‘I wasn’t safe anywhere’: Charlene Masterson to campaign to help those suffering abuse

Once she found out that her father was her abuser ‘I didn’t have anywhere to turn’

Charlene Masterson  speaking to reporters outside the Criminal Courts of Justice  after her father was jailed for 17 years. Photograph: Collins

Charlene Masterson speaking to reporters outside the Criminal Courts of Justice after her father was jailed for 17 years. Photograph: Collins

 

A daughter who suffered years of abuse at the hands of her father has told of how she plans to campaign for greater awareness and support for individuals suffering abuse.

Charlene Masterson (32) said she waived her anonymity in a bid to highlight the difficulties she faced.

Last week David Masterson (56) was jailed for 17 years for sexually abusing his daughter over a 7½-year period after first blackmailing her.

The Central Criminal Court heard that Masterson went on to defile three girls, having sexual encounters with two teenage girls and entering into a sexual relationship with a third, who lived with him for a period of time.

The court heard this occurred after his daughter reported the seven years of sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her father to her mother in 2014 and he left the family home.

Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show on Friday, Ms Masterson - who waived her right to anonymity - said if her friend, who was training to be a social worker, had not confronted her about the abuse she did not know what would have happened.

Since the court case, during which she delivered a devastating victim impact statement, Ms Masterson said she had taken a number of educational courses on domestic violence awareness. Such information should be freely available, she said, adding that a lot what was available was not relevant in an Irish legal context.

‘Massive stigma’

She said there was still a “massive stigma” in Ireland about rape, and sexual assault and she wanted to change the system to develop a message, like the FAST alert for cases of stroke, which could pinpoint things for individuals to look for in people they suspected may be facing domestic violence.

Ms Masterson said her abuse took place for seven and a half years and she had had seven years since to “process it. I’m out the other side now” and said she now wants to try and help others.

Asked if she had any regrets about waiving her anonymity, she replied: “not one.”

Her main aim had been to help people and this was “one step of the journey.”

The abuse started when she turned 18, she said, but it was only afterwards she realised her father had been grooming and controlling her from her early teens.

Later she also realised he had been tracking her phone which was why he always knew where she was and what she was doing.

When the blackmail started, she said her father had been “cool and collected” and told her she would have to do as demanded. “I would never have guessed it was my dad.”

Her father had told her he would be with her and would not let anything happen. On a number of occasions there was another person involved in the abuse who she said knew that she was his daughter.

The court heard the abuse began in 2007, when she started receiving anonymous text messages, which later transpired to have been sent by her father.

The messages began demanding that she do sexual things with men while threatening to send information to her father’s work regarding her previously talking to boys on an online chatroom for teenagers.

When she told her father about what was happening, he told her that she would have to do these things because his job was at risk.

It was arranged that her father would let a person into their home and she would do whatever this person wanted while wearing a blindfold and earphones playing music. She was then sexually assaulted.

Father’s role

Ms Masterson said she finally discovered her father’s role in the abuse when she attempted to assist her grandmother install a programme on her laptop and found a DVD with a recording of two of the abuse incidents, which she knew had been recorded as it had been a “bargaining chip.”

She knew then her father was her abuser but did not know what to do. The person to whom she should have been able to turn to for assistance, was the person who was abusing her. “I didn’t have anywhere to turn.”

When she confronted her father “a row broke out” and her father asked how she could think it was him, but she did not receive any text messages after that.

But the abuse continued and spiralled into “open abuse” and sexual harassment, she said. If she did not do as he demanded “there was hell to pay.”

Ms Masterson said her father followed her to her part-time job and eventually forced her to give it up. The rape and violence continued. “He was never happy.”

In March 2014, aged 25, Ms Masterson went on a weekend away with friends. “He didn’t want me to go.” Throughout the weekend her father sent texts threatening her, saying he had people he wanted her to meet.

At that stage her friend asked if her father was abusing her and Ms Masterson replied that he wasn’t. She knew that he thought what he was doing was “completely normal”. At one stage she left out a magazine with a story about incest for him to see, “I thought this will trigger him, but he laughed it off.

“In his head he thought this was completely normal.”

‘Petrified’

Ms Masterson explained that she was “petrified” of her father and that it was “easier said than done to walk away.”

The friend, who was training to be a social worker, “kept pushing”.

By that stage her father knew that her friend knew and told her “you won’t see her again.” Eventually her friend, who was due to leave the country, said she would not go “until she knew I was safe.”

By that stage Ms Masterson said she realised her father did not care that other people knew and had held her by the throat up against a wall one night when there was another friend staying over.

Her trainee social worker friend continued to question her and said she would not leave until she had answers. “This time I said ‘yes’”, when asked if her father was abusing her.

As soon as her mother heard what had been happening she told the father to “get out” and there has been no contact since that day.

Ms Masterson said that she saw her father at his mother’s funeral and on three occasions in court.

When she saw him for the first time in court she had been thrown to see that he had not changed at all physically. She had thought that the impact of what he had done might have caused him to lose weight. “Seeing him for the first time, I thought he might be frail, older. But he hadn’t changed at all, it had zero impact.”

Ms Masterson said she made eye contact in court and “stared him down. That last time I felt absolutely nothing.”

Sentence

Ms Masterson said that despite the length of sentence imposed on her father - 24 years, reduced to 18 because he pleaded guilty with one year suspended, he would not serve “all those years” because of the system.

The judge in the case had been very kind, she said. “All cases of this nature are horrific.” The judge had realised the magnitude of what had happened, she said.

While she had tried counselling, speaking to eight counsellors, she found that it did not help, “I thought I was weird.” It was not until she spoke to another person who had a similar experience that she felt she could do something to help change the system. “I want to help survivors.”

Ms Masterson thanked the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre for their support during the court case and afterwards. She had considered not giving her victim impact statement herself. But she felt it was something she would regret if she did not deliver it herself.

While there could not be a template for victim impact statements, Ms Masterson felt there could be guidance provided along with support for the friends and family of abuse survivors.

Her mother carried great guilt for not being aware of the abuse, but she said even if her mother watched her for 23 hours a day, her father would have gotten to her for that last hour. “I wasn’t safe anywhere.”

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article you can contact the national 24-hour rape crisis helpline: 1800 778888 or One in Four at 01 662 4070