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Belfast woman raped by evil stepdad had two abortions during years of torment

Woman was repeatedly raped and had two abortions during years of torment

Joanna Betts
Joanna Betts
John Toner

By John Toner

A COURAGEOUS mother who as a child was repeatedly raped by her evil stepfather has told how she was twice forced to fly to Liverpool for abortions.

Belfast woman Joanna Betts (45) waived her right to anonymity to detail the devastating impact wicked pervert Arthur Ingram (69) had on her life in a decades-long campaign of abuse.

Depraved Ingram, of Dunanney in Newtownabbey, was jailed for 14 years in May after being convicted by a jury at Belfast Crown Court of abusing Joanna in the 1980s and early 1990s.

The former DoE driver was found guilty of seven rapes, five indecent assaults and three common assaults, carried out when his victim was a child and, later, a teenager.

Mum-of-four Joanna said her early memories of an idyllic family unit were shattered when her first step-father mysteriously disappeared when she was four-years-old.

He was replaced in her young life by Ingram, who would go on to sexually and physically abuse her for decades, even after the girl's grandmother raised concerns.

"I loved my father to bits, but one minute he was there and the next he was gone," Joanna said.

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"At the age of four I remember Arthur Ingram being brought to our home in Glasgow Street in north Belfast. I went up to him and said, 'Mister, it's my fourth birthday'. That's where it started.

"Arthur moved in and from four to eight everything seemed fine, but because I had known my first step-father, who I felt was my dad, I got really upset and felt ill.

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Arthur Ingram as a young man

"That feeling of loss continued and when he realised when I was eight how much I missed my father, Ingram started to interfere with and abuse me at night when my mother was working shifts.

"I didn't want to go public straight away, because with cases like this there's shame that goes with it. I assumed when he was sent down the door would close for me and I would be able to get on with my life but that hasn't been the case.

"I know there's other people out there suffering and as a survivor of abuse I felt that I should come forward. I don't enjoy the limelight whatsoever but I felt that I needed to have my say because the damage to me and my family is ongoing. I have to live with this for the rest of my life."

After the abuse in her early years Ms Betts says she was left alone by Ingram for a period, but the assaults began again in her teens when the family moved to Gainsborough Drive, north Belfast, just streets from their previous home.

"All I can describe that house as is the house from hell, I didn't want to live while I was there. I can't even bear to look at it. I was constantly woken up during the night and taken into my mother's bed while she was away working," she said.

"I was petrified, he was the type that would have hit me if I had said anything, the results for me would have been truly awful, so I kept quiet. It wasn't just interfering with me. He physically assaulted me and nearly kicked me down the stairs for having an untidy room when I was a young teenager.

"He was extremely controlling, to the point where he would count the pencils in my pencil case. I ran away a few ti

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Arthur Ingram
mes and just got beat up when I came back so I felt hopeless.

 

"One night when he came into my room, which I shared with my baby step-sister, I contemplated running away with her. I used to wish she would wake up, but then I thought maybe it would happen to her, I always told myself if he was doing it to me at least he wasn't touching her," Joanna said.

As she got older Ms Betts says her determination to leave the "house from hell" grew and eventually she moved into a housing association property nearby.

The survivor felt she had finally escaped his clutches but her nightmare continued as she moved into adulthood - and she would later be forced into two abortions by her abuser.

She said: "He seemed to think my house was some kind of love-nest, but I used to hide from him when he rang my buzzer. Unfortunately, the security men knew he was my stepfather and would send him up to my door.

"He told the court we were in a loving relationship but through my childhood, teenage years and adulthood I was in other, proper relationships. I didn't see it as being in a relationship, I didn't want him to be near me, or to touch me.

"He would come into my home with some excuse and force himself on me. He would sit on the settee and ask me to sit beside him and before I knew it he would grab me and trail me across the room. He'd pull my clothes off and rape me."

Ms Betts later moved to Ballyclare and started a family, feeling again that the abuse she had suffered at the hands of Ingram had come to an end, but the horror continued.

She added: "The abuse followed me everywhere, every house I've ever lived in, except where I am now. I stopped bothering with my mum and cut them both off, but he kept appearing out of the blue.

"After a while I discovered I had become pregnant despite not going with anybody at that particular time and I told him he'd got me pregnant. He went ballistic, screaming and shouting at me telling me to get it sorted. I was flown over to Liverpool to have an abortion and it was awful. He gave me the cash to pay for it. He told me 'you get that done' and that was it.

"At that point I didn't care if I died. I came round from the abortion, sore and bleeding and had to get a taxi straight to the airport.

"A few years later I was in a relationship and fell pregnant again. I was delighted and was out buying baby clothes and all, but when I had the first scan the fella I was going with told me the dates weren't right.

"I checked back to when I was last raped by Ingram and discovered it was his. I told him and again he told me to get rid of the baby. I had to go through the ordeal of flying to Liverpool for the abortion again. I was lying on the table and having second thoughts, I tried to tell them before the anesthetic kicked in, but I couldn't get the words out.

"Until now I can't grieve. I can't live with myself for what I have done. I can't cope with it. I don't agree with abortion at all but I don't know what else I was supposed to do.

"I couldn't let them go into a system where they might be abused as well, or grow up knowing they were the result of rape."

Ms Betts went to the police in 2012 after she felt uncomfortable with Ingram's behaviour around her own children.

She says the campaign of abuse she was subjected to has scarred her for life and some members of her wider family have stood by him.

She hopes Ingram will die in prison and her story will encourage other survivors to speak out, adding: "It has had a huge impact on my life. My mental and physical health has suffered massively. I've had a pretty crap life as a result of all this. It has been awful.

"I think he was hoping this would just go away. I couldn't stick up for myself as a child, as a teenager and as a young adult, but I can now and I wanted to come forward to help encourage others to do the same.

"I don't want the limelight, this isn't about me, it's about survivors here in Northern Ireland. I want to see tougher sentencing for people who abuse children. He got 14 years but could be out in seven. It took me seven years to get this to court. I feel like I'm living a sentence, I'll never get over what he's done to me."

Ms Betts also paid tribute to sexual abuse survivors charity Nexus NI, which helped her throughout her ordeal. She also praised the work of the PSNI child protection unit and the Public Prosecution Service.

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