When I was little my mum, sister and I lived with a man called Garry Gibson, he was my mum’s partner. He used to beat my mum but finally she got the courage to leave. We got on a bus in the middle of the night and left New Plymouth for Auckland. I was four.

A little while later he found us and mum took him back, she loved him and ‘he had changed’.

He hadn’t.

He starting beating my mum again; my sister and I would wake up to mum crying, to blood through-out the house. We hid in the bushes with mum when Garry was angry so he could not hurt her. We rang the Police, they did nothing. Garry continued to beat my mum, who I love very much.

Then when I was 6 Garry started sexually abusing me. He would come into my room and make me give him oral sex; he tried to penetrate me but didn’t really fit to well as I was so little, so he used his fingers and his toes. He would make me not wear pyjamas under my dressing gown when mum wasn’t around and play with me under the dining room table, I didn’t like meal time.

When I was about 7, mum, Garry, my sister, myself and male family friend were sitting on a bed watching a movie the family friend accidently brushed up against my vagina so I went and took my underwear off and got back on the bed. Nothing happened; I thought I had done something wrong.

Garry told me if I told my mum he would kill her, I knew he could. I said nothing. When I was 8 it stopped because my mum was brave enough to leave him. I still didn’t tell her, Garry had found us before, he could do it again.

As I got older I sought sexual attention from males as I thought that was what was valued from me. But with people I really liked I was very shy and unconfident. I remember when my first boyfriend and I broke up he said I was fragile like a butterfly who needed to be kept in a glass case, he wasn’t wrong.

As an adult what Garry did has not only affected my sex life but also my self esteem, my health and my ability to cope with stressful life events. During sex I find it hard to make any noise, even if I am having the best time, because I got taught very young that making a noise would mean my mum would get hurt. This has been hurtful for my sexual partners, even if they understood why. Almost every time sex has been in the missionary position I completely zone out and cannot engage with what is going on.

My self esteem has been very low and I have not looked after myself physically or mentally. I did not eat well or exercise and got way too heavy, and subsequently I became even more unhappy. When several difficult life experiences occurred in my early 20’s I was unable to cope because the sexual abuse I suffered caused me to be under an immense amount of stress my whole life. Anything more was too much.

Being unable to cope lead to me developing chronic depression and anxiety. It lead to me becoming heavier, to nearly losing my job, to hurting and losing friends and ultimately losing my ten year relationship with someone who I love more than the whole world. We just could not cope anymore.

Weirdly I don’t hate Garry for what he did to me. I am angry he hurt my mum and I am angry what he did lead to me losing my partner. But I also understand. Garry grew up in a violent household and he was raped as a young man. He was also not very smart and basically illiterate. No one helped him, and he didn’t know how to help himself.

What I saw my mum go through is why I am able to recognise and fight for other who are suffering, why I stand up for animals and the environment, and why I fight for the rights of marginalise people.

Following the break up of my relationship last year I finally got counselling, I left my job and started studying psychology. I want to help women like me who have been sexually abused. I want to help them reclaim their strength, their self esteem, their sexuality and maintain healthy relationships with the person/s they love.

Sadly I know this is the story of many women and some men. But we are not broken; we are not worthless; we are not victims. We are strong; we are beautiful; we are survivors.