Trigger warning: This post deals with sexual assault.
As I hid in the yard, I heard my mum's boyfriend, Bennie, call out.
"Ready or not, here I come!" he bellowed.
He soon spotted me and swept me into his arms.
But rather than tickle me like a stepdad should, he put his hands all over my little body – touching my privates.
Bennie and Mum had been together for a few months when he moved into our caravan with us. I was seven.
After school one day, he made me go with him to get water from an outhouse.
When we got inside, he put his sweaty palm over my face and pinned me to the ground.
Then he lay on top of me and I felt a searing pain down below as he raped me.
"You should be used to it by now," he snarled when he'd finished.
Then he casually sauntered back to the caravan.
After that, I tried to avoid being left alone with him.
But he would attack me while Mum was sleeping or when the rest of the family were out.
The abuse continued for years.
One day, when I was 13, one of my brothers asked me if I was pregnant because my tummy was getting swollen.
"Dunno," I replied.
I'd been feeling nauseous but figured it was just a bug.
So I took a test and was horrified to discover I was pregnant. Bennie was the only person I'd had 'sex' with, so it had to be his.
I broke the news to Mum.
"We'll have to move," she sighed, assuming the father was a boy from school.
I dropped out and had no medical care or scans.
"You're not to leave this caravan," she said.
I was a prisoner in my own home.
When I felt my baby kick, instead of feeling revulsion, I had an overwhelming sense of love.
Then, one night I woke up in total agony and I realised I was in labour.
Hours passed, but the baby didn't come and Mum eventually took me to hospital.
I was put to sleep while doctors performed an emergency caesarean.
"Would you like a cuddle?" a nurse asked when I came to.
She placed my little boy into my arms.
"He's so beautiful," I whispered.
I desperately wanted to run away with my son, but I had nowhere to go.
So reluctantly I returned to the caravan.
Mum instantly snatched my bub from my arms.
"You leave him alone now," she barked.
She treated him as her own.
I wasn't allowed to feed or change him.
Mum and Bennie even named him Michael*.
I had no say. Having just turned 14, there was nothing I could do about it.
After six months, Mum made me sign adoption papers, signing Michael over to them.
It broke my heart, but I was powerless to change it.
When I was 18, I bumped into a man on my way home.
We got chatting and he asked me out.
Wes was smart, funny and kind.
He could sense I was troubled and told me I didn't have to go home if I didn't want to.
"I want to marry you," he told me earnestly.
Perhaps another person would've been wary, but this was the first time in years that anyone had shown me warmth.
So, I agreed. He helped me tell my mum and Bennie.
We planned the wedding for three weeks' time.
But I wasn't rid of Bennie yet.
He insisted on walking me down the aisle.
It was the last thing I wanted, but I knew I didn't have a say in the matter.
Weeks later, I felt sick as my rapist lead me to the altar.
But soon, I was a married woman and able to distance myself from Bennie.
After a while, my family and I drifted apart.
In time, I fell pregnant again.
During a check-up, the midwife noticed the red line on my belly.
Wes overheard, so later I confessed that my 'brother' Michael was actually my son.
"Mum and my stepdad decided to raise him as their own," I explained.
"Who's the father?" he asked. I gulped.
"I don't want to say," I said.
Months later, I gave birth to our son, James, and we focused on being a family.
In time, I had a daughter, Elisa.
One day, after a hectic few hours with the kids, I sat down with Wes and suddenly it all came out.
"My stepdad is Michael's father," I blurted. The floodgates opened.
"He raped me," I continued. "It happened three times a week. And when I got pregnant they took the baby from me."
Wes was horrified and took me to see a therapist.
Eventually, I reported the abuse, which had spanned 11 years.
Bennie Blevins was arrested.
He was 64 by then, and Michael was a grown man.
The court proved I was Michael's biological mother.
Bennie was charged with rape, but took a plea deal for a lesser charge of incest by forcible compulsion with a victim incapable of consent.
He was jailed for 10 years.
I never spoke to Mum about what happened. I haven't seen her in years.
Not long afterwards, I had a friend request on Facebook.
It was from Michael. He had a lot of questions for me, wanting to know why I didn't take him with me when I was 18.
I explained I'd been forced to give him up for adoption.
He asked to meet up with me.
I was so nervous.
It was the first time we'd met with him knowing I was his mother.
"You are my firstborn and always will be," I said, hugging him tearfully.
Michael got married and had kids of his own – my grandchildren. I was so happy.
Now, I'm determined to be a positive role model for all my children and grandchildren.
Wes has been my rock.
He was so supportive and made me seek justice.
I'd like my story to serve as inspiration for others to come forward about childhood abuse.
It's never too late to put those demons to rest.
You'll come out a different person for it.
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