TRISH Flood felt lonely and isolated when she moved to London at the age of 15.
When her cousin Frank Forte, then 34, offered to spend time with her she was grateful – but their friendship took a horrifically dark turn when he began to abuse her.
It took years for Trish to find the courage and report his horrendous offences.
She was left horrified when – after the case came to court – he told the jury she was lying and she was “too UGLY” to abuse.
Trish, now 47, from Navan, Ireland, said: “He claimed he’d never go near someone like me. He made me feel like I should be grateful for his abuse or that I was too fat to abuse at all.”
I had the most wonderful childhood growing up in County Meath, Ireland.
But shortly after I turned 15 my dad Jim announced we were moving to Walthamstow, east London, for his work.
At our new home I longed to hear a knock at the door. But more than 400 miles away, I quickly lost touch with all my friends. “You’ll make loads of friends by the time you start school,” my mum, Maureen told me.
A couple of weeks later my cousin Frank visited. He was much older than me at 34 and had lived with my parents before I was born. He made a beeline for me, telling me: “You look so grown up.”
From that day, Frank came over to our house almost every single evening.
He seemed to take a real shine to me and always asked about my life. He made me feel like one of the grown-ups and like any other girl my age I lapped it up.
Gradually, Frank became my confidante, someone I felt I could tell my every secret to. If I’d had a row with mum or dad, Frank would be the first person I’d confide in.
My parents thought it was sweet of him to take me under his wing, especially since I’d struggled to make friends during our short time in London.
But although he was all smiles in their presence, he would disrespect them in secret. “Your parents don’t understand you like I do,” he’d tell me. “We’re the black sheep of the family.”
Frank had me captivated and in time began directing his nasty comments towards me. At first, it was just the occasional back-handed remark about my weight, or a jibe about my appearance.
You need to go to the gym, you’re getting fat,” he’d say.
Sometimes, he’d tell me how to style my hair, or challenge me if I decided to wear makeup.
Soon his words began to have a detrimental effect on my self-confidence. I began scrutinising every inch of my body and developed a hatred for myself.
I eventually agreed to join the gym with Frank but hated every moment. I was 15, impressionable and insecure. And with no other friends, Frank became the centre of my universe.
So, when he invited me round to his house after my first week at school, I jumped at the opportunity. And when he offered me a glass of wine, he made me feel special, as if he saw me as a grown-up.
But after a few mouthfuls of wine, the room began to spin.
Moments later, Frank put his hand on my thigh.
I knew it wasn’t right, but the alcohol had fogged my judgement.
Leading me upstairs, he sexually assaulted me for the first time. I was utterly humiliated, instantly becoming terrified of the man I’d once looked up to.
The following week, Frank came to our house. As mum turned to make Frank a drink, he reached over, slid his hand along my school jumper and gripped my breast.
I froze, unable to call out to my mum or even move.
But still, I’d look forward to Frank’s visits. With nobody else to spend time with, he was all I had.
The following weekend, I joined my dad on a fishing trip.
But moments later, Frank appeared out of thin air beside me. “Trish, fancy taking a walk with me?” he asked.
Frank and I walked in silence, but as we reached my dad’s car, he ordered me to get in.
As always, I did exactly what he asked of me.
Then, he grabbed the back of my head and forced my face towards his crotch.
In the weeks that followed, Frank told me that when I turned 16, he would whisk me away to Spain, where we could start a new life together.
Then, as my parents slept in the next room, Frank forced me to perform oral sex on him for a second time.
I felt sick to my stomach, but I was too terrified of him to tell him that it wasn’t what I wanted.
But suddenly Frank stopped coming to our house and the invitations to go out with him disappeared.
I later discovered it was because his girlfriend’s father had seen him holding hands with me in public.
In that moment, everything changed. I was devastated and felt broken-hearted. I realised just how big a hold Frank had on my life. I thought I was in love.
As time went on, I pulled myself together. But still, I never spoke a word about what Frank had put me through. It was only when I started a relationship with a man my age at 18 that the scale of Frank’s abuse truly hit me.
I longed to speak out, but I knew it would destroy my parents if they knew what he’d done. So, I vowed to keep it a secret. In time, I moved back to Ireland – hoping I’d never have to see Frank again.
In 2002, I met my husband Don and three years later, our first son was born, followed by our second son in December 2008. Soon after, I broke down to Don and told him everything.
In 2010 I met a counsellor, but it took months before I finally confided in her about the abuse. When I finally did, it was euphoric.
In that moment, I knew I needed to report Frank to the police. My parents had both died, dad in 2006 and mum in 2011.
I went to the police and told them everything, detailing every painful moment of the abuse. It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, but when officers told me they’d arrested Frank, I knew I’d done the right thing.
In June 2018, Franke Forte appeared at Snaresbrook Crown Court, accused of three counts of indecent assault. He denied all charges, claiming he’d never go near someone like me. Calling me ugly and fat, he brought back awful memories of his horrendous remarks when I was a teenager.
He made me feel like I should be grateful for his abuse, or that I was too fat to abuse at all.
Thankfully, the jury saw through his lies. He was found guilty of all three charges and jailed for six years. He’ll be on the Sex Offenders’ Register for the rest of his life.
It took 30 years and every inch of my courage, but I finally got justice for what Frank did to me. I want other women to know it’s never too late to report your abuser.
With the help of the Metropolitan Police, I was recorded on video talking about my story. I told other victims to hand the shame back to their abusers.
It’s time we didn’t feel ashamed about what we’ve been through.