- Tina Renton was sexually abused by her stepfather from the age of six
- Abuse stopped when she told her mother at 14, but he was not reported
- Brought her tormentor to justice after doing law degree 17 years later
I would have fallen asleep if my elbow hadn’t been propping my head up on the desk. We were close to the finals for my law degree and I was exhausted from all the studying. My eyelids started to droop as we covered the Law of Evidence.
‘So today we are going to cover the Sexual Offences Act in more detail because there will be an exam question on it.’
The lecturer pulled down the projector screen. ‘The Sexual Offences Act is particularly important as a new Act has been passed that has seen a number of differences,’ the lecturer carried on.
She pointed to the board with her cane. My elbow slid along the desk as I nearly dropped off to sleep. We were now covering ‘statute of limitations’.
‘So is there a limit of time on bringing charges against a sexual offender?’ one of the geeks in the front row asked.
‘No,’ replied the lecturer.
My body jolted awake. The lecturer’s voice faded and everyone around me vanished. It felt as if I was sitting alone in the hall, with just my thoughts and memories.
So I could get him done then. Wow. I could put my stepdad behind bars.
I’d started a law degree at Essex University in October 2006. I’d found a brain that I’d never realised I had. I’d found my voice. I’d also finally found some friends.
Never in a million years would I have dreamt I’d make it to university when I sat on my mum’s bed that night 17 years earlier and told her about my stepdad, David Moore. For all my life, I’d been made to believe I was good for nothing except being his plaything.
‘My life is nothing like yours,’ I’d said to my friend Sam one lunchtime, stony-faced. I was 14. We’d nicked off school and were hiding in the library in Romford, where we lived.
‘Whad’ya mean?’ Sam chuckled. She was looking forward to a family outing that weekend, the sort of trip my family never took.
‘My stepdad touches me.’
She laughed, thinking I was cracking some sick joke.
‘He touches me,’ I whispered, looking down. ‘He comes in my room and he has sex with me.’ I looked her in the eye. My voice was trembling.
Sam’s mouth dropped open. The elephant that had been sitting on my chest for the past eight years since Dave first started touching me had finally got off and let me breathe.
‘What are you going to do about it?’ she asked, still gobsmacked.
‘I’m not gonna do anything about it.’ I had just blurted it out.
‘But you’ve got to tell someone,’ she hissed, leaning across the table.
We went back to school for afternoon registration so we wouldn’t be caught bunking off. It was just our luck that we were caught sneaking up the drive.
‘Miss Moore, Miss Aitken, where do you think you’ve been?’ bellowed Mrs Walsh. I hated her because she was always the teacher I was sent to for detention.
‘Tina’s got something to tell you, Miss,’ Sam piped up.
‘Shut up, shut up,’ I hissed.
‘No, you’ve got to tell her,’ she insisted, pushing me forward. I was on a runaway train, now, and didn’t know how to make it stop. My cheeks burnt with shame.
Mrs Walsh didn’t need me to spell it out to her twice. She puffed out her chest like an angry cockerel and jabbed out her finger.
‘Right, you,’ she said, ‘follow me. Say nothing more.’ She closed the door of her office and the blinds clanged against the glass.
Finally her steely look melted as she took pity. The ticking clock above her desk sounded like a hammer as we sat in awkward silence for a moment.
‘So, what do you mean, he’s been touching you?’ she said. It was strange hearing the nice Mrs Walsh.
‘He comes into my bedroom in the night.’ I cringed, running one thumbnail under the other.
I took another deep breath and told her. How often he raped me. That it started when I was six years old. I didn’t cry because it still didn’t feel real. It was as if I was having an out-of-body experience. Strangely, I felt more love coming from Mrs Walsh than I’d ever felt from my mum.
‘I need you to go home, and I need you to tell your mum,’ she said.
I let out a gasp of horror. Tell my mum? She must be joking. ‘I can’t,’ I said, shaking my head.
‘You’ve got to, Tina, it’s the only way to stop this,’ she insisted. I nodded but wasn’t sure if I meant it.
