, married and very happy.

I have discovered (from my daughter and others) that my daughter was sexually abused and raped by her stepfather from an early age up to her early teens. I am devastated and desperate to ensure my ex-wife’s husband is brought to justice.

The problem is that my daughter has a very close relationship with her mother; she feels responsible for her. My daughter told her mother when she was 18 what had happened. Her mother left her husband for one night but then returned. It is now not discussed. My daughter hasn’t seen him since she left home at 18 and is unable to be in the same room as him.

It has affected my daughter’s previous relationships mentally and physically. However, she now seems to have a happy marriage. She does not want to go to the police about this as she does not want her mother to be upset. I am beside myself.

Everyone I have spoken to about this has said I have to respect my daughter’s wishes and just be there for her. They say I need my daughter’s permission to do anything as she is an adult now. I just want to take her to the police so justice can be served.

As it seems my hands are tied and failing all else, I am keen to contact my ex-wife and ask to meet with her to try to establish why she chose to do nothing. We have had little contact since I stopped seeing my children.

Do you think I need my daughter’s permission to speak to my ex-wife?

You don’t need your daughter’s permission to speak to your ex-wife, neither do you need her permission to go to the police, although if she refuses to give a statement then a prosecution is unlikely. It’s also far better if you discuss what you’re doing with your daughter first, and that you do it together if possible.

I’m concerned that, having been in a situation over which she had no control, she now feels the control is taken from her again. All of that said – and this is very important – this man still has access to children, including two of his own, which is a cause for concern.

I showed your letter to someone from the NSPCC (nspcc.org.uk). “We would encourage him to report it to the police and children’s services,” the spokesperson said. “The perpetrator has access to children, there might be others he has abused [or still might]. The investigation might not just be about this one case [ie your daughter’s].”

The NSPCC also recommends that you ring its helpline (0800 808 5000); this is the sort of call that, sadly, is not uncommon. A trained practitioner can help talk through things with you and explain the process when you call the police. It also suggests that your daughter speak to them and that, sometimes, it takes a few such calls for survivors of abuse to find the courage to give a statement to the police. Your daughter may have concerns and she may feel more able to discuss this with an unknown person, confidentially, than she may with you.

I could tell from your longer letter that you feel tremendous guilt at having left your children. I’m also minded that, given your daughter’s job (which I edited out for confidentiality purposes), she may feel as if her whole life is going to be blown apart if she gives a statement. This is going to take very careful handling, which is why I urge you to please call the helpline.

But you do need to do something to protect others who may still be at risk.

I’m not sure what value there is in talking to your ex-wife at the moment. She is unlikely to give you the answers you seek.

You could also try the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (napac.org.uk, tel: 0808 801 0331).


This article first appeared in The Guardian Family section on 15 August 2014.