WARNING: This story includes descriptions of sexual assault
WHEN Maria* was 13 her mum got engaged to a new man. She immediately knew something was odd about him, and her observation turned out to be spot on.
Now 34, and living in Western Australia, Maria has decided to speak out about how her mum's relationship has affected her life.
I WAS close to my mum growing up. When I think back, I do have happy memories of spending time together and laughing. It used to be me, my mum and my two brothers. I was happy.
After she split from my dad, she married her second husband who was violent. Their relationship didn't last long but she had another son. To say I was relieved when it was just mum and us kids again is an understatement.
But mum wasn't happy on her own. She put a lonely heart ad in the local paper and started dating a new guy.
They got engaged after one month and he started living with us. When I first met him, my stomach went topsy-turvy.
He made me feel uncomfortable but I didn't know why, then.
He tried really hard to win over my brothers and me. I think at the beginning, he was hoping we could be a normal family. My youngest brother was only three and took to him immediately. He started calling him dad straight away and mum told us we all had to do the same. I didn't like it.
We saw my biological father, who lived in a different state, when my mum said we could. Years passed and we weren't allowed to see him. I missed him.
I loved spending Christmas with him when I was 13. It was after that Christmas that everything changed.
We'd had a foster boy living with us, who was also 13. One day he took off from the school we were all at. The same day, I twisted my ankle and needed medical attention but mum's husband - who was a counsellor at our school - focused all his attention on finding this boy.
I knew why.
Two months before I'd crept downstairs for a drink in the middle of the night. We'd always been told to stay in bed and not go downstairs during the night, so I was moving as quietly as I possibly could.
The foster boy was allowed to stay up, which I thought was strange because we were the same age.
I looked in the lounge room and the boy was on the floor with my mum's husband.
I felt sick.
I was shaking. I moved back to my bedroom as quietly as I could. I thought about going into my mum's bedroom and waking her so she could see for herself, but there was a squeaky door on the way and I knew it would alert him.
The next day, I got up and went to school. I told no one.
So when the boy ran away from school, I knew why.
Mum's husband was arrested and the cops said she couldn't see him anymore.
Then one night I questioned why there was an extra plate in the oven. The next day I was sent to live with my dad.
My mum tried to defend her husband.
To me, she made her choice then.
She said the foster child was lying. She didn't know what I saw. I finally opened up to a counsellor at school who encouraged me to tell the police what I'd seen. I made a statement.
When mum's husband found out I was a witness in the trial, and had made a statement, he pleaded guilty. He got four years.
I've never spoken to my mum about it.
I now have four children of my own. I don't want her in my life.
I've seen the very worst things anyone can see. I've seen the worst men that walk this planet. People often say to me, "you must really hate men". It makes me furious.
I have beautiful sons and I have a great relationship with my father now. I resent my mother for not letting us kids see him when we were younger.
I haven't spoken to her in about three years. I'm livid with her.
She's still with that man, and it disgusts.
She should have chosen us kids over him.
My dad and the father of my children have restored my faith in men - they are not all the same and they're not all evil monsters. I help online now with fathers who are alienated from their children. I know how it feels as a child, and I know how hard it was for my dad.
No mother has that right to keep children away from their father. She kept me away from my father, and brought evil into our home. I will never forgive her. I never want to speak to her again.
If this story has brought up any issues for you, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, or 1800 Respect on 1800 737 732.
*Name has been changed.
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