In 2005, I moved on. My on-off partner of eight years was finally off the day before we were moving into a new home, but I started in a new life in a new town, Port Talbot, anyway. My confidence was low, but I knew my new home from visits. My uncle was a cab driver there.
I can’t even remember why we were at the hospital one day, but it was a day that changed my life. I needed to call a cab. Even though my mum and uncle had fallen out, it felt safer to call the firm my uncle worked for, in the Neath/Port Talbot area.
I didn’t know the driver who came, but we got chatting and he said he was looking for a flat. Would I like to come to the housewarming when he found it? New to the town, of course I said yes. I assumed my uncle would be there too.
I called a few weeks later and said hi. Then came a crass, vulgar text. He later apologised and said he’d been drunk. I suspect now that this was a boundary test, seeing how I’d react.
But at the time I accepted his apologies and eventually went for a drink with him. I’ll call him Roy here, after Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown, who he looked like. Of course, I can’t name him as, in a weird twist of fate, that would get ME in trouble.
The conversation got uncomfortably sexual, and Roy suddenly started talking about ‘pubes’. As my ex drove past the pub, I was tempted to hail him and ask him for a lift to get away, but I was in a bar with another man. I had moved on. It somehow didn’t seem right.
I turned my head to look at some people signing in the corner, fascinated. As I turned it back, Roy took the chance to plant an unwanted kiss.
Another driver came in, and I felt protected and relieved. That security was short-lived. The second driver seemed just as predatory and wanted to come into my house when I was driven home.
Roy started bombarding me with texts asking to see my bedroom (He wanted to see the red that I’d painted it, apparently. Sick of the reminders, I painted it white.) And would I dress up in my nursing uniform for him?
But over time, things started to shift.
He started sending sweet texts saying he was in love with me. He wanted to make love to me. He clearly indicated that I was going out with him. Over a period of time, he started wearing down the barriers, and made me feel that, whatever I might want, we were going out together. He was pestering and was clearly telling other drivers something was happening.
But I still didn’t ‘fancy’ him, even though we were, by now, in a sexual relationship into which I felt coerced.
Things started to turn darker. An unknown number, making vulgar suggestions, said was he was a bus driver, but his tone and wording were almost identical to Roy the taxi driver, who was grooming me into a relationship.
Immediately following the texts from the ‘unknown bus driver’, I had a call from Roy. Eventually, after constant denials, he confessed to sending the texts, and asked me not to tell ‘the boys’.
I wish I had.
By now I was scared. It all felt like little things, but Roy’s behaviour was ‘off’, and the way it was working out was leaving me feeling bad and worried.
Life carried on, as it has to. I was friends with the daughter of the taxi firm’s owner. It was a small town, and my uncle worked there, so it was natural for me to use the firm. I asked them not to book Roy. But it was my so called friend who booked Roy to ferry me, who ensured from day one that he had access to me and picked me up.
I soon became aware of rumours that he had taken, and was circulating, images of me naked. At no point had I ever consented to this, and I confronted him. Angry, he denied it, and said he was going to call police if I continued.
I ‘found my brave’ and rang the police myself. Officer’s came to see me, but a giggling male officer clearly found it funny, and it was obvious nothing was going to be investigated. I wanted to throw him out there and then.
Roy was, by now, sending the other male drivers sexually violent stuff against women, which they were forwarding.
My PTSD started due to the trauma and stress this situation was creating in my life.
I called the police again. Despite feeling suicidal, an unsympathetic police officer accused me of having sent the photos to Roy, and no officers visited.
I was still nursing and needing to use taxis to get to or from work. I carried on, on autopilot. The drivers were creepy, being sexually suggestive, abusive, probably on the basis of the lies that Roy was telling to discredit me. Even my uncle tried it on with me. (I was later to discover that Roy had been asking specifically to pick me up.)
I felt somehow responsible for what was happening to me.
He’s now admitted that he’s coerced and debased other women before. He even took a picture of a woman ‘misusing’ a bottle.
My trust was destroyed and I discovered that my “friend”, the bosses daughter, had also been taking pictures on the dance floor without me knowing. The council, who booked my taxi to work, knew, and offered a tribunal. (The council manage the cabbies.) But I was afraid of the process, of going over it all in public. My PTSD nightmares began. I was one girl against the pack. Yet the council failed to report the allegation to the police. It should have been a red flag.
I was even afraid to go on Facebook.
There was nothing left to do: I gave up my nursing, the profession I loved, and went home to my parents, near Bridgend. My character was assassinated, and even my uncle attempted to coerce me.
An unknown text called me the village bike, a slag, that I’d slept with all the taxi drivers and told me to stay away from Port Talbot or I’d be dead.
Believing the rumours about me, even my stepfather thought he’d have a try as well. He failed.
How could it be right that I was the one who’d had to move? I had done nothing wrong. I eventually returned to Port Talbot, where more opportunities were available to me.
But the net closed in again.
When I went to karaoke, a man orchestrated different ways to make it look like we were together. It was later to emerge that he was Roy’s best friend. He taught swimming, and had got several women pregnant. He had a wife, who had an epileptic daughter, but denied being with her, claiming she was an ex. He lied.
Things I’ve pieced together since getting trapped in their seedy web: the cabby who used me, Roy, was using customers’ lost and left behind phones to contact his victims anonymously; and my personality and mental health issues come from an abusive family background;
The effect on me has been brutal: alcohol and eating disorders; self harm, fibromyalgia (and arthritis).
But I HAVE started working it all out. I did The Freedom Programme*, run by a lady officer who interviewed different types of criminals/abusers, who really highlighted the ‘red flags’. I can’t recommend them highly enough. I’ve cleaned up my own act and set stronger boundaries.
I recognise that my boundaries were weak because of my upbringing. I was a sitting pigeon for the abuse they meted out. I was like a frog in water, gently bathing without realising that I was about to be boiled.
What worries me now is that the worst offender has now set up on his own. His council has given him a license to operate, and a contract to drive some extremely vulnerable people. Despite my reports.
And I can do nothing. Because the law is on his side.
Yet this may still have a happy ending. I’m looking now at other legal routes. I feel more supported than ever, rather than blamed. Watch this space.
*Our own counsellor, Wendy Gregory, used to run these programmes