Gemma's story It's only looking back that she realised her father was grooming her for sexual abuse

Girl looking left

"I was 12 when my parents split up and I had very mixed feelings about it. I was relieved in a way because my dad was very controlling, but he was my daddy and I didn't want to stop seeing him.

"Looking back, I realise my dad – who I now only call Mark* – started grooming me from a very young age. He was very controlling and aggressive and would beat my siblings and I or withhold food from us. He wrote a list of things that he didn't like about me and made me feel like rubbish. I used to love singing but he always used to say I was no good at it. I felt like he hated me.

"He knocked me down so he could build me back up again and I was happy when he started to give me attention. What little girl doesn't want their dad to love them?

"He started to sexually abuse me when I stayed with him and he would make out it was for my benefit. He would say: 'We are going to learn about sex education as I care about you and I don't want you to get pregnant.'

"What little girl doesn't want their dad to love them?"

"The abuse went on for a year and people have said that I must have known it was wrong but when you are being abused it is like you are in a bubble. Mark was very manipulative and controlled my thoughts to make me believe it was normal.

"The first time he raped me, he said afterwards: 'Well it was better that it was with me than with some random person in a hotel,' and it hit me that I would have preferred to lose my virginity to a stranger and that this was wrong. The affection I craved from him had cost me something I didn't understand the value of at the time.

"I was self-harming for attention and I plucked up the courage to tell a friend who convinced me to speak to my mum when I was 14. It was the worst conversation of my life. I couldn't get it out at first. Then I was just really blunt and blurted it out. Mum was shocked and we all sat crying together.

"Mark was arrested and our family was in bits. Mum blamed herself and there was lots of arguing. I felt broken and suicidal and was self harming. I started acting out. I was drinking constantly and didn't care what I did.

"Jane stuck with me and was always there for me."

"I had lots of social workers but they didn't stick around so when I was introduced to Jane from the NSPCC I told her I didn't like her. But Jane stuck with me and was always there for me. She made me realise a lot of things about myself and helped me understand why I was acting out and helped me work through it.

"The build-up to the court case was really tough. I couldn't move on with my life until after it had finished. When it finally came around I tried not to break down as I didn't want to give him the satisfaction. But the judge ordered a retrial so I was told I'd have to sit through it again.

"We had to wait 6 months for the next court case and I was relieved when it was over and he was found guilty. He was jailed for 9 years but will only serve half of that, which isn't enough for what he's done.

"I still didn't feel worthy and felt like the words 'not good enough' were within me so I cut them into my arm. There was blood everywhere. Another time I felt a fire of hatred inside of me, which was a normal feeling to me. The fury was building up and I felt the only way to release the pressure was to cut myself.

"I never thought I'd feel this happy again but with the right support you can carry on with your life."

"I wasn't allowed to speak to Jane from the NSPCC about the abuse until the court case was over but she helped me a lot after it finished. She taught me that everyone encounters bad people and you can either let them change your path or you can pick yourself up and carry on; it's where you end up that counts.

"My mum's new husband adopted my siblings and I and it felt really good. We moved away and it feels like my story happened to a different girl, in a different place. After years of Mark putting me down, I've finally starting to believe in my ability and I am working towards a singing career. I never thought I'd feel this happy again but with the right support you can carry on with your life."

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Children and young people can be groomed online or in the real world, by a stranger or by someone they know - for example a family member, friend or professional. 
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Sexual abuse

A child is sexually abused when they are forced or persuaded to take part in sexual activities. This doesn't have to be physical contact, and it can happen online.
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Information about why children self-harm, how to spot the signs and what you can do about it.
Advice about self-harm