The door went. Deep breath. I heard Mum knock off her sandals in the hall, and then the creaking of the stairs. It was now or never. Mum was sitting on the edge of their double bed when I walked in, still wearing my school uniform. I was terrified, my hands were shaking, my legs were giddy, like a newborn calf.
‘I want to talk to you,’ I announced. I had no choice, Mrs Walsh had threatened to ring herself.
‘What about?’ she asked. I sat a few feet from her on the edge of the bed.
‘Dave has been touching me,’ I blurted out. Silence.
‘What do you mean?’ she asked, narrowing her eyes.
‘Coming in my room at night,’ I mumbled, hanging my head in shame. A stream of red moved from her neck up to her cheeks.
‘What’s he been doing to you?’ she asked, obviously scared about what I was going to tell her. I gulped. Mum and I never talked about the birds and the bees, so I felt uncomfortable. But I told her, tripping over the words.
Mum’s face crumpled. I couldn’t bear seeing her so sad. I started to cry because I felt so guilty. You did this, Tina. Look what you’ve done.
‘Come ’ere,’ Mum sobbed and put her arms around me. She had never really hugged me in all my 14 years. The warmth spread across me like a blanket and I nestled into her chest.
I was convinced I was to blame and I was terrified what problems opening my big mouth was going to cause. Would I be taken away by Social Services? Was Dave going to beat the c**p out of me? I was crying and I didn’t want my mum to ever let me go.
‘Sit there,’ said Mum, pointing to the armchair that was part of our fake-leather three-piece suite. She was nervous. Dave had not been at home for a couple of days. She handed me a tumbler. One sniff and I knew it was Bacardi and Coke – Mum’s favourite.
‘Thanks,’ I said hesitantly. I took a sip and it nearly blew my head off.
‘Do you want a cigarette? There are 20 fags there for ya,’ said Mum, pointing to the box on the arm of the chair. Alarm bells started to ring.
She was offering me, a 14-year-old, booze and fags.
‘I need to talk to you about Dave and what we are going to do,’ she said, looking at the floor and then back at me nervously.
‘Have a drink,’ she encouraged.
I forced another glug down, burning my throat. ‘Without Dave, we are going to struggle financially,’ she blurted. ‘I don’t know how I’m going to manage.
‘We’ve just bought this house, so we have a mortgage to pay off.’
I stared at her blankly.
‘Problem is, if I can’t pay the mortgage and bills then we’re going to end up on the streets. You don’t want to see your little brother Jonathan on the streets, do ya?’ she asked, her eyes turning into marble.
The words speared my heart. I loved Jonathan as if he were my own son. I couldn’t be the one responsible for making us homeless. (Little did I know, but the council would never have let that happen.)
Mum sucked a long drag on her cigarette and washed it down with Bacardi and Coke. The clinking ice cubes filled the awkward silence.
‘But we have got an option,’ she said.
I threw my head back in fear and disgust. ‘No, no, hear me out. What if he moves back in, but for no other reason than for money?’
My jaw dropped to the floor. ‘You’ll be all right because we’ll get a lock put on your bedroom door. And I will wear a key for our room around my neck, and if he needs to go to the toilet in the night, I’ll let him out and then lock him back in. She did her best sales pitch.
‘Listen, it’s up to you. He doesn’t have to come back here.’
I opened my mouth to speak.
‘But if he doesn’t come back we will all be on the streets . . . ’ The guilt trip. What choice did I have?
I took a deep breath and gave her what she wanted: him rather than me. It was the ultimate betrayal.
‘OK, let him back in,’ I whispered.
If your own mother doesn’t protect you, what hope is there?
A few years later, in a letter of apology, she confessed the real reason she took Dave back was because she didn’t want to be on her own, that she felt lonely without him. My life had changed from that day – I knew for certain I wouldn’t be saved. There was to be no more day-dreaming how my mum would come to my rescue. I had to survive the best I could.
I got up for school as I had done all the times before. I had breakfast in silence, while Mum rushed around getting ready for work. It was as if nothing had happened.
