Born in Newcastle in 1976, from the age of three, the very people who meant to be looking after and protecting Sarah Forsyth were sexually abusing her. Somehow she managed to overcome the hurt and heartbreak of a horrific childhood, and build a new and happy life for herself as a nursery nurse. Then, one day, Sarah spotted a newspaper advert for a job in a crèche in Amsterdam. Thrilled by the prospect of a fresh start away from Newcastle and all the memories it held, she eagerly signed up. But within minutes of arriving in Amsterdam her life began to fall apart. There was no crèche and no job: Sarah was a victim of sex-trafficking. Fed cocaine and cannabis, and forced at gunpoint to work as a prostitute in the red light district of Amsterdam, Sarah was turned from a young innocent English girl into a desperate and terrified crack whore. Riddled with fear about what her pimps would do to her if they caught her trying to run away, it took Sarah almost a year to find the strength to fight back and escape. But, unlike many of the girls that she was forced to live and work beside, she did get away. Sarah Forsyth is a survivor. This is her heart-rending story.
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I Was An Ordinary British Girl. I was Kidnapped and Sold Into Sex Slavery. This is My Horrific True Story.
By Sarah Forsyth, Tim Tate
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2009 Sarah Forsyth and Tim Tate
All rights reserved.
I was born on Monday, 26 January 1976, at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead.
'Monday's child is fair of face,' runs the old rhyme and I've been lucky enough to inherit my looks from my mother. She was – and still is – a petite woman with a good head of dark curly hair and wide brown eyes that sparkle with gentleness and with love. She's in her fifties now but looks so young that she could be taken for an elder sister.
My father's looks, though, are a very different story. Like I say, I've been lucky.
I was the second child in the family. My big brother was 18 months older than me, and my little sister was seven years younger. We all lived together in a little house in the sort of terraced streets they use today to film TV dramas set around the time of the First World War.
Gateshead back in 1976 was a scruffy, down-at-heel sort of town, clinging to the south bank of the Tyne and rather overshadowed by its big brother, Newcastle, on the other side of the river. When I was a child I looked up the history of the town in a book. People have lived here since Roman times and Gateshead is thought to mean 'Head of the (Roman) road'.
But the town's subsequent history isn't particularly inspiring: a few semi-famous soccer stars were born here as well as the odd Victorian industrialist, and a woman who went on to become a Hollywood porn actress. Two famous people definitely passed through, though, and then passed on their impressions. In the 18th century Dr Johnson described it as 'a dirty little back lane out of Newcastle'. Nearly 200 years later, JB Priestley pronounced that 'no true civilisation could have produced such a town', adding, for good measure, that it appeared to have been designed 'by an enemy of the human race'.
I've lived in and around Gateshead most of my life. Nothing much has changed since and probably never will.
My dad was a bit of a local entrepreneur. He used to own two freezer shops and a restaurant, but I also have memories of him being a sales rep, travelling all over the north-east. But I've no idea what he sold and as it turned out I wasn't ever going to ask too many questions about him. Mum was a housewife most of the time, looking after us bairns, but sometimes she worked night shifts at a local factory. Dad used to gather up us kids and pack us into the car in the middle of the night to go and pick her up.
Financially, we were pretty well off. Unlike a lot of folk in the town, Dad always made sure that we owned our own homes, never rented. We lived in nice neighbourhoods, always had plenty of food and I never went short of toys or clothes. In Gateshead that pretty much made us middle-class.
As children we were all really close – and absolutely devoted to Mum. I was particularly close to her – partly, I suppose, because I was her first daughter and there's always something special in the relationship between a mother and her first little girl. I loved being so close to Mum – and loved, too, that I got to play Big Sister to both my siblings, even though my brother was actually older than me.
On the outside, then, we must have looked like a wonderful little family. Three lively and cheerful children, a pretty and loving mum and a father who worked all hours to make sure that we wanted for nothing.
But behind the front door we weren't playing nice happy families.
