Showdown with abuser
When I demanded answers from my stepdad, what he said shocked me to the core
Stephanie Lawson, 35, Bristol
I wanted support, so I decided to share my secret
Packing my clothes into a rucksack, I counted down the seconds on the clock.
‘Another hour to go,’ I sighed impatiently.
It was April 1994 – and me and my big brother, then 12, were going to stay with our mum and stepdad Ian for the weekend.
Our parents had separated two years earlier, and we lived with Dad.
But we loved spending weekends with Mum and Ian.
‘What shall we do tonight, kids?’ Ian asked as we fastened our seatbelts in the car.
‘Cinema!’ we chanted in unison.
Ian was a scout leader, great with kids.
He was always playing games with us and cracking
funny jokes. The perfect stepdad. Soon after, when I was 11, my brother and I went to live with Mum and Ian full-time. We had a happy home life.
But inside, I was confused. At 13, all my friends at school started to get boyfriends. They chatted excitedly about their first kiss. But while everyone else was boy-mad, I was the opposite.
As the months passed, I started to realise that it was girls I fancied.
I thought there was something wrong with me.
I didn’t know any other gay people. Felt so alone.
So I bottled it up, didn’t tell a soul.
But the feelings never went away.
I wanted some support, wanted to know how I felt about other girls was normal.
So, when I was 15, I decided to tell Mum and Ian my secret.
But I didn’t dare tell them the whole truth.
‘I’ve got something to tell you both,’ I mumbled
as they sat in the living room. ‘What is it?’ Ian asked gently. ‘I’m bisexual,’ I said. My words hung in the air and I looked down at the floor.
Mum and Ian didn’t say anything.
So I went to my bedroom.
After, I felt more alone than ever.
A few weeks later, I was lying on my bed when Ian came into my room. ‘How has your day been?’ he asked, striking up a normal conversation. ‘Erm, fine,’ I said.
Then suddenly, Ian’s arm reached out towards me.
He started touching me over my clothes.
Frozen in shock,
I stayed silent.
I was terrified.
Soon after, he stood up and left the room.
Lying in the dark, I was so confused.
What just happened?
Ian had acted so normally.
But I knew what he’d done was far from normal.
The following night, Ian came into my bedroom again.
‘How was school today?’ he asked, like last time.
This time I stared back at him in horror.
Please don’t come near
me, I thought.
But Ian did the same thing that he’d done the night before.
Soon, he started coming into my bedroom every night.
He’d strike up normal conversation before groping me over my clothes.
Then, his hands started creeping under my pyjamas.
‘No,’ I’d say every time his disgusting hands reached towards me.
He’d ignore my pleas.
As the months passed,
I felt like I was carrying a horrible weight on my shoulders.
Around the house, Ian acted like everything was totally normal.
To the rest of the family, he was the same doting stepfather. Nobody knew about what was going on in my bedroom every night.
I was too scared to go to the police, worried I’d break up my family.
On the way home from my job as a trainee chef,
I’d sit on a bench behind our house.
Sit for hours in the cold, too scared to go home.
The abuse went on until I was 17.
Soon after, I moved out.
I had nowhere to go, sofa surfed with friends.
Mum and Ian stayed happily married.
If I wanted to see Mum, I had to see Ian, too. So I kept my distance. Then, in March 2016, I started online dating.
I met Rachael, 32 – and soon after, I moved to Bristol to be with her.
Falling in love felt like a fresh start.
But I still couldn’t move on from the past.
So, after a few months, I told Rachael everything.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, shocked. Eventually, I knew I couldn’t have a happy future without facing my past.
So, in November 2017, I contacted Ian and told him that I wanted to talk. Wrote down questions I wanted to ask, things I wanted to say.
Next day, Ian drove to Bristol.
‘Why did you abuse me?’ I asked him through tears.
Nothing could’ve prepared me for his response.
He said he thought that he could change my sexuality!
His answer took the wind out of me.
Suddenly the penny dropped. The abuse started soon after I came out to Mum and Ian.
I’d been abused...for being gay! He’d tried to change me.
Ian was someone who I’d loved, trusted. Yet he’d made me feel there was something wrong with me.
But he was the only one in the wrong.
Ian said he was sorry, but no apology could make up for the pain he’d caused.
So, in January 2018, I went to the police.
Writing my statement, I felt a huge weight lifting.
At Swindon Crown Court, Ian Dallow, 55, pleaded guilty to 10 counts of indecent assault.
And in April this year, I looked on as the judge sentenced him to four years and two months in prison.
He was also ordered to sign the sex offenders register for life. I felt justice had been served. After years of heartache, I finally feel ready to move on.
Rachael and I are now engaged – and we’re looking forward to the rest of our lives, spent happily together.
I’d sit for hours in the cold, too scared to go home
My childhood was happy – until my teens...