Mrs Walsh asked how it went and I told her Mum was going to put a lock on my door. She gave me her address, if ever I needed her help, and she handed me a whistle, which I was to blow if Dave came into my room again.
That was it.
There was no calling the police, no speaking to Social Services, no taking me away from my house of abuse. It was up to me to fend for myself. The memory of being let down, again, will stay with me for ever.
Dave wasn’t home when I got back from school, but I had a new lock on my bedroom door. My mum was useless with DIY, so there was only one person who would have installed it – the same person it was designed to keep out.
When I went downstairs later that evening, he was slouched on the sofa watching television with Mum. His legs were sprawled apart and his fat belly rolled over his tracksuit bottoms.
He looked up for a moment, our eyes caught. But there was no stare of death for telling on him, there was no awkwardness, it was like he’d never been kicked out.
What he’d done to me had already been forgotten. Was I worth so little?
I became a recluse. I kept my door secured at all times and I only went downstairs for food and drink. I couldn’t relax and dreaded taking a bath because Dave would always magically appear outside.
I lost all interest in school in my final year.
I bunked off most lessons to smoke in the park with my friends or hang around in the town centre. I walked around at school as if I owned the place.
I was always getting detention for wearing too much make-up. I caked my face in orange foundation and blue eyeshadow to hide the real me.
The teachers complained to my mum about my behaviour but she didn’t seem to care. After she let Dave back in, I could get away with murder.
But the freedom I once craved wasn’t so appealing now it was handed on a plate. The food she was serving up was her guilt, and it tasted off.
I finished secondary school with D and E grades and took a job as a trainee hairdresser so I could earn enough money to leave home.
I had no ambition; I couldn’t care less what I did with my life as long as I got away from my abuser.
When I turned 17, I’d built up enough experience to start a mobile hairdressing business. I could finally afford to escape.
The abuse had stopped – apart from one occasion when Tina visited the house and her stepfather dared to try again. But the effects on her life were inescapable. Tina endured a violent relationship and depression, countered only by the birth of her two sons.
I wanted a better life for my children than the one I’d had, and became determined to get an education.
At first I wanted to do a degree in criminology. I was trying to understand the motives of my abuser and of my mum in particular. I was probably looking for answers.
I changed to law after I stood up to defend my dyslexic son Mitchell against exclusion from school and won the case at a council appeal panel. One of the officials told me I should be a lawyer.
I’d dreamt of being a lawyer when I was a kid, but I didn’t think I was clever enough. Just a flippant comment such as that can change your life.
I fought my way to Essex University through an access course, bringing up children at the same time. And then, at the age of 34, I jumped the final hurdle.
‘I did it, I bloody did it.’ I’d got a 2:1 in my law degree finals.
It was the day of reckoning. The results were out and tears of joy were streaming down my cheeks.
Choke on that, Mum.
I was feeling good about myself for the first time since I don’t know when. The bad dreams had stopped. The sad feeling in my gut had lifted.I got up early on graduation day and straightened my hair.
I ironed my white blouse and helped Gary, my fiance, do up his tie. He looked so dapper in a suit. I threw on my black gown and adjusted my hat and asked him to take a picture.
I thought the ceremony would go on for ever, but it whizzed by.
‘If she hasn’t sent me a message by the end of this afternoon, that’s it,’ I whispered into Gary’s ear.
He knew what I was talking about. He knew I couldn’t take my mind off it. I’d been handed so many congratulations cards. But it was creeping up to 5pm and there was still no message from my mum. I sank another glass of champagne and checked my phone again.
Nothing. I blinked away my tears, which were burning to get out. I was so happy yet so sad. It was the paralysing feeling I’d suffered from my whole life. I went to sit on a ribbon-decorated chair in the corner.
I knew she wouldn’t give a s**t. I thought making something of myself would make her love me at last. I had to finally accept my mother didn’t give a damn about me. The writing had been on the wall for years, but I’d refused to see it.
I poured my heart out in a text message: ‘Mum, I will not be second place to that man any more. How can I ever please you when I can never do enough? Don’t contact me any more.’
