My parents split when I was just a toddler, and shortly afterwards my mum, Maria now 49, introduced me to Joe, Thato said.
He towered over me but the huge smile on his face put me immediately at ease.
Joe treated me like his own daughter, never tiring of playing games with me and it wasn’t long before I started calling him Dad.
Mum and Joe married when I was just five years old, and I’d never seen my mother so beautiful and happy.
When Mum fell pregnant a few years later, I worried Dad would treat me differently to his own biological children.
My half-sister was born in 2008 and then my little brother followed soon after in 2018 I loved being the older sister and all my worries were for nothing as Dad treated us all with the same love and care.
He constantly spoiled the three of us.
Our house in midrand ,Gauteng was a happy home, full of laughter and joy on a daily basis.
I giggled along with my siblings every evening at the dinner table and felt so lucky to have such a perfect family around me.
Life was great for a while until my dear grandma passed away in july. Mum was devastated to lose her beloved mother and it broke my heart to see her cry.
My step-siblings and I travelled to Lesotho with Mum for the funeral, leaving Dad behind as he couldn’t get time off work as a packer in a food factory.
I squeezed Mum’s hand tightly as we said goodbye, wishing I could take her pain away.
Mum stayed on with her family for three weeks to mourn Grandma, but I wasn’t allowed that long away from school, so I returned home with my aunt and uncle to Gauteng after a month away.
I was sad to leave Mum behind and felt lonely without her by my side. We’d always been such a tight pair together and it felt wrong to leave her at such a tragic time.
Dad enveloped me in a huge bear hug when I walked through the door and I felt a bit better to be back at home.
I returned to school and tried to settle back into normal everyday life. I quickly got used to being back home, but then I noticed a change in Dad.
His looks seemed to linger a little longer on me than usual, which made me uncomfortable.
I wondered if he’d felt lonely with us all gone for a whole month and was now just happy to have me back for company.
But I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something sinister behind his stares. Dad and I had never had issues with being close before, but when he started requesting massages, I was surprised.
It felt strange and wrong, but with only Dad at home, I didn’t know what else to do but go along with it.
I hoped massages would be the only unusual request but things took a sickening turn when I came home from school one day and Dad started staring at my chest.
“Your boobs are huge for a 13-year-old,” he leered. Then he suddenly groped me. I froze, stunned, and prayed it would be the end of it.
But it was like a switch had been flicked inside Dad and that night he raped me for the first time.
As I struggled beneath his heavy body, powerless to move, I cried for my mum and siblings but nobody was there to help.
I prayed it would be a one-off but after that first time, it seemed Dad was hungry for more.
He ramped up his abuse until he was raping me every day and with no one at home to get in the way.
I counted down the days to Mum’s come back home and fought back tears as I hugged her tightly, never wanting to let go.
I thought my daily assaults were finally over but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I clung to Mum’s side whenever I could, but Dad always found excuses to get me away from her, luring me into their bedroom.
Dad would pounce whenever Mum was busy, pulling me from the kitchen while she cooked or grabbing me as she put the younger children to bed.
His sweaty palm clamped over my mouth so I couldn’t scream, Dad would push up my dress and rape me as quickly as he could, taking any opportunity to launch his sick assault.
Dad bribed me into silence, promising me treats and even a phone, as long as I kept my mouth shut.
Besides, if you tell, your mum will hate you and never talk to you again,” he told me.
Mum had no idea what her husband was up to in her bedroom every night, still believing her family was the perfect one she’d had all along.
I’d never felt so scared and alone.
The abuse went on for two years and I lived in fear of Dad’s horrifying attacks.
His sick routine was clearly working, with Mum always busy when he launched his nightly assaults and it only encouraged him more as he got away with it.
I’d learned to close my eyes to try and blank out what he was doing but every night, as I laid in bed afterwards, I hoped that it was the last time he’d hurt me.
Then one evening, in july Dad ordered me to bring him some water upstairs.
Mum was busy preparing dinner in the kitchen as usually.
“Give me a leg massage,” he barked, and I silently obliged, dreading what was coming.
Seconds later, he was on top of me, his hot breath on my face. He roughly pushed up my dress and tugged hard at my underwear as he pulled down his trousers.
I closed my eyes as I did every night, praying for it to be over, when he suddenly stopped. His hesitation surprised me – Dad never paused when taking what he wanted from me.
I found Dad lying on the bed and felt the familiar lurch in my stomach as I stared at my rapist.
I blinked my eyes open to see Mum, standing horrified in the doorway. Shock, shame and relief washed over me. Finally, my pain would end.
Dad chased after Mum as she fled the room, while I laid frozen on the bed in shock.
All my prayers had been answered and yet I still felt terrified, fearful that Mum would somehow blame me.
I packed a bag and escaped from the house as Mum and Dad fought in the other room, desperate to get away.
I sobbed the whole way to my aunt’s house, just wanting to run away from everything.
My aunt looked shocked as she opened the door to my tear-stricken face and demanded to know what had happened.
Everything came spilling out and it was agony as I finally spoke of the pain I’d lived through for so long in silence.
Mum soon arrived and pulled me to her chest as I sobbed.
“It’s not your fault, it’s all him,” Mum said stroking my hair whilst I cried.
A weight lifted from my chest as Mum told me she’d kicked Dad out and after a long tearful night I agreed to go to the police.
It was time for Dad to face up to what he’d done.
With Mum by my side, I finally told Midrand Police everything that I’d been through over the past few years.
With my report taken down, I was sent to the hospital, where invasive tests revealed his systematic rapes had ripped my insides.
It was sickening – but it was over.
A week later the case went to court and Dad pleaded not guilty so I had to give evidence behind a screen.
It was really daunting – the worst day of my life.
But I pushed on through, determined to have the truth about Dad out there once and for all.
I sobbed with joy in March when, at Court, Joe, 46, was found guilty of rape and sexual activity with a child.
I felt so relieved as he was jailed for 15 years and felt so glad that my voice had finally been heard.
Mum stood by me through everything and I couldn’t have done it without her.
Dad is paying for his heinous crimes and I’m so pleased that he’s been found guilty.
Now, Mum and I are closer than ever and moving on without that monster, one day at a time.