This year has been a distressing one with at least two concurrent cases of child abuse in the UK resulting in death at the hands of parents have been reported in painful depth over the last few months.
The first was that of 6-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes in Solihull, West Midlands who was beaten, starved, poisoned with salt, forced to stand motionless for long periods of time and left to sleep on the floor with no mattress by his father Thomas Hughes and his father’s partner Emma Tustin, before being brutally shaken and battered by Tustin until he succumbed to his injuries.
The second was that of 16-month-old Star Hobson of Keighley, West Yorkshire, who died in hospital after being found to have multiple injuries including a ruptured artery causing massive internal bleeding, a split in her liver, a bowel tear, as well as ruptured lungs and pancreas. Not to mention a history of unexplained bruising and fractures. Her mother, Frankie Smith, and her mother’s partner Savannah Brockhill are in court accused of her murder, and of months of physical and verbal abuse.
Both these cases are chillingly reminiscent of cases like that of Daniel Pelka, Peter Connelly, Ainlee Labonte, Jasmine Beckford, Ellie Butler… Unfortunately, the list is endless. But for every case of child abuse ending in tragedy, there have been many who have survived to tell their harrowing tales in adulthood.
These are some of the most shocking memoirs from survivors of childhood abuse we’ve ever read:
A Child Called "It" by Dave Pelzer
Californian author Dave Pelzer has sold 1.6 million copies of his 1995 autobiography A Child Called "It", which documents the horrific abuse he allegedly suffered at the hands of his mother from being starved and forced to eat his own vomit to being stabbed and burned. He’s written a number of self-help books in the follow-up to his memoir and while he has been frequently doubted by the media, his claims have been backed up by one of his brothers Richard B. Pelzer.
Mommie Dearest by Christina Crawford
Probably the most famous of the memoirs on this list thanks to the 1981 film adaptation starring Faye Dunaway, this tell-all expose was written by Hollywood star Joan Crawford’s adopted daughter Christina. She details a number of instances of physical, verbal and emotional abuse throughout her time living with her, though these claims have been heavily denied by Joan and many others, while Christina’s sister Cathy sued her for defamation. Whether it’s true or not, it’s a pretty distressing read.
Broken by Shy Keenan
Following a court hearing, this particular book is now out of distribution, though no reason has been publicly given for legal reasons. In it, Shy Keenan talks about the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her stepfather, Stanley Claridge. Since then, she has become a high-profile activist working with sexual abuse victims, and even received the Women Of The Year award in 2008. She’s written several other books about abuse, and founded the Phoenix Survivors advocacy group.
Sickened: The Memoir of a Munchausen by Proxy Childhood by Julie Gregory
Munchausen syndrome by proxy is a particularly unusual form of child abuse, whereby the parent invents or causes illness or injury to their child for the purpose of receiving sympathy and attention from medical professionals, family members, friends and members of the public. There’s more often than not an element of love there, but the impulse to create this trauma narrative is too strong to overcome parental responsibility.
In Sickened, MSBP victim Julie Gregory talks about how her mother coached her to exaggerate her symptoms and fed a diet that doctors recommended against, forced her to undertake physical labour and administered medication in an increasingly erratic manner. When she tried to tell people about the abuse, Julie was largely doubted if not ignored. She later wrote a follow-up book about her abusive father.
Our Father's Secret by Joyce Kavanagh, June Kavanagh, Paula Kavanagh and Marian Quinn
An international bestseller which was previously published under the title Click, Click, this book follows three Irish sisters’ experience of a sexually abusive father throughout their childhood. He was eventually convicted and imprisoned for his crimes following their escape from his clutches, and their unity strengthened their resolve to share their story with the world.
Love as Always, Mum xxx by Mae West
An eye-opening memoir from one of the daughters of notorious serial killers Fred and Rose West, Love as Always, Mum xxx describes the unfathomable cruelty of these so-called parents from severe sexual abuse and emotional neglect to flat out murder. Probably the most difficult read on the list given the scale of abuse, but it is far from a gratuitously grisly account of the events that took place at 25 Cromwell Street, Gloucester. It’s an emotionally eye-opening look into how the abuse impacted Mae West.