Only a few months had passed since graduating – I should have still been celebrating, not wishing I was dead. But I wanted to be sick with unhappiness because my boys, complaining I was overprotective, had gone to live with their father.
The reason: my stepdad. Of course. I would have allowed them to breathe and do all the things they should have done at their age if David Moore hadn’t raped me. Now I’d had enough.
‘I’m going to ring the police and tell them what my stepdad did,’ I announced to Gary.
His mouth dropped. ‘Are you sure?’
I was going to get the man who started all this. And I knew I could, thanks to my law degree. I had the confidence to do it now. I had the know-how and I wanted justice.
‘He deserves to pay,’ I said. ‘He took my childhood away. I’ve tried to live a normal life for all these years, but I can’t.
‘And as for my mum, I have nothing to prove to her any more, because I’ve proved to myself I’m clever enough to go to university, I’m clever enough to get a good degree and I’m determined enough to achieve whatever I want to achieve in my life . . . I’m ready to go to the police.’
It was now or never. I picked up the phone.
For the first time my heart wasn’t racing, I was as calm as the sea on a summer’s day, because I had waited 20 years to make this call. I had always been so frightened of losing my mum, but now I had nothing to lose.
It was a dreary, cold day when I turned up at Chadwell Heath Police Station in November 2009. I hugged my body to keep warm as I pressed the buzzer on the iron-clad gates.
‘Tina Renton to see Julia Godfrey,’ I spoke into the crackle. The gates opened. I’d never spoken about the details of what my stepfather did to me – not to my best friend or to my husband-to-be. I was terrified about opening Pandora’s Box, but there was no going back.
I’d imagined the police station to look like something out of the TV series The Bill, with officers in uniform and walkie-talkies blaring. But everyone was in civvies because they were working undercover in the child-abuse unit. Julia led me into a tiny room that smelt of instant noodles and coffee.
The walls were dirty, the window looked as if it was going to fall out at any moment and the blinds were hanging on by a thread. In the centre was a desk with just a box of tissues. I sat tall and proud in that interview room. I had so much to tell that we had to stagger it over three days.
Julia explained that it was essentially my word against his, so she would need to build up a case by speaking to as many witnesses as possible.
Later, I spoke to Gary. ‘I’m so glad I’ve done it,’ I said. ‘I want him to go to jail, even if it’s just for six months. I want him to pay for what he did to me.
‘And I want my brothers, my mum, their friends, I want everyone who may have judged my behaviour along the way, to know exactly what he did to me.
‘I want people to know there was a reason why I acted the way I did over the years,’ I said, the lawyer in me coming out.
The following July, I was driving to the insurance office where I worked when I noticed a missed call on my phone. It was Julia Godfrey the child-protection officer.
I pulled over and called her back. ‘Hi, Tina,’ she answered on the second ring. ‘We’ve executed a warrant at your mum’s home. Your mum is not happy.’
I imagined my mum effing and blinding on her doorstep in her dressing gown with a fag hanging out of her angry mouth. I felt scared. It had all become very real.
‘I’ve just taken a statement from your mum saying it’s the first she has ever heard of such an allegation.
‘Liar,’ I spat. And then I started laughing. Liar liar liar.
Even then, I couldn’t help feeling I’d betrayed my mum. You can’t undo years of wanting to please someone, just like that. But I was excited, too: my tormentor was finally going to answer for how he made me suffer. I was smiling and welling up with tears at the same time.
The summer and autumn came and went. Then, finally, in the winter of 2010, Julia gave me the news I had spent a lifetime waiting to hear.
David Moore had been charged with 13 counts of rape and sexual assault. Among the witnesses against him would be my old teacher Mrs Walsh and my schoolfriend Sam Aitken.
My friends chatted as they drove me home from Romford Police Station. But I was wrapped up in my own world. What’s going to happen now? How did he take the news? Thirteen, where did they get 13 from?
I wound down the window and took in a deep gulp of icy air.
Is he scared? I hope he’s so terrified he can’t sleep at night.
— © Tina Renton 2013 —