Behind the façade of a good middle-class father, Dad was a violent, bad man – especially when he'd been on the drink. He used to batter Mum with his fists, throw things at her, cut her even. Once he hurled a milk bottle at her – one of the old-fashioned glass ones that everyone in our street had delivered every morning: it cut her face so badly that she needed to go to the hospital to have stitches put in. Dad insisted on driving her there – even though he was blind drunk – and so us kids were packed inside the car in the middle of the night once again and taken along for the ride. We were terrified and screaming as the car weaved through the streets of Gateshead: Dad was too far gone even to hear us. When our noise finally penetrated his stupor his reaction was typical.
'Bloody shut up, will you. Shut up or I'll come back there and shut you up myself.'
We shut up. We'd seen enough of my Dad's violence to know that he would be perfectly happy to stop the car in the middle of the street and carry out his threat.
As I grew up, I saw more and more what my dad was really like behind the mask of a successful local businessman. And the truth is that he was a bastard. The money that kept rolling in, for example, wasn't always exactly ours. Dad constantly ripped people off and throughout my childhood men would turn up at the door – big men, frightening men oftentimes – looking for my dad and demanding money they said he owed them. Us kids were trained to fob them off: 'Oh – me dad's abroad at the minute. No, no idea when he's due back. Me mam might know, but she's just popped out.' And off they'd go – sometimes grumbling, often threatening, into the night. Until the next time.
It wasn't an easy way to grow up, and there were times as children – many times – when we were frightened to go to sleep in case someone came knocking at the door, determined to get inside and somehow collect the money they were owed. But it did have one positive effect: the three of us were very close to each other – united, I suppose, against a common enemy. And as we grew up, our bond with Mum became stronger than ever: she bore the brunt of most of Dad's violence, and had to deal on a day-to-day basis with the results of his conning and cheating. Gateshead isn't that big a town, and the gossipmongers didn't hold their tongues: it must have been hell for her to step outside the front door, knowing what people were saying about 'Those bloody Forsyths' behind her back.
Yes, all in all, Dad was a bit of a chancer, always ducking and diving, bobbing and weaving, leaving Mum to clean up the mess after him.
And he could be utterly callous: one Christmas Eve he was meant to be putting together a dolls' house he'd got for my little sister's Christmas present, but he couldn't be bothered to stay in and do it. Mum insisted we go out looking for him: we eventually found him, sitting drinking and watching strippers get their clothes off for dirty old men like him. Happy Christmas, Dad.
And yes, he was a violent man too, always ready with his fists and quite willing to hurt the very people he was supposed to love.
But all of that wasn't the worst of it. Not by a long chalk. I suppose if it had just been the money and the violence and the constant sense of living on the edge of a volcano – ready to erupt and smother us kids with burning fire at any moment – I wouldn't hate him the way I do. Because I do hate my dad; and I fear him to this very day. My dad wasn't just a thief and a bully: he was a paedophile, too.
From when I was three years old my dad sexually abused me. He made me do things with him – disgusting things that gave him pleasure, I suppose, but hurt me terribly – for all of my childhood. Sometimes it would happen in bed – he'd come to my bed or even make me please him in the bed he shared with Mum. Other times it would be in the bath: Dad often volunteered to give me my nightly bath – 'just to give your mum a break,' he would say. Oh, he was such a thoughtful man, my dad.
I can't remember exactly how or when it started – what three-year-old could? But I can remember clearly the terrible feeling of fear – a fear that pressed down on my chest and tummy, squeezing the breath out of me, making me feel dizzy and sick – when I knew Dad was about to start touching me again.
'Our little secret', he called it. Something that special little girls did with their daddy because they loved him. Even today I can barely bring myself to write that terrible sentence. What an awful, perverted thing to tell a child about love; what a horrible, selfish way to twist something so beautiful into something ugly and brutal.
How many nights did I lie in bed, hearing him climb the stairs and knowing that he was coming for me? How many times did I slide down under the bedclothes, pretending to myself that my bed was a castle with big strong walls to keep out evil, and trying to control the fear rising in me? How tightly did I close my eyes and lie still, pretending I was asleep, too terrified even to breathe? It never made any difference, of course: if Dad wanted me he wasn't going to let me sleep. And so I would feel his weight press down on the side of the bed, hear his breathing and smell the booze and fags on his breath as he leaned over me. And then his hands would slide under the blanket, invading the safety of my imaginary castle, and I would feel big, rough adult fingers in places where a child should never feel them.
