Abused, scarred, but not broken

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After suffering years of abuse at the hands of her father, Sophie Andrews found a lifeline through the Samaritans. Now regional manager for the charity, Sophie has written a book about her horrific childhood. Elaine Singleton reports...

An outsider would question why any teen would stay with a father who regularly raped her, hurt her and encouraged other men to do the same.

Sophie Andrews was that teenage girl. Her respectable accountant dad threw a party when her periods started which, if the rest of the family thought was a little strange, they nevertheless kept their views to themselves. Sophie (not her real name) was just 12. Two months later he raped her for the first time, when her mum was out.

It was her dad who had chosen her when he and her mum adopted her in 1970. He gave her her name. Looking at childhood photos she says it's difficult to find one that isn't one of her and him. Reflecting on her childhood, she says, most of the time it was just her and her dad.

It was Sophie who sat in the front of car while her mum was relegated to the back seat. It was her dad who took her shopping for clothes, helped her with her homework, bought her all the latest gadgets... prepared her for her first period... encouraged her to share a whisky with him before she was 10.

The first time he raped her marked the start of the turmoil and confusion that would brand her life from then on, leading to self harm, suicide attempts and eventual incarceration in a psychiatric hospital.

She said: "I was scared and in terrible pain. It hurt so much that I thought I was going to die. I knew what was happening - I had learned about sex - but I didn't understand why my dad was doing it to me.

"When it was over he held me close and told me how much he loved me. I felt so confused. I knew, deep down, that what he had done was wrong. But I so wanted to make him happy and there was a part of me that felt special too, because he told me that whatever happened we had each other, and that I was his special girl.

"So I shut away all the scared feelings and the pain and kept telling myself, this is dad, so it must be okay, he loves me, he wouldn't do anything wrong."

The abuse went on and got worse. Knives and broken bottles were used. Other men were involved.

Sophie became so desperate she turned to self harm, slashing herself, drinking bleach to abort their baby and eventually running away to sleep rough on the streets. It was the early '80s and social services picked up on none of this. Whenever the authorities did become involved she fobbed them off.

"I believed that the apalling things Dad did to me were the price I had to pay for him loving me. And he had convinced me that he was the only person in the world who did love or care for me. If I didn't have him then I believed I had nothing. So powerfully had he brainwashed me that his hold over me was absolute. Nothing he did would make me betray him."

Her one lifeline was the Samaritans, whom she rang many times over the years. It was her one place of safety. She believes she would not be here today if it were not for this charity and she dedicates her book Scarred to the selfless volunteers, and the work they do.

She said: "The Samaritans promised me total confidentiality and that allowed me to trust them. Disturbing as they no doubt found my story, they never showed it. They were always there for me and promised me that they wouldn't alert the authorities or tell anyone else without my permission.

"During my worst times I spoke to them two or three times a day and the support they gave me during my darkest moments undoubtedly stopped me from killing myself."

It took a long time and a lot of psychiatric care and support but she eventually rebuilt her life. Now 38 she is director of a housing association which supports young homeless people.

And she is also a volunteer for the Samaritans, now regional manager looking after the 19 branches in the North West, but still mans the phones, remembering how the broken little girl that she was was helped by the charity workers.

She said: "My life has not only been saved but also been enriched because I met them and my debt to them and to Samaritans is immeasurable."

Scarred by Sophie Andrews is published by Hodder & Stoughton, on March 20 12.99

To talk to someone in confidence call Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90

For more information on Samaritans, whether to get advice or find out about how to become a volunteer, visit www.samaritans.org