After carrying a victim’s burden for decades, a woman who was sexually abused by her father when she was a child has waived her right to anonymity to show others “justice is always possible”.
Sarah Mo says she was first abused by her father when she was six years old, and the abuse became “more humiliating” when she went through puberty.
She presented at Croydon Police Station in July 2019 to report that her father had abused her for a number of years, starting when was six.
The abuse escalated from inappropriate touching to oral and penetrative sex, continuing until she was 15 years old.
Martin Prew, Sarah’s father, was sentenced to 11 years 3 months at Kingston Crown Court in October for unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl under 13 years of age, indecent assault on a girl under the age of 14 years, and inciting a girl under 14 years of age to commit an act of gross indecency. Prew pleaded guilty to all counts.
The Metropolitan Police worked very closely to support Mo, contacting her family and friends to gather witness statements, and ultimately bring forward a case file which secured a lengthy custodial sentence for Prew.
Over the past year, police in England and Wales have recorded the highest-ever number of rapes and the second-highest number of sexual offences in a 12-month period, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics.
In the year to June 2021, 61,158 rapes were recorded, but survivors are waiting longer for trials and the number of cases making it to court has fallen dramatically in recent times.
“Cases like this are being reported more often now because people are having the confidence to come forward and report them,” said PC Nicola Stilliard, the Metropolitan Police officer who worked on Sarah Mo’s case.
PC Stilliard “commends Sarah for her bravery”, and hopes it will give “the opportunity to others to speak out about the abuse they may have suffered”.
Sarah says she still has post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression and expects to be on medication for the rest of her life, but the sentencing has “drawn a massive line” under what happened and she wants others to know that “whatever happens to you, you’ve got to stand up for yourself and you’ve got to seek justice”.
PC Stilliard says historic cases have “a challenging nature” because they don’t have the benefit of forensics and CCTV, but that she would always encourage people to report abuse and police will do their “utmost to take these cases forward”.
In an interview this week with Sky News, Sarah Mo said, to the “outside world we were a nice middle-class family” but there was an unspoken rule that no one would come to their home.
Mo, now 52, says she was afraid if she spoke out she would be responsible for breaking up her family. When she was at secondary school, she thought about taking her own life a number of times.
“I was daddy’s girl, he used to call me the sugar plum fairy, he was my idol so I would do anything he wanted me to do. I was just very confused, I thought that on some level it must be my fault.”
Sarah says her father began “grooming” her by inappropriately touching her during baths and asking her to “play with him”.
“I thought that he was talking about my toys, but obviously he wasn’t.
“He used to get me to perform sex acts on him and that was a regular, everyday occurrence.”
Mo says the abuse “escalated” and when she was 11 her father raped her after telling her to come home early for a dentist appointment.
“I knew that there was something different about that day, I just remember walking down our back path to the house knowing that something bad was going to happen.”
The abuse ended after Sarah confronted her father when she was in her mid-teens.
Mo told Sky News that she tried to “put all the abuse in a box, not think about it”.
She even moved to Australia to “get away”. But when her older brother had a daughter, she felt compelled to tell her family what had happened.
She says “breaking the secret” led to panic attacks, self-harm and ultimately her admission to a psychiatric ward, but she wanted to make sure no one else was abused.
It was several years later, when Sarah had her own daughter, that she reported her father to the police.
“It was seeing my daughter grow that was really hard because I’d see her at six and I could see how small I was at six.”
Mo said she initially feared police wouldn’t take her seriously but “only has praise” for how her case was handled, and felt supported throughout the inquiry.
She was “stunned” when her father pleaded guilty. “Just to be believed, seen and heard, that was a really empowering moment for me,” she said.
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