Since she was three years old, there was a monster in Tracy Wood’s world that was very real and had terrorised her every single day of her young life. Her own father, George, had been sexually abusing his daughter, an ordeal which continued right up until she escaped and left home at 18.
After years of living with the shame, Tracy (47) finally found the courage to make her father pay for his heinous actions, by pressing charges against him for historical abuse.
Wood (71) pleaded guilty last year to several charges, including incest, and at his sentencing in February, Tracy again saw the monster of her childhood and gained the strength to make her father accountable for his sins.
“I was very scared to face him in court, I didn’t want to look at him or acknowledge him, but the curiosity got the better of me,” the Christchurch woman admits. She had last seen her father in 1991 and was reading her victim impact statement, describing how the abuse had affected her.
“I met his gaze and he was staring at me, trying to intimidate me. Instead of crumbling, it made me stronger. My voice got louder and I held his gaze. I saw a pathetic old man. He was no longer the bully, the tyrant; and I was no longer the scared little girl who lived in fear. He needed to have a mirror held up to him so he could own what he had done. This is his shame – not mine.”
That empowering moment was a huge step for Tracy’s healing process. For more than 43 years she had kept silent about the horrific abuse her father had inflicted. In court, she finally found her voice and it set her free.
“I grieve for the little girl who had no protector and believed that if she spoke, no-one would listen. I don’t consider myself a victim, but a survivor.”
Tracy has taken the brave step of having her name suppression lifted, a legal process automatically given to all victims of sexual abuse. She wanted to speak out and share her story, so she can help others who have been abused.
Tracy, who has a 22-year-old daughter, found inspiration after watching fellow Christchurch woman Helena Watson on TV, talking about her own abuse at the hands of her father. Helena, who volunteers for the Sensible Sentencing Trust, is one of Tracy’s biggest supporters and the two women have become close friends.
“When I saw Helena speaking out, the idea of coming forward started forming. I thought, ‘If she can be brave, so can I,’” Tracy explains.
The abuse had remained constant until Tracy left home at 18.
She says that she felt like a prostitute at times, as her father would only give her money for school fees in exchange for sexual favours.
“As a child, I was this little mouse. My aim in life was not to be noticed, because when that happened, I was abused.”
Even too scared to tell her mum, Tracy harbours no hard feelings towards her for not knowing.
“My father was a bully and she wasn’t able to protect me from him,” she says.
For Tracy, she dreaded her home environment and school became a sanctuary.
“I always had my head in a book. That was the fantasy world that took me away from the reality,” Tracy explains.
“There’s a photo of me at the beach wearing togs. I look at that picture and wonder how anyone can do those horrific things to that little girl. Your father is the one that’s supposed to protect you and be a role model – not a monster.”
Tracy learned to keep the abuse hidden, praying that one day she would be saved.
“I always thought that someone would see it, that someone would know. Of course no-one did – I continued to be seen and not heard. ”
The abuse stopped only when Tracy left home and finally escaped her father’s clutches. Despite being free, she still felt trapped, having to overcome the physical, spiritual and emotional trauma.
“I’ve been close to breaking, my health has suffered. It was a hard, hard time.”
When Tracy had a stroke four years ago, it was a wake-up call. She had to speak out, before it was too late.
“I knew one day I would be strong enough to do something. The hard thing was making that first step. Once I made the decision and owned it, everything became easier.”
On a bright sunny day in September 2010, Tracy decided to make that brave step and finally bring her father to justice.
“I walked into the police station and said the words out loud for the first time: ‘I’m here to make a statement in regards to my father for historical sex abuse charges,’” says Tracy, in tears as she recalls the life-changing moment.
It took nearly two-and-a-half years for the court to convict Wood on seven charges, including incest and multiple charges of indecent assault on a girl under 12 years old. He’s currently serving a five-year
Wood has also been convicted on a separate incident of possessing objectionable material. He was stopped by customs at Christchurch International Airport in May 2011 on his return from a trip to Thailand, and was in possession of hundreds of written stories about sexual encounters with children.
Tracy says her quest for justice has been made easier knowing that her story might inspire other survivors of sexual abuse.
“I don’t want people to carry the burden that I once had. It’s not our shame to own. Speaking out helped with the healing. If telling my story inspires one person to speak out, and they inspire one person, and so on, then we can break that silence.”
Today, Tracy aims to be the best person she can be. She volunteers for cancer charities, the SPCA, and is a youth mentor. She is refusing to let her difficult upbringing get the better of her.
“So much of my life was a struggle. I was on survivor mode, just barely existing. Coming through the other end, I’m a much better person. My experience – good and bad – has made me who I am today.”
Support For Survivors
To contact Helena and Tracy for support. National support line
For survivors of sexual abuse: (0800) 883 300.
Photos: Kelly Shakespeare • hair & make-up: Mariesa Waddington