Real Life

Real life: I was abused by my stepdad

Even my mother didn't know what he was capable of.

By As told to Take 5

Libby Clark, 47, from Melbourne, Vic, shares her true life story;

I'd just drifted off to sleep when I was woken by a heavy hand stroking my bottom over my pyjamas.
"Get lost," I said, scared.
"Shhh," replied the man in my bedroom.
Squinting, I saw it was Terry, my mum's boyfriend.
He was naked and panting as he yanked my hand towards his privates.
I was 12 years old and terrified of this 110kg man covered in tatts who was about to make life a nightmare.
When Mum first started bringing Terry over, he'd seemed like a friendly guy.
But the fun and games turned weird when Terry started pressing his body against me and touching me whenever Mum wasn't looking.
The more I discovered about him, the more uneasy I felt.
Terry lived up the street with his other girlfriend and another woman, soon he was dividing his time between his place and our house.
For the next three years as soon as Mum took her nightly shower, he began creeping into my bedroom and my life became hell.
Me, aged 10.
"You'll like it," he said, hopping on top of me.
Hardly a night went by when I didn't wake to find him touching himself as he groped me and whispered vile sexual things to me.
The nightmare ended briefly when Terry went to jail for shoplifting, but resumed the moment he got out.
I became so depressed and withdrawn that I dreaded coming home from school.
Then, one night Terry came into my room naked and Mum heard his sick noises – she sprung him gratifying himself beside my bed.
"What are you doing?" she snapped.
I cowered under the covers pretending to be asleep while Terry mumbled something and slunk out.
Finally! His dirty secret was out, I thought.
Next morning, Mum looked at me uncomfortably.
"Has this happened before?" she asked.
I nodded.
"It won't happen again," she promised, fixing a bolt inside my bedroom door.
Terry always made me feel uneasy.
I breathed a sigh of relief that the monster was gone.
But to my horror, Terry kept hanging around as if nothing had happened.
Now, when I took a shower, he'd be waiting naked in the toilet ready to expose himself.
I approached Mum in tears.
"Terry's still doing it," I cried.
We'd never spoken properly about what he'd been doing.
"Why would he?" answered Mum, her shocked face telling me she didn't want to believe it.
I felt my whole world collapse and spent the entire day in tears, dreading the sound of the school bell at the end of the day.
Back home, Terry's abuse continued and Mum seemed as terrified of him as I was, as he controlled every move she made and constantly ordered her around.
Things got worse.
One night I was asleep in bed when Mum's screams woke me.
I raced into her room, and saw Mum cowering on the bed while Terry stood over her, hitting her.
"Leave her alone!" I roared, using all my strength to jump onto his back.
I tried to pull him off, but he swatted me off like a fly and stormed out.
Things reached a head when I was 15 and Terry whacked me around during an argument.
"I've had enough," I said, calling the police.
Down at the station I made a statement about the assault and Terry's sexual abuse.
After that, I moved into my older sister's place.
Mum didn't want to believe what was happening.
But Mum was so distraught about the looming court case she wrote to me, begging me to drop the complaint.
For her sake, I reluctantly withdrew my complaint.
By 16 I had a job and an apartment of my own.
I was finally free of Terry and felt safe in my new home, though I constantly worried about Mum.
She insisted that everything was calm in their house, but her troubled face told another story.
I moved interstate to put the past behind me, but continued battling anxiety and having nightmares where Terry's face haunted me.
Just days before Christmas, when I was 26, Mum called me in tears.
"What can I do, Libby?" she wept.
All those years of living with Terry had taken its toll on her.
"Leave him," I said.
Mum promised she would do it in the New Year.
"I don't know what to do," she sobbed down the phone in January.
"We'll do it together," I said, hopping on the next plane back to Adelaide.
I contacted a domestic violence group and organised for Mum to stay at a refuge for victims of family violence.
While I was on the phone, she repeatedly checked the street, terrified that Terry would turn up before we made our getaway.
Me and Mum now. She was Terry's victim too.
We packed our bags and rushed outside. The rest of the street was sleeping when we crept away the next morning to the safe house.
With everyone settled at the secret address, I took Mum to the nearest police station where she reported Terry's violence and I made a statement about his sexual abuse.
"We can charge him with hurting your mum, but his crimes against you are too old to prosecute him," the policeman warned.
While I would have loved to see him charged for both, I was just relieved that Mum had broken free and was finally pressing charges.
"I'm so sorry, Libby," she wept.
I held her tightly. "It's okay, Mum," I whispered.
For years I'd been so angry that she hadn't protected me, but now I finally understood she was as much a victim of his abuse as I was.
In court, Terry pleaded guilty to one count of assault causing actual bodily harm and was jailed for just over four months.
Because he'd been in custody for four months, he walked free the same day.
While Mum was now rebuilding her life, I was making one of my own in Melbourne where counselling helped me regain my confidence.
When my relationship ended and I found out I was pregnant, I decided to keep my baby.
Holding my baby girl, I thought about Terry and what he'd done to me.
I vowed I'd never let my child out of my sight and became vigilant about who she played with and where she went.
In 2015, the laws in South Australia changed allowing police to prosecute historical cases of child abuse.
I knew this was my chance to get justice and contacted Adelaide Police.
By some miracle, they unearthed the original statement I'd made when I was 15 and Terry was charged.
This year, three decades after his reign of terror began, Terry finally faced the District Court in Adelaide.
By now he was an elderly man who'd suffered a stroke.
After hearing my victim statement, the judge addressed Terry. "Your behaviour has profoundly affected her life, both as a teenager and later in life," the judge said.
Me now.
Terrence David Keyte was found guilty and jailed for 10 years for maintaining an unlawful sexual relationship with a child and ordered to serve a minimum of four-and-a-half years.
Watching Terry limp off to jail on his walking stick, I saw beyond his sick-old-man act.
All I could see was the terrifying monster in my bedroom who'd robbed me of my childhood and plagued my adult life.
I think back to that little girl, scared in her bed, and feel proud that I was able to fight back – even if it meant a lifetime of struggle to get there.
  • Libby has waived her right to anonymity.

read more from