Show­down with abuser

When I de­manded an­swers from my step­dad, what he said shocked me to the core

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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.

Seemed shocked.

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...

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