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Friday 19 December 2014

Horror at the hands of my father

First raped at the age of eight, Barbara Naughton found the courage to convict her father and turn her life around.

Barbara Naughton still remembers the day she realised "the thing" her father was doing to her was not normal. She was 10 years old and sitting on some steps outside her primary school in Connemara, marvelling at how her classmates seemed so happy and carefree. In her innocence, Barbara had believed her father's claims that "this thing" happened in every house, and assumed that her friends were all being subjected to some form of physical, sexual or mental abuse.

"I was sitting there wondering 'why are these girls happy? Why are they playing? What gives them the right to be happy if they're going through the same thing as me?' I'd been told that everyone was going through worse than 'this thing'," explained the 30-year-old from Galway.

"He didn't even give it a name, because if I knew the word I would have been able to go to the police."

Today, the pretty blonde author is far removed from the horrific situation that dominated her childhood years. Sitting in the secluded confines of the Fitzwilliam Hotel, she exudes a confidence and defiance that proves her past will never get the better of her.

She enjoys a glowing CV of acting accomplishments and will shortly feature in a new BBC series starring fashion icon Twiggy. She has also tried her hand at script writing in Irish and done a number of walk-on parts in Irish language television series.

On the table sits a copy of her first book, Daddy, Please Don't, her childhood memoirs and a heartbreaking portrait of the six years of abuse inflicted on her from the age of eight by her father, Patrick Naughton.

Today, the man she describes as "the beast" is serving an 11-year sentence for raping his daughter. His trial at the Central Criminal Court in 2002 ended in controversy after it emerged that the trial judge had been contacted by the office of junior minister Bobby Molloy of the Progressive Democrats. Mr Molloy later resigned over the issue.

Barbara was a few weeks short of her ninth birthday when her father first entered her room on a Sunday morning and raped her. It was the start of a lengthy catalogue of abuse that continued for six years, sometimes even when her mother and siblings were in the house.

On at least two occasions, her mother became suspicious about her husband's presence in Barbara's room, but he continued his vicious deeds undetected.

Even now, the possibility that she could have been saved plays on Barbara's mind.

"I've asked my mother about it and it created a massive row. A few times I've said: "Do you recall a night when he came in," and she just flew off the handle.

"I know if I was a mother, I'd be focusing on patching things up, fixing relationships with siblings, knowing who the bad person was and being thankful that the bad person has been sent away."

At the first available opportunity, Barbara moved out and found a job, yet her past came back to haunt her at the age of 18 when her father picked her up from work one day, drove her down a quiet road and raped her again. As he pressed his hands to her neck and began choking her, she swore that if she survived she would go to the police.

Colleague

Eventually, it was the kindness of a work colleague that encouraged her to press charges.

Looking back, Barbara still remembers with gratitude her friend's kindness.

"I felt sorry for the girl that she had to hear that at such a young age," she said. "I had mixed emotions about going to the police. I was physically sick at the time when I came out with the story that I had held inside for so many years."

Alas, revealing the details of her traumatic childhood did not bring the relief and support she expected. Members of her own family turned against her and claimed she was spreading lies.

And while Barbara's mother accompanied her to the court case in Dublin in 2002, the relationship between mother and daughter deteriorated rapidly.

In her gripping book, Barbara paints a haunting if sometimes humourous picture of life in a quiet rural area. Stories of her father's sexual abuse are mixed with tales of the day he killed the family dogs and the time he brought Barbara fishing but threw her into the water tied to a rope. He also persisted in cutting her hair short, exposing her to ridicule among her classmates.

Despite his status as a well-liked, upstanding member of the community, Patrick Naughton stood out by his refusal to attend Mass.

Barbara remembers: "He thought the priest was repeating himself on the altar. He said there was no goodness in going to Mass. He said several times to my mother: 'What good is it going to Mass? What good will it do you? If this really works, why do you have so many problems?'"

Effects

During the early days of the abuse, Barbara fainted and vomited regularly as her body attempted to physically reject the horror of her father's actions.

As a result, she was kept home from Mass, and when she finally did reappear, "people would turn and look at me because Barbara hadn't been seen at Mass in several weeks".

Even now, the physical effects of the repeated raping are evident. Aside from the psychological impact, Barbara suffers from stress-related Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Nightmares still haunt her, and she has turned to a range of alternative therapies and counselling to ensure that her past does not impede her path to the future.

Having learned the facts of life in the most depraved way possible, Barbara could be forgiven for turning her back on the prospect of a romantic relationship. Yet she remains upbeat, insisting that marriage and children are definitely on the cards.

In the background, the prospect of her father's release from prison is never far from her mind.

"I'm not afraid of him," she says emphatically. "He should be worried. As a kid I had no control of my life. These type of sick animals, it's kids that interest them. But he should be afraid of me.

"There have been times when I've threatened to attack him. I've gone as far as the gates of Arbour Hill but my friends tell me not to go in. I just think of the bastard sitting there at the trial and lying about everything.

"When my father gets out, I intend to confront him. I've already rehearsed it in my head. It's one thing to sit across from him in a courtroom but I want to sit there, one to one and see him for the pig that he is."

While waiting for the trial to begin, Barbara made her first move towards a fresh start by heading to New York. She now divides her time between New York and Dublin, and will shortly be heading across the water once again.

Writing her first book has taken her some way towards releasing the demons, yet she believes the finished product is not a book about child sexual abuse.

"You don't have to be sexually abused to read this book. I was careful not to dwell on the sexual abuse so there is no real detail. But the story shows all the symptoms of someone playing mind games and there is more reference to psychological abuse than sexual abuse."

Daddy, Please Don't by Barbara Naughton (Merlin Publishing) is in shops from today

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