As I grew older, Dad increased the abuse to match – or so I presume he thought – my development. From him touching me it changed to me having to touch him; then from touching to rubbing and the inevitable messy result. And all the time, it was our little secret: something so special that no one else would ever understand, so best not to tell them.
When did I know it was wrong? When did it dawn on me that this wasn't what daddies and their little girls did – not normal daddies and daughters, anyway? I suppose it was when he put it in my mouth. Certainly by the time he forced it into me I knew. Oh, I knew then, alright – knew that it was just another way that my darling Dad was happy to hurt me. And it wasn't just fingers and his penis that he forced into me. He used to push knives or scissors inside too. Sometimes they cut me and I bled. But of course no one could see the scars because they were on the inside.
But the thing about scar tissue is that it grows and grows, surrounding the damage with a protective layer of calloused skin. And just as the scabs formed over my physical injuries, so I developed a way of dealing with the mental pain of the abuse.
From being a loving and carefree child, Big Sister to my siblings and close, oh so close, to my mum, I became troublesome and difficult to live with. I would throw wild and frightening tantrums, daring anyone to come near me and defying all attempts to calm me down. I screamed, I shouted and when those fires of anger died down I retreated into my own little world of silence and sulking.
Did Mum realise what caused these sudden and violent changes? I always thought she must have and once I found a letter Dad had started writing to her, saying how sorry he was for doing all that to me. But she says now she never knew and she was as terrified of him as I was. I can believe that – I saw the result of his brutality on her face too many times to doubt it.
But those scars my dad inflicted weren't just physical ones like the bruises that covered her body. Nor were they just the dreadful mental wounds of growing up as an adult's sex toy. The worst part of the abuse – and the thing I can never forgive him for – is the way it shattered our family. Forever.
All sexual abuse causes deep and long-lasting damage to a child, but there's something uniquely terrible about being hurt by someone who is meant to look after and love you – and it has a viciously corrosive effect on every other relationship. I've met hundreds of women who were molested by their fathers and each tells the same story of ending up blaming their mothers for failing to protect them. I've told Mum I believe her when she says that she never knew that Dad was abusing me, and I've reassured her that really it's all in the past and long gone. But, in truth, what Dad did drove us apart for most of my life.
And why did he pick on me? He never touched my little sister and although he beat my brother – sometimes quite badly – he didn't sexually abuse him either. What was it about me that made him do it? I always wanted to know – and one day Dad told me ... in his own charming way, of course.
'You're not my daughter,' he shouted at me. 'You're someone else's – a little bastard.' From that day on it's the reason he gave for sexually abusing me, for hitting me, kicking me, for everything he inflicted on me.
Was it true? I don't know, and I don't think I ever will. Mum swears blind that it's nonsense, that all three of us were his kids. But even if it were true, it still wouldn't be a reason to do that to a little girl. There's no excuse ever in this world for sexually abusing a child – whether it's your own or someone else's. Sex is for adults, not children.
I've learned a lot about what being abused does to kids. Some of it has been learned the hard way, the rest I've found out for myself from books or talking to people who understand it. One of the things that often happens is that the mind tries to block out as much of the hurt as it can. Maybe that's why I can only remember some of the things Dad did. Maybe it's also why no one seemed to see what was going on.
Then again it all started happening in the 1980s. Child sexual abuse wasn't talked about much back then – not until the Cleveland child abuse controversy all kicked off in Middlesbrough in 1987. Two doctors – paediatricians – caused a storm of protest across the country when they diagnosed sexual abuse in 131 children in just three months. The media went mad and politicians climbed all over the north-east. Newspapers and television talked about how kids had been ripped away from innocent parents and blamed social workers as well as the doctors. They even started to suggest that it wasn't safe for parents to cuddle their children, or for men to give their sons and daughters the nightly bath. 'The Social' might come and take your kids away if they found out.
The doctors and the social workers said that was rubbish and there had been real evidence of abuse. But their voices didn't really come across much: everyone just talked about innocent parents.
