Karina Townsley, 30, Manchester has been to hell and back...
Hearing my name called, I wandered into my brother Andrew’s bedroom.
‘Hey, Kar,’ he said. ‘Can you give me a hand?’
Andrew was 13 – four years older than me. We had different dads, but both lived with our mum and two sisters.
‘OK,’ I said.
Sitting on his bed, Andrew asked me to pop his zits.
Being the youngest, I always did as he said. But my big brother gave me the creeps. His dingy teenage bedroom smelled musty, with a tinge of cannabis. I hated being alone with him.
As I grew up, he’d ask intrusive questions about who I was dating, acted possessive.
One afternoon in summer 2001, aged 14, I arrived home as Mum was going out.
‘Who’s home?’ I asked her.
‘Andrew’s in his room with his girlfriend,’ she said.
Too busy to bother me, I thought.
So I undressed, wrapped a towel around myself and padded to the bathroom.
Only, the door didn’t lock properly. And, before I could get in the shower, Andrew came in, closing the door.
I froze, my heart thumping.
‘What are you doing?’ I croaked.
‘Shush,’ he said, creeping closer.
I didn’t dare move as he pulled the towel from me, leaving me naked, exposed.
‘Be quiet,’ he said, pushing me onto the toilet, his musty cannabis stench clogging my nostrils.
Andrew pulled his tracksuit bottoms down and raped me.
Agony shot through my body, but I was too shocked, too scared to fight or scream.
When he was done, Andrew silently pulled his trousers up and left, shutting the door behind him.
In shock, I sat on the toilet, unable to move or to believe what’d just happened.
My brother had raped me.
Suddenly, I felt filthy.
Running the shower as hot as I could handle, I stood under the water, scrubbing him off me.
Beside myself, unable to keep such a dreadful secret, I told Mum.
‘Andrew raped me,’ I wept, gasping for air between gut-wrenching sobs.
‘What?’ she cried.
Mum went mad, instantly grabbed the phone, called the police.
Everything happened in a whirlwind. I was taken to hospital, and intimately examined. Then I gave a statement, and Andrew was hauled in for questioning.
While police investigated, he was released on bail – at home – so Social Services put me in foster care.
I felt isolated, alone, and had little contact with family.
Shortly after, my foster mum sat me down.
‘Andrew won’t be prosecuted,’ she explained.
The Crown Prosecution Service was taking no further action because there wasn’t enough evidence. I’d showered, so there was no DNA. It was Andrew’s word against mine.
Worse, he was living at Mum’s, so I was left languishing in foster care.
I felt abandoned, betrayed. Some of my family turned on me altogether.
No-one believes me, I thought.
Spiralling into depression, I self-harmed, overdosed. Luckily, I was found in time, rushed to hospital.
But I was a mess.
I fell pregnant at 15, had a baby girl in September 2002. By July 2003, I had another little girl, and I got my own place.
Yet fragile, desperate for family, I’d visit Mum when Andrew wasn’t around.
We didn’t talk about what’d happened – just brushed it under the carpet.
Only, one day, I ran into Andrew as I left Mum’s house.
‘I don’t see you as a sister, Kar,’ he leered.
He said he’d forget our family if I’d run away with him. Terrified, I fled.
Life got really tough. While Andrew lived happily at home, I battled depression, saw a psychiatrist.
I was eventually diagnosed as bipolar, given medication.
In December 2011, I had another daughter. My three girls were my life, and I focused on being a single mum.
But my anger at Andrew – and at my family – burned inside me until, by November 2013, I couldn’t take it.
Desperate to confront my brother, I got his number from a relative, and sent him a text.
Da sh*t I av to deal wiv… I wrote. Becoz of wot you did n da lies uve told.
Minutes later, he replied.
Sorry for all the pain an stress iv cors you, he wrote.
My blood boiled – this wasn’t enough for ruining my life.
So, plucking up all my courage, I walked into a police station.
‘My brother raped me,’ I told officers for the second time.
The case had been dropped in 2001 – but, with Andrew’s behaviour and texts since, there was enough evidence to re-open it. He was re-arrested.
My brother still denied everything. Again, most of my family took his side, turned on me. Mum and I stopped speaking.
But, this time, I stuck to my guns, and was finally believed!
In May 2015, charged with rape, Andrew Armstrong, 33, appeared for trial at Manchester Crown Court.
Waiting to take the stand, I received a vulgar text from an anonymous caller – a picture of a penis, and a threat to rape me and the police officer handling my case if I gave evidence. Sick.
At the last minute, Andrew changed his plea to guilty, admitting one count of rape against me.
As he was jailed for six years, I felt numb. I’d got justice, but lost most of my family.
Family are supposed to protect you. Mine chose a vile rapist over me.
As far as I’m concerned, from now on, it’s just me and my three girls.
They’re all the family I need.