Gemma Schembri, from Lincolnshire, was subjected to unimaginable abuse from as young as 12, manipulated mentally, physically and sexually by the man she used to call ‘daddy’.
On the journey to understanding the severity of her father’s offences, Gemma battled with depression and suicidal thoughts before reaching the end of a traumatic court case which led to his imprisonment.
After receiving help from the NSPCC, she has spoken out about her harrowing story, encouraging other victims to contact the charity for help.
The following words are Gemma’s own:
I was 12 when my parents split up and I had very mixed feelings about it. I was relieved in a way because my dad was very controlling but he was my daddy and I didn’t want to stop seeing him.
Looking back, I realise my dad – who I now only call Mark rather than dad – started grooming me from a very young age.
He was very controlling and aggressive and would beat my siblings and I or withhold food from us.
He wrote a list of things that he didn’t like about me and made me feel like rubbish. I used to love singing but he always used to say I was no good at it. I felt like he hated me.
He knocked me down so he could build me back up again and I was happy when he started to give me attention. What little girl doesn’t want their dad to love them? Even when you are scared of your parents you still want their affection.
He started to sexually abuse me when I stayed with him and he would make out it was for my benefit. He would say ‘we are going to learn about sex education as I care about you and I don’t want you to get pregnant’.
The abuse went on for a year and people have said that I must have known it was wrong but when you are being abused it is like you are in a bubble. Mark was very manipulative and controlled my thoughts to make me believe it was normal.
There were times when I went to stay with my mum and things were clicking in my head and I would think ‘this isn’t right’ but then I’d think ‘I’m being silly, he’s my dad and he knows what is best for me’.
The first time he raped me he said afterwards: ‘Well it was better that it was with me than with some random person in a hotel’ and it hit me that I would have preferred to lose my virginity to a stranger and that this was wrong.
The affection I craved from him had cost me something I didn’t understand the value of at the time.
The abuse continued and I started thinking ‘I don’t want this. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to be at his house’. I started pretending I was sick at school so I could go back to my mum’s house instead of Mark’s.
I was self-harming for attention and I plucked up the courage to tell a friend who convinced me to speak to my mum when I was 14. It was the worst conversation of my life. I sat down with her and couldn’t get it out at first so I said that I’d had nightmares that he had hit me. Then I was just really blunt and blurted it out. Mum was shocked and started crying and we all sat crying together.
I was meant to be going to Mark’s house the next day and he kept texting and calling to see where I was he was freaking out. He suspected I’d told someone and we changed our phone numbers.
At first I just told the police he had touched me as he was my daddy and I didn’t want him to get into trouble. They could tell there was more to it so in the end I told them the truth.
I was so young that I still didn’t understand the seriousness of it and said ‘can you tell me what to say to him and I will tell him not to do it anymore’. I thought if they just shouted at him everything would end.
Mark was arrested and our family was in bits. Mum blamed herself and there was lots of arguing. I felt broken and suicidal and was self harming. I started acting out. I was drinking constantly and didn’t care what I did.
I had lots of social workers but they didn’t stick around so when I was introduced to Jane from the NSPCC I told her I didn’t like her.
But Jane stuck with me and was always there for me. She made me realise a lot of things about myself and helped me understand why I was acting out and helped me work through it.
The build up to the court case was really tough as the date kept moving. To me it was more than a date as I couldn’t move on with my life until after it had finished.
When it finally came around I tried not to break down as I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction. But the judge ordered a retrial so I was told I’d have to sit through it again.
I lived in a little village so everyone at school knew what had happened to me and had heard about the court case so when he wasn’t sent to jail people started to say I’d lied about it. I was bullied at school and life was really hard.
We had to wait six months for the next court case and I was relieved when it was over and he was found guilty. He was jailed for nine years but will only serve half of that which isn’t enough for what he’s done or long enough for him to heal his ways.
I still didn’t feel worthy and felt like the words ‘not good enough’ were within me so I cut them into my arm. There was blood everywhere.
Another time I felt a fire of hatred inside of me, which was a normal feeling to me. The fury was building up and I felt the only way to release the pressure was to cut myself.
I started scraping a knife down my arm and saying to myself ‘this is for the time you did this Mark’ but I was thinking to myself ‘it doesn’t matter how many times I cut myself it won’t take the pain away. I will have to chop off my arm’. For a split second I thought about it and it scared me into not doing it again and I threw the knife to the floor.
I wasn’t allowed to speak to Jane from the NSPCC about the abuse until the court case was over but she helped me a lot after it finished.
She taught me that everyone encounters bad people and you can either let them change your path or you can pick yourself up and carry on; it’s where you end up that counts. Jane taught me forgiveness and I forgive Mark for what he did but I will never forget it or condone what he did.
My mum’s new husband adopted my siblings and I and it felt really good. We moved away and it feels like my story happened to a different girl, in a different place. The move also helped me learn to respect myself as a person and my confidence has grown.
I have a job that I love, lots of friends and I’ve started singing again. After years of Mark putting me down, I’ve finally starting to believe in my ability and I am working towards a singing career. I never thought I’d feel this happy again but with the right support you can carry on with your life.