My life as a punch-bag

I’m 19 years old and turning 20 soon. When I look back at my life
so far it feels so weird. But the emotional pain is very real. I’ve
forgiven my father for what he did, but I can’t forget. I wouldn’t
wish what happened to me on anyone, but I do think it’s made me a
stronger, intelligent young woman who strives for the future.

It all started when I was eight years old. I’d been living with my
father for a while because I didn’t get on with my mum, and I
didn’t like her boyfriend who is now my stepdad. It wasn’t because
he was horrible; actually, he’s a very nice person. At that age I
didn’t understand about divorce. I thought it was my fault that my
parents split up, so I thought I had to get them back together
which made things worse. My father used to come in stressed out
from work and when the stress got worse he’d take it out on me. At
first he use to shout at me, then it was a slap on the leg but as I
got older I turned into a human punch-bag.

When I was 10 we moved to Northampton and that’s when it got really
bad. Anything my dad could use to hit me with he would, a belt, a
piece of cane from a plant, his shoes, his fist. It got to the
point I couldn’t breathe because he’d punched me in the stomach.
Once he hit me in the eye, after quarrelling with me about going
out with my friends, leaving me with a permanent scar.

From that day he hardly ever touched my face. Most of the time he
hit me where I could cover my body – mostly my back and bottom. As
he would hit me he would put me down, call me all the names under
the sun, tell me I wasn’t worth it. I became his slave, cooking and
cleaning the house. He would say I was fat and horribly ugly and
how I wasn’t worthy of being his daughter; he’d swear at me until I
would cry.

When we moved to Birmingham I thought it would be a new start.
Living with his girlfriend was great. We got on, but when dad
couldn’t get his own way the beatings started again. The first time
I went to social services my school found out through my dad’s
girlfriend. They said there was no evidence to take me out of my
father’s care. My dad split up with his girlfriend and things got
worse. I became suicidal and I had an eating disorder. I didn’t see
the point in living any more. The second time I went to social
services was through my school nurse. This time they believed me. I
was taken into care. I was 14. I’d suffered seven years of abuse. I
spent most of my childhood in fear of my father and now I was free
of him. I got counselling. After three months in a children’s home
I went into foster care. My carer was very supportive of my
education, so I started doing all the things I enjoyed. That’s my
philosophy now – to do all the things I enjoy because life is
short. I’ve been at college since I was 16, hoping to go to
university soon. I’ve been working with a group called Hearsex and
my singing career is taking off. My dreams are coming true, and so
can yours!

Catherine Walker (not her real name) is a care leaver and
peer educator with Hearsex, a Birmingham social services project
which offers advice and support to looked-after young

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