Cleveland is less than 40 miles south of Gateshead. I was just eleven when the whole thing kicked off and of course I didn't know a thing about what was going on. But Dad had been abusing me for many years by then and I certainly did know what it felt like to be a small girl sexually assaulted by a big man. I could never work out why other people couldn't see how much he was hurting me. I thought the teachers at my school must see something and would come to our house and tell Dad to stop it. But they never did. Maybe it was because of the row over Cleveland just a few miles away; maybe the teachers and social workers were scared that they'd get all the hostility and the hate mail that the doctors in Cleveland were getting. Whatever the reason, no one ever said anything and I had to go on being Dad's little sex slave.
I was a quiet, lonely child at junior school. Mum tells me that I had friends like any other little girl; that they came over to tea or slept over at our house. But I don't remember having any friends or talking with anybody. Even at the age of seven or eight I knew I was different because of what my dad was doing to me. And I can remember thinking that I couldn't let anyone else sleep in my room because what happened there had to be kept secret. Even at school I can't remember anyone really taking much notice of me – however much my behaviour deteriorated or my mood swings worsened: teachers did sometimes ask me what was wrong, but I don't think I ever said a word to them and no one ever seemed to press the point.
Then, when I was about eleven, something happened: I stopped being able to walk.
It was so sudden: one day I was able to walk like anyone else, the next my legs just wouldn't do anything. Mum took me to hospital straightaway: my temperature had started to soar and I was running a fever. As the doctors examined me I drifted in and out of a coma.
I stayed in the hospital for nearly four weeks. My weight dropped alarmingly – I lost a few stones in a very short time and looked like a skeleton: it took a lot of work by the nurses and doctors to get it back up again. And they had to teach me to walk again, just as if I was a baby. I had to practise on crutches, then with just one while my free hand grabbed on to whatever I could find.
It was a long slow process to recovery. And still no one put two and two together to work out what had caused the problem. Even when my dad came to see me and – from what Mum has told me since – I would visibly flinch the moment he walked in the room; even then not a single person put two and two together – much less got it to add up to four. Looking back, I want to shout at all the doctors and nurses: 'Look – can't you see? That little girl is being abused! It's her dad that's doing it. That's why she can't walk and has lost weight and doesn't say anything to anyone.' But that's the thing about hindsight: you've got 20/20 vision.
And so they sent me home. Back to Mum and Dad; back to everything at home.
Excerpted from Slave Girl by Sarah Forsyth, Tim Tate. Copyright © 2009 Sarah Forsyth and Tim Tate. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. Monday's Child,
2. Who Cares?,
3. The Thing About Hope,
4. A Place Called Mercy,
5. A Gun to the Head,
6. The Window,
8. The Organisation of Evil,
10. A Rock in a Hard Place,
12. The Road to Freedom,
13. Bearing Witness,
14. The Lost Decade,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Get on the bed
I only give this a 4 star because it wasn't the most exciting or of writing systems, but it was well written and the story is absolutely insane. This poor girl never had a chance and just couldn't catch a break. I am in utter amazement of her resilience and ability to keep on going. The series of events that take place in her life many of us would be broken and scared from just a single one of them. She endured multiple horrific life, mental and emotional altering events and STILL is alive and able to share her story. What happened to her and has happen (continues to happen) to so many young women in this world is disgusting, horrific and absolutely heart breaking. Bless this woman for speaking out and against the devilsh beings that put her through so much. Awareness is a start in the right direction and she is absolutely a hero for sharing her story. Even if enlightens one indidivual she has made a difference.
For an eerily disturbing story, Slave Girl is well written and is very captivating. We learn a lot about the murky world of prostitution, organised crime, corruption and deprivation. It is a wold that Sarah got plunged into, suffered a lot, agonised, but never lost hope. She came out of this hell with a lesson for us all. Never give up, especially when you are subjected to misery or a fate that you got tricked into through no fault of yours. Sarah Forsyth's Slave girl comes after reading Janvier Chando's The Grandmothers, and Stacey Danson's Empty Chairs. The terrible combination of sex and drugs are well highlighted here.
Pushes him down on the bed