Mum’s heels clip-clopped down the stairs until I couldn’t hear them anymore.
‘Come over here and sit on my lap,’ the man said.
I looked at the closed door. Where was Mum?
‘Your mum will be back in a minute, the man said. ‘Now come over here. I’ve got a special lollipop for you.’
He undid his trousers, pulled me over to him.
‘That’s right,’ he panted. ‘Come and give it a little kiss.’
Afterward, he gave me sweeties. Then Mum came back. I was crying as she pulled me down the stairs.
‘Stop snivelling!’ she cried, slapping me.
The same thing happened the next day, and the next.
I was four-years-old, should have been playing with dolls, not dirty old men. But I was so young, I thought this was just what little girls did. I had no idea what they were doing was wrong.
After all, my sister Pauline did it too. We compared sweets in our grubby hands afterwards.
It was nice to be told I was a good girl, too. Mum never did. I was terrified of her.
Sometimes, I wet the double bed I shared with my eight siblings. The fear waking up in wet sheets was crippling. Mum would yank me out of bed and rub my face in it. Then she’d drag me down to the basement, take the light bulb out and leave me there in the dark.
By the time I was seven, men would come to the house and take us out of the house to the disused factory across the road. I dreaded hearing a knock on the door, knowing what would happen next .
They would touch me all over, grab my hands with their meaty fingers and push them down their trousers.
Then, when they’d finished with us, they’d take us back to Mum, tears streaming down our faces.
‘Shut up and go and clean yourself up!’ she’d yell, forcing us inside.
There was never any food in the house. My brothers were so hungry they’d tears strips of wallpaper off the wall and eat that. Desperate, I’d sneak down through the coal cellar and steal food from my neighbours’ houses.
Then one day, a lady came to the house.
‘You’re going to a nice place now,’ she said as she led me away.
I was heartbroken leaving my brothers and sisters behind. With no Mum to love us, I got all my love and affection from them. Caring for them, cuddling up to them in that stinking bed made me feel warm inside, like I was a real person.
The children’s home was magical. For the first time in my life I had clean clothes, toys to play with and a full belly.
I was there for six months when Mum turned up. I saw her hair through the window, cried out in delight at the sight of a familiar face –
‘My Mum’s come to get me!’
But I wasn’t allowed to see her and they sent her away. I’d been made a ward of court.
Only then, a few weeks later, they sent me home.
It didn’t take long for the men to come round again.
There were so many of them their faces became a blur. But it didn’t matter who they were. They all wanted the same things from me. I didn’t even get sweets anymore.
After a few weeks, I’d had enough. I ran away from home and hid in a church. But I stole money from the collection box to buy food and the police caught me. I was carted off to a remand home. I was eight-years-old.
It was tough, but I liked it there. All the other girls were much older and mothered me. It was nice being the baby for a change. But before long, I was back home again.
Then, when I turned 12, unbeknown to me, Pauline fell pregnant. She was only ten-years-old, a child.
Social services were alerted and the man involved, one of the regular visitors to the house, was sentenced to six months in prison.
This time, we were all taken away and carted off to different children’s homes. It was the last time I ever saw Pauline.
I hated the children’s home I was sent to. And when a few months on I started being sent home for weekend visits, life got even worse.
Now I was older, when the men came to visit Mum would send me off into the next room with them to have sex. Too terrified to refuse I did what I was told even though I was now old enough to know it was wrong.
Often I’d be crying with fear by the time Mum shut the door. Not that that stopped them.
‘Shut up you little bitch!’ one punter roared, shoving my knickers in my mouth to muffle my cries before raping me.
‘Please don’t make me do this anymore,’ I begged to Mum one evening.
But all I got for my trouble was a black eye.
One day, I was sitting on the stairs in the dark when I heard a girl screaming upstairs. Suddenly, four men came downstairs doing up their flies. I didn’t realise it at the time but she’d been gang-raped.
But if my weekends were horrific, life in the children’s home wasn’t any better. I was abused by the man who ran it, forced to go with other boys while he watched.
