￼Here, Karen*, 43, tells the story in her own words.
Wandering around the market, I felt content. My kids, Jack*, then seven, Hayden*, six and Holly*, two, were meeting my new boyfriend – and it seemed to be going well.
Recently divorced, I wanted to meet someone who’d welcome my kids into their life. After all, they were my whole world. I’d met Tim* on an online dating site. In his late 30s, he was a down-to-earth country guy. Warm and friendly, he was happy to date someone with kids.I wanted my own, he explained. It just didn’t happen for me. He was staying with his aunt, so I met him there before we headed for our first date. He was charming and his family were lovely.
Meeting my kids, Tim seemed a bit nervous, talking himself up to impress them. ‘Come here, son,’ he said when Hayden wandered off. Son? I thought, wary of him stepping on my ex’s toes. I gently reminded Tim he’d just met the kids. Thankfully, he understood, and we had a great day together.
Soon, we were in love and Tim moved in with us. After 18 months together we got married and welcomed our daughter, Millie*, now 10. He could be a strict parent, but nothing excessive. But when I was around, he and the boys would butt heads. Is this normal for boys and their stepdad? I wondered.
After an accident, Tim stopped work. So he did the school run and greeted the kids when they got home. To fill his days, he did volunteer work with children. But as the boys became teenagers, the tension grew. ‘I hate you!’ they’d shout at Tim. When I pressed them on what was wrong, they said they didn’t like their stepdad. But they didn’t have any concrete reasons. Do they resent him as another father figure? I wondered. I was baffled.
Then, one Friday I got a text from Hayden, then 18. I’m staying with my boyfriend this weekend, it said. No worries, love, I replied, as this wasn’t unusual. Monday was my day off. Tim was home and Jack, then 20, was in his room. I popped out, and when I came back I spotted a man and woman in suits walking to our door. When Tim answered, they swapped a few words and suddenly his hands were cuffed behind him. He was under arrest. ‘What’s going on?’ I shouted, running over. 'That’s what I’d like to know,’ Tim said being bundled away.
Suddenly my parents, Christine* and Paul*, arrived. I was bewildered. They seemed to know what was going on. My dad went straight upstairs to Jack, and Mum took me aside. What was happening? She seemed shaken. ‘Hayden broke down in a counselling session on Friday,’ she said gently. ‘He says Tim has sexually abused him since he moved in.’
Hayden hadn’t been allowed home until authorities could arrest Tim, so he’d secretly gone to my sister’s house. My family had been forced to keep quiet all weekend. My world fell apart. I couldn’t wrap my head around the horrifying news. Tim, I thought. My husband? Had there been a mistake? Or had my son been suffering for 12 years, right under my nose? That’s when Dad came downstairs.‘It’s Jack, too,’ he said gravely. ‘He’s just told me.’ My heart was in pieces. What about the girls? I thought, desperately.
When police collected Holly, 15, from school, she too disclosed years of horrendous sexual abuse. I was being plunged into a nightmare, but my precious kids had lived one since the day Tim moved in. When I got to hold each of my kids tightly, I sobbed gut-wrenching tears. ‘This is not your fault,’ I told them. ‘I’m so sorry.’
Over time, it all came out. As much as two or three times a week, Tim tried to get each of them alone. Giving them fake sick notes, he forced them to stay home from school. He’d sometimes ply them with scotch and even filmed himself abusing Holly. To my horror, my wonderful girl was frightened she might be pregnant. Thankfully, she wasn’t but it made me feel sick to my stomach.
It seemed little Millie had escaped her dad’s vile clutches. I couldn’t have known, but I felt overwhelming guilt. Did he ever love me? I wondered. Or was it my kids he’d wanted all along?
Throughout Tim’s trial, my kids were incredibly brave. Locking eyes on him for the first time since his arrest, I felt nothing but hate. Sickeningly, it emerged he’d used their love for me to buy their silence. ‘Your mum’s nerves won’t take it if you tell anyone,’ he’d said. ‘It’ll kill her.’ They hadn’t even told each other, instead suffering alone.
Late in the trial, Tim changed his plea to guilty to 24 charges including aggravated indecent assault and aggravated sexual intercourse. Although relieved, I was angry he’d put us through the court case.
In September 2017, at Parramatta District Court, Tim was sentenced to 22 years in jail, with 16 years and six months non-parole. Slowly, with the help of counsellors, we are rebuilding our lives and our relationships with each other. Together, we urge anyone suffering abuse to speak out. You have nothing to be ashamed of.
Reporting it is not as scary as you might think – we were supported every step of the way. You deserve to get justice.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing sexual abuse, you can get help and support by calling 1800 737 732
or by visiting www.1800respect.org.au.
*names have been changed in respect of remaining anonymous.
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