Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Abused by my cousin: The first time he raped me was just after my First Holy Communion...

Londonderry woman Martina Johnston tells our reporter of the decade of sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her cousin

Childhood scars: Martina Johnston. Pic Martin McKeown
Childhood scars: Martina Johnston. Pic Martin McKeown

Martina Johnston is a bright, intelligent woman with a bubbly personality and it is easy to take an immediate liking to her. By her own admission Martina will be the life and soul of any family gathering.

But this animated personality is fake and she is the first to tell you this but what she cannot say is what her real personality is or should have been. The reason for this can be traced back to 38 years ago when she was a young girl, just six years old, staying overnight in her grandmother's house when her 16 year old cousin Frankie McFadden sneaked into the room Martina was sleeping in and pulled back the covers.

Thus began a decade of both sexual and physical abuse including threats to kill, for which Frankie McFadden began an 11 year sentence less than seven days ago.

He is off the streets of Derry for the time being and for this in itself Martina is grateful but she is worried about the day that he is released. She is adamant she was not McFadden's only victim. She waived her right to anonymity so that the world would know his name, his face and what he is capable of.

Walking into Martina Johnston's house the first thing that strikes you is how neat and pristine everything is. In the hallway and in the living room everything is beautifully decorated, glisteningly clean and worthy of a page in any interior design magazine.

"This is how I have to have things -- white is clean for me. I clean all day from when I get up until I go to bed but nothing is ever quite right,' says Martina.

"It is not just my house, it is me too.

"I scrub my body too and it is only recently that I stopped putting bleach into the bath. In fact I had to stop buying bleach at all although sometimes now I find myself using scouring cream without even realising I am doing it.

"I tear my skin off without even knowing I am doing it. I will be watching the TV and look down and my arm will be all scratched and bleeding and I won't have felt anything."

Martina Johnston's family is typical of many in Derry, close knit, lots of aunts, uncles and cousins all living in close proximity to each other.

Where this family differed from others was that within this unit there lurked an evil relative who even at 16 years of age was capable of destroying the childhood and innocence of his six year old cousin Martina.

"The way our family was, everyone was reared together, in and out of each others' houses but especially my granny's. No different really to many other Derry families," says Martina.

"It was just a wee two bedroomed house my granny had and the first time it started, he came into the bedroom. I was actually in my granny's bed and he came into her room and that was that.

"At six I didn't even know what it was but I knew what he was doing was wrong but I didn't tell anybody. I wouldn't even have known what to say.

"It wasn't like it is nowadays when there is so much information. Back then there was nothing.

"At the start it was touching and as soon as I heard the creak of the door I knew what was going to happen but I would just get up afterwards and get ready for school.

"That went on a couple of days a week but the first time he raped me was shortly after my First Communion. I do remember that very clearly because I know I had long hair.

"That was June and I was seven and I remember after that I cut my hair, just chopped it off."

She adds: "Looking back I think it was my way of protecting myself because one of the things he used to say was that he loved me and I was beautiful, so I thought if I made myself look more like a boy I would be safe but of course I wasn't.

"I still get flashbacks to then and I haven't a single photograph of when I was a child. This was the end of my childhood. Up until then I had been going down one footpath in life and he took me down a path I was never meant to be on.

"I switched off completely when he was raping me. I would have focused on a bit of wallpaper or one of my granny's jewellery boxes or her wee ornaments and just blanked out what he was doing; that was the only way I could cope.

"Even now, that is how I cope, I just blank it out. That is how I dealt with the court. I went into a zone, stared straight ahead and wouldn't allow myself to feel anything."

For three long arduous years until she was 10, Martina was subjected to horrific sexual abuse at the hands of the opportunistic McFadden but a reprieve finally came when her family moved to England.

For 18 months Martina got a glimpse of what a normal, happy childhood was, but the feelings of dread reared their head once again when the family returned to Derry.

She continues: "I knew when I came back it would all kick off again but it didn't kick off in a sexual way because then I fought back. I threatened to tell and that is when the physical abuse started and the more I stood up to him, the more he beat me. He threatened to kill me if I told, he threatened to kill my loved ones and I believed him.

"I knew he was capable of rape so I had no doubt he was capable of murder as well and he was battering me every chance he got. He threw me down the stairs, he dragged me up the stairs by the hair, he gave me black eyes and I remember once you could literally see the finger marks on my neck where he tried to throttle me.

"Ours is a large family but despite this no-one ever found out because he was crafty enough to do it when no one was about. I learned to be crafty about covering it up, although looking back now I am amazed no-one realised.

"My whole life was a lie, I just didn't want anyone to know. All the sexual, physical and mental abuse, I had to hide it all from my whole family."

