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Sunday, 24 January 2016
”I Found Out I was Conceived after My Father Raped My Sister when She was 15”
Rowena Slusser, 37, was conceived through incestuous rape, but has managed to build a happy family life and come to terms with the horror that led to her birth.
When I was younger, I felt like I had the word ‘incest’ tattooed on my forehead and that, somehow, everyone would know the truth about me. Because when I was 10 years old, I discovered I was conceived after my father raped my sister.
Shaken by the terrible truth of my birth, I had to bury my secret deep inside me until I was ready to speak out and have counselling. And now, after a long journey, I’m finally able to live with my past.
Growing up, and despite the 15-year age gap, my big sister Becca was my closest friend in the world. She loved to tickle my tummy or make me giggle.
However, happy ties were few and far between in our house. My dad Ruben Garza wasa priest and, to the outside world, he was a pillar of the community. But behind closed doors he ruled over the family with an iron fist. We crept around the house never knowing when he’d lash out.
Often drunk, he’d play Russian roulette with a gun and would pick on us for regular beatings, torturing us by holding knives to our throats, flying into rages if we spilt something or dropped something on the floor.
But there was an even sicker side to him. Fondling me and touching me whenever he got the opportunity, he began grooming me when I was just a baby and was forever touching me inappropriately.
One evening when I was four years old, Becca was giving me a bath. As I got out and she wrapped the towel around me, she suddenly said: “You love me, don’t you? I want you to know I’m really your mummy, not your sister.” “Don’t be silly. I’m telling Mum what you said,” I shouted back, running in to speak to my mum and dad.
To my horror, they said it was true and that because Becca had been so young – just 15 when she gave birth to me – my grandparents had decided to act as mother and father to me.
The beatings and the fear continued at home and by the time I was nine, Becca couldn’t stand it any more. Wanting to protect me, she decided we should escape and began hiding clothes and money.
Then one day in November 1988, when I was 10, she came to get me from school, having told Ruben and Rosa she was taking me to the doctor. But racing off from school, we drove for five hours to meet trusted friends who had stored our things at a safe house.
Escaping the abuse
We phoned Rosa and Ruben to say we weren’t coming back and, although they were furious, we felt safe for the first time.
But just a few months later, Becca had another devastating bombshell for me – it wasn’t a family friend who had raped her and got her pregnant. It was our father.
Once again, my world had been completely turned upside down. I could hardly begin to take it in. Becca said she’d told a teacher who tried to get the authorities involved but by the time the police started asking questions, she was just too terrified to tell the truth. All she could do now was protect me from Ruben’s clutches.
Four months later, we moved into our own place. But as the years passed, I convinced myself I must be cursed. I was worthless, disgusting. Not only had I been conceived in rape but I was a product of incest. I became terrified about what kind of a person I was going to turn into if I’d been created like this.
I couldn’t bear to tell anyone what happened to me, I hardly had any friends and was terrified of boys and intimacy.
The year before I went to university, we got word that Rosa was ill with breast cancer so we made the journey to visit her before she died in 1996.
Once back at home, I threw myself into student life and volunteered to work for the ‘outreach’ charity with local children. At a session, I made friends with another volunteer, a boy called Casey. Flattered and excited when he asked me out, I was also filled with dread as I knew I’d have to tell him the truth about me.
But to my amazement, he didn’t run out the door that minute. Instead, we took things slowly and decided to wait until we were married to sleep together. I started counselling, which, together with my faith, really helped me come to terms with everything that had happened and answered a lot of questions about how to cope with the future.
Seeing what a kind, gentle person Casey was, Becca gave us her blessing and we married in October 1999. Looking to the future Soon afterwards we started trying for children. But, as if I hadn’t been through enough, I suffered three miscarriages before finally becoming pregnant with my son David in 2001. The doctors told me the miscarriages were a genetic fault, probably due to being a product of incest. Three years later I had my daughter Erin, now 11. Having a little girl made me feel anxious and paranoid that the same fate could await her. But seeing the love that Casey, 37, had for the kids, I knew he would help me keep them safe. In 2003, one of my older sisters called me to say Ruben was having open-heart surgery and had only a 50% chance of survival. In spite of everything he’d done to us, I felt I had to say goodbye to him. So drawing on all my strength, I went to visit him and he apologised for the abuse. But deep down I knew he didn’t believe what he was saying. He survived the operation and we spoke occasionally on the phone. He asked to meet my children but I’d never let them anywhere near him. Becca and I went to see him again in 2009, two years before he died. This time I decided to forgive him. I had to move on and this was one way of doing it. Over the last few years I’ve been involved in campaigning to raise the profile of sex victims and people who’ve been conceived in incest, and even wear a placard that says, ‘Conceived from rape/incest. I love my life’. Of course not a day goes by when I don’t think about the pain that was caused by the way I was brought into the world. But thanks to Casey, the kids and a lot of therapy, I’ve been able to look to the future.