To catch a child molester: One woman's amazing 'sting' on her abusive stepfather

My earliest memories are feelings – smell, and being cold and wet. It was often dark, but I remember the first time I was introduced to that white flashing light that kicks off in my head, my brain's way of saying that pain was coming. A woman – my mother – was holding me at her eye level by my hair. I can't put an age to it, but there was certainly a cot and dirty towelling nappies.

I was virtually blind and deaf for a while. Imagine looking through toilet-roll tubes and that's all I could see; the same was true for my hearing: unless you were in a certain range, I didn't know what was going on. It wasn't a condition from birth: I got my hearing and sight back when the doctor told my mother I shouldn't be beaten across the head.

My mother, Jennifer, hated me. I can't fathom it: she died before I got a grasp of who she was. I just know she was never really there. She was off with boyfriends, or playing bingo, and "shopping" was a daily routine. We couldn't go anywhere without her doing it, but she could never give it its real name – stealing. I'd either be hiding what was stolen, or stealing it, or the one making a fuss to distract people. It was the only time she engaged with me, so there was an element of me that wanted to do it.

I was three or four when Stanley – soon to be my stepfather – appeared. He smelt like an ashtray and had a scratchy beard. Pretty much the first memory I have of him is of sitting on his knee with his finger up my backside. He then went so far beyond that so quickly that while I didn't know what he was doing, I did know it was horrible. That's what I called it – "The Horrible".

In a matter of months I discovered it happened to my sister too. I was angry but powerless. Around the age of five, he started bringing other people around to do The Horrible to me too. I don't know if Jennifer knew. He did it in her space but never in her eyesight. He never said "sex", it was always "in the mood" or "do something" – normal words. When I told my mother, she beat me so brutally that I was out of the picture for a while.

When I was about nine, I told a social worker what Stanley was making me do. She didn't believe me, and when Stanley told her I was forcing myself on him, she wrote that on my files. That note influenced everyone else in authority I tried to tell. Around this time, I was sent to the Wallbridges, a Quaker couple who had tried to help Jennifer in the past. Until then, I'd lived my life as if I was falling through a darkness with no rules. Suddenly everything had a rule. I never told them anything; I loved them. They gave me a way in my head to always find an anchor. Having to leave and go back home was devastating.

In 2000, when I was in my late thirties, my sister told me that Stanley still had access to children. The only way to stop it was to catch him. I arranged with a BBC Newsnight team to confront him, with secret cameras sewn into my clothes. I hadn't seen him for years. There were pictures of kids all over the walls; it was hard to keep calm. He was babbling on, and I couldn't believe I'd thought he was this scary manipulator. He was stupid, just protected by other people's stupidity. Then, in the middle of the conversation, he grabbed me between the legs. I froze. An element of me wanted to attack him, but I knew that would undermine our only chance of protecting some very small children. I knew if I didn't attack, he'd make another move. I got out as quickly as I could, and threw up on the way home.

In 2002, two year after the Newsnight documentary aired, I went to court. Stanley had already been convicted for his assaults on me when I was younger: he'd got three years' probation and was still allowed to live with children. This time, they charged him with offences against myself and my sister and others over a period of 35 years. It was like having a tumour cut from my body while awake – agony, but you know that after, there's a life you can lead. There were 19 charges for Stanley and he was jailed for 15 years. As they read out the verdict, the jury had an unfamiliar look on their faces, and I suddenly realised what it was – for the first time, I recognised what it looked like to be believed.

Shy Keenan is the founder of Phoenix Survivors ( www.phoenixsurvivors.org). Her autobiography, 'Broken', (Hodder & Stoughton, £12.99) is out now

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose' in memoir of a grief-stricken daughter who became obsessed with training a goshawk
Sport
footballLive blog: Follow the action from the Capital One Cup semi-final
Life and Style
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy