How Could He Do It? by Emma Charles

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How Could He Do It? by Emma Charles

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: This should be required reading for anyone with care of a child. Even when tackled promptly and decisively the effects of sexual abuse can be dreadful and long-lasting. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: February 2009
Publisher: Preface Publishing
ISBN: 978-1848090002

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Emma Charles was on the edge of thinking that she and her family were doing quite well. They were an ordinary family – mum, dad, two daughters, three dogs, a rabbit and a couple of guinea pigs. Sprinkle in an Open University course for Mum, private schooling for the girls, a nice car in the drive of the nice house, good clothes and fun holidays – and you can understand why she might be rather pleased with the way that life was going.

Then her fifteen year old daughter, Tamsin, gave her a note, couched in graphic terms, saying that her father had been sexually abusing her for the past five years. In moments the family's life fell apart. Gone were all the certainties, the hopes and the expectations. In came the police, Social Services and Child Protection Officers.

I picked this book up yesterday afternoon and I'll confess that it was really to establish whether or not it was another misery memoir which I could consign with little regret. I finished reading it in the early hours of this morning. This isn't a misery memoir because Emma and her two daughters were determined that they were not going to be victims. Even Tamsin demanded that she be though of as a survivor.

There's nothing titillating in the book – if that's what anyone is hoping for then they should go elsewhere. Emma rightly maintains her daughter's privacy about what happened, about medical examinations (other than brief details) and interviews which her daughter attended. This isn't a story about what happened to Tamsin, but about the effect that it would have on her and the family. Add in to this the fact that the book is written with anger in the background – anger at what her husband had done and at what happened afterwards – but it's not retribution. One point which is made time and again is that Daniel is the children's father and had been her husband for twenty years. Love, affection and caring are not turned off in a moment.

The book is a look at the marriage and the small signs that might have been pointers that all was not as it ought to be, but which would probably have been overlooked in most families. There were small indications that Daniel's relationship with his daughters was not strong, but it was easy to overlook that when he worked abroad for most of the year. Tamsin was moody and difficult – but then so are many fifteen year olds.

This book should be required reading for every adult who has the responsibility for a child because it points up the need for swift action once the abuse is discovered. Had Emma not reported it to the police and Social Services immediately there's a strong chance that the girls would have been taken into care when it did come to light. And it would come to light. The most striking part of the book for me was the chronicling of Tamsin's mental decline which could almost certainly be traced back to the abuse.

The most shocking part was not the abuse – dreadful as that was – but the attitudes of other people including (to their shame) church people. There was a general feeling that this probably all came about from some misunderstood action on Daniel's part, that perhaps it could have all been dealt with 'within the family' without the need to bring in the police and ruin Daniel's life. Support and understanding went to the perpetrator and not to the survivors. Even the division of the household seemed to favour Daniel. He was in denial about what he'd done at the time and there's no evidence to suggest that this has changed in any way – and this is common to most people who sexually abuse children.

Once abuse is established life is never going to be the same again, but it is not the child's fault – whatever the circumstances – and what is needed is prompt and decisive action. Read this book and you will understand why.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag

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Julie Aldridge said:


I have just finished reading this book. I was reluctant to read it at first as I have read books on abuse before and have found them too graphic with describing the abuse.It was a refreshing change to hear more about the effects the abuse had on the child and her family. What impressed me the most was Emma's quick response in dealing with it from the outset. Her foremost thought was for her child, as it should be. Unfortunately not all mothers are like this. Mine was one of them.

I found myself feeling jealousy at times, and I had to ask myself why would I be jealous of Tamsin. . Well it's for exactly that....that my mother was nothing like Emma. I was 15 as well when I finally told my mother what was going on.... her response was ( I can still remember like it was yesterday) that " she'd had her suspicions"!!! I couldn't believe it, how could any mother "have her suspicions" and yet let it continue??

I think it is true that people in general don't want to know about abuse. They don't' understand the lifelong effect it has on the child. I found the last part of the book, Afterthoughts...very interesting. It echoed the thoughts I myself have had on this subject. It appears that the justice system even in this country (Australia) is more concerned with the rights of the guilty than the rights of the innocent victims.That somehow the abuser becomes the one to be protected. They are mollycoddled in jail , if ever it goes that far and protected by suppression orders in the media. The church is far more interested in "forgiving" the abuser than worrying about the victim. As has been my own experience.

To these men who prey on innocent children for their own sexual gratification and indeed more often the power they have over them.... it's not the sin of what they do but the sin of being found out!

They don't think that what they do IS "that bad" they haven't "murdered" anyone. But what they HAVE indeed done is stolen the innocence from that child. They have forever tainted that child's life with terrible memories, that no amount of counseling or treatment will ever take away. They have robbed those children of their self esteem, left to feel dirty and guilty and ashamed. And don't forget many of these perpetrators have gotten away with it because there was no-one to stop them, no-one willing to deal with it. It's a hidden shame in so many families. If it ever comes to light it must be kept a dirty little secret that everyone knows about but which is never addressed.

If every parent read this book, then maybe so many children would not become victims. Maybe they might realize that the danger is not the strangers out there but could very well be good old "Uncle John" or whoever, in their own family or circle of friends. Maybe those people that are protecting the abuser in their own family, by staying silent, might speak up and thereby protect the future victims. For men like this, Emma is right, given the opportunity they WILL abuse again.

I was not the first victim of my abuser and I know I was not the last. Unfortunately he was never held to account. There were many reasons it never happened, mostly because no-one would stand up for me. He is dead now for which I am relieved....never again will I have to see his face.

It took many years to overcome the past but like Tamsin...I am not a victim...but a survivor.

Julie Aldridge