She says: "In fact what people might find shocking was that the mental abuse was the worst for me. I felt I could cope with the sexual abuse, the rape and the beating but the mental abuse was a bigger strain.

"I was terrified he would carry out the threats he was making about hurting my loved ones and I stopped going to school because of it, so he took my education away from me along with everything else."

Eventually McFadden visits to Martina's family home where he was treated like a son by her family who were completely oblivious to the torture Martina was suffering, ceased when he moved away and got married.

She carried her injuries with her silently until one night when she was in her early 20's it all came tumbling out of her mouth.

Martina explains: "Mammy and daddy has taken a house in Buncrana for a holiday and I went down to stay the night with them.

"Driving down that road I had no notion about telling them but we had a couple of drinks and I just took the bull by the horns. It was just the three of us in the room and I told them what had happened me but I wouldn't tell them who did it.

"My father treated him (Frankie McFadden) like a son and I wasn't going to hurt my father like that. It would have broken my daddy's heart to know who it was and that was the reason I waited until after my daddy had died before I could report this to the police. Even then it took me four years after his death until I knew I was ready."

That time came almost two years ago in 2012 and like the day she first disclosed to her parents, it came out of the blue, sparked this time by a chance encounter with her attacker.

Martina recalls: "I had stopped going to family gatherings years ago and in fact I never really even went out anywhere -- I still don't -- but this one particular day I was out walking to the shops and all I heard was my name being roared.

"I turned and looked behind me and it was him. I started shaking and I ran as fast as I could to get back to my house. I got into my bed and I knew, that was it, enough! It was time.

"I think he (McFadden) probably thought he got away with it as it took me 36 years to tell what he had done. I am living with this for 38 years but it took me 36 years to come forward to the authorities.

"You think, no one is going to believe you. It has been so long but all the evidence was within me. I dug my heels in and even though it was so hard to do and it was such a long process and there was the worry of will people believe me."

Not only did her family believe Martina, the PSNI investigation team and the DPP also believed her and set about securing a conviction against McFadden.

Martina was determined that from the onset she was going to waive her right to anonymity and steeled herself for the court case ahead.

McFadden entered an earlier plea of guilty to the charges of sexual assault and physical assaults but initially he denied the two charges of rape which meant Martin would have to take to the stand and give evidence. However at the 11th hour, he made an admission to these two charges as well which surprisingly deflated Martina.

She explains: "I had my self geared up to tell everyone what he did, what he was and still is capable of and he took that from me along with everything else he had robbed from me.

"The thing that was hard for me was having my family in the court because I knew they would hear even some of what he did when the judge read out his statement and I didn't want to hurt them.

"They were in tears but I wasn't. I don't cry and through these two years I have not cried once; it is not bravery it is because I have no emotions in me.

"I see so much hurt and pain in my family when they look at me and that is hard but I told them from the start I am doing this and it has ripped us apart but we will get through this."

She explains why she decided to waive her anonymity: "I wanted to say all this in court but he took it from me but I did nothing wrong and I want to show even one woman that it is possible to come forward and tell them you will be believed.

"It is horrific but the the police and the PPS have a job to do and make sure they will get a conviction and it was worth it to get him off the streets even for a while.

"I won't allow myself to think yet about the day when he gets out but I know he will. But now at least people know what he is capable of and they know his name.

"I don't think I am his only victim; people like him don't do this to just one person. But at least now people will be a bit more aware and for that it was worth waiving my right to anonymity."

VICTIMS CAN LIFT VEIL OF SECRECY

In Northern Ireland defendants in cases of rape or sexual assault have no right to anonymity. However complainants have a lifetime guarantee of anonymity.

That is the bald position but it can be varied. The media in sex cases cannot publish the defendant's name if details of the case could lead to a reasonable reader/listener/viewer thereby identifying the complainant.

This is not as straightforward as it might first appear. One media outlet may decide to withhold the defendant's name in order to fully report the case against him.

But another outlet may identify him and withhold theinformation which could identify the complainant.

Anyone accessing both reports could then complete the identification jigsaw. So the usual protocol is that all media outlets take a similar approach to reporting the case to ensure that the complainant's anonymity is not compromised.

Complainants, as in the case featured in this article, can waive their right of anonymity which must be done in writing.

The first person to do this was Jill Saward, who was brutally raped when burglars broke into her father's vicarage in Ealing in 1986. She decided to go public to campaign for better treatment of rape victims and for stronger deterrents for would-be rapists.

Earlier this year Aine Dahlstrom waived her right of anonymity to expose her six years of abuse by her father Liam Adams, brother of Sinn Fein president, Gerry.

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