When I turned 15, I ran away to London.
Arthur was a friend-of-a-friend, a taxi driver. He was a lot older than me – 35 – but I trusted him.
‘You’ve not got anywhere to stay, have you?’ he asked one day.
He took me home with him, looked after me, and brought me clothes.
At 19, we I married him and shortly afterwards had my first child, Eric.
He was born brain-damaged, didn’t know I existed. But I devoted my life to him, showered him with love and kisses. And as our bond grew I began to realise what it meant to be a mum – a real mum.
He died just before his second birthday. I was devastated.
I slipped into depression, couldn’t understand why he’d been taken from me when I’d loved him so much. Having your kids taken away only happened to bad mums, didn’t it?
At 26, I had another son, Eddy, now 30, shortly followed by James, 28, Frank, 24, Sarah, 20, and Kate, 18.
Although my relationship with Arthur was difficult, I doted on my children. I cooked and cleaned for them, wiped away their tears, told them every day how much I loved them and never went to bed without giving them a cuddle and a kiss goodnight.
And as I watched them grow, I found it increasingly difficult to understand how my own mother could have let me down so badly.
We’d not been in contact since I’d moved to London, and though I often thought about confronting her and asking her why she’d left me with so many different men, I knew I wasn’t strong enough.
Only then, when I was 40 my older brother Jim, who I’d remained in contact with, came to visit.
‘This is Carly, one of Pauline’s daughters,’ he said, introducing me to a woman in her late 20s.
I was shocked. Carly was the child Pauline had fallen pregnant with at 10-years-old.
She’d tracked down her biological father on the Internet and after meeting with him had some news for me.
‘I asked him why he had sex with Mum knowing she was so young,’ Carly explained.
His reply? – Because I paid your grandmother to have sex with your mother and her sister.
‘She was selling you, her own children,’ Jim said with tears in his eyes.
Turns out Mum was a well known prostitute and that it was common knowledge to punters that she sold her daughters, too. She also let men have sex with us in exchange for cheap rent or alcohol. Apparently one of my brothers had been sold, too.
I was stunned. Of course I’d known Mum was wrong to send me off with the men. But to hear that she’d sold me for sex was too much. Isuffered a nervous breakdown and signed myself into a mental hospital in Huddersfield.
After a week, Arthur came to get me and took me to his sister’s house.
‘We’re going to get you through this,’ he promised.
After a month, I felt strong enough to see my children. And as they filed in, worry etched on their little faces, I knew I had to get better for them. Saw children after a month
I was admitted to the Priory for counselling and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress.
While there, I was devastated to find out my other brother had eventually taken his own life and one of my sisters admitted to a secure unit unable to come to terms with the abuse. I promised myself I would get through this for them, too.
Eventually, I grew strong enough to go home. I surrounded myself with my kids and with their love I started to feel human again.
Then three years ago, I received a phone call from one of my younger siblings saying Mum was very ill.
‘I don’t have a mother,’ I told him.
‘Please, just go and see her before it’s too late,’ he urged.
But I was too scared. In the end, my friend offered to come with me.
‘Who are you?’ Mum scowled when I walked into her bedroom.
‘I’m your daughter,’ I said. ‘Why did you sell me for money? Why didn’t you look after me?’
She just laughed.
Angry and humiliated I walked out and promised myself I would never go back. What was the point? I wasn’t going to get any answers.
Two years on I heard though family that Mum had died. She’d fallen into a hot bath and drowned from her injuries. But far from feeling upset, I finally felt free.
Days later, I walked into a police station days and made a statement about the abuse. As I told officers about the times she had been sold by her mother, I was physically sick.
With Mum now dead there was little they could do but it felt good to finally tell someone and hear that had she still been alive, her mother would certainly have been jailed for selling us kids for sex.
Two years on, I’m hoping to take civil action against the care homes that mistreated me and sent me back into home to suffer more abuse. But most of all, I hope after having kept my horrific childhood a secret for so long, that finally talking about it will help me to accept it wasn’t my fault and move on.