A WOMAN has spoken out about the childhood she lost to sexual abuse and rape at the hands of her step-father, who has been jailed for 16 years.

Amy Groves, now 24, and her sister Emma Faulkner, now 26, of Brighton, were both victims and have taken the brave decision to waive their anonymity so that Amy could speak out and spread awareness of abuse.

Mark Gearing forced what the judge described as his "secret and dark life" on Amy, from the age of seven, his sentencing at Lewes Crown Court heard last week.

Gearing, 48, indecently assaulted his two step-daughters, going on to rape Amy on numerous occasions up until the age of 14 when she first went to police.

Speaking exclusively to The Argus, Amy said her ordeal had "ruined my childhood".

She said: "The abuse took things away from me I will never be able to have again. He took my innocence."

Amy has now called on schools to educate children over the dangers of grooming and said there is not enough training or support for parents in trying to deal with abuse.

“I think if I was told about it at school I would have said something. That’s where the system goes wrong," she said.

Gearing, who grew up in Portslade and was latterly of Princess Avenue in Worthing, denied the seven counts of rape and seven counts of indecent assault against him, even after a jury at his retrial unanimously found him guilty. A jury could not come to a decision at his initial trial last year.

Gearing's defence solicitor, Sarah Thorne, argued that he had been "a good father and grandfather" and that he had never been involved with the police before.

But Judge Charles Kemp told the court Gearing posed a serious risk to society.

Addressing Gearing in summing up, Judge Kemp said: "You were in a relationship with the girls' mother. You were in a position of trust but instead you abused them for your own sexual gratification.

"It was a secret and dark life over years of yours all those years ago.

"You were previously of good character. You have lost that good character in the most spectacular of fashion."

Gearing was handed 16 years in prison, with an additional four on licence, and will also be subjected to an order preventing him from living in any household with any child under the age of 16 or having any unsupervised contact with any female under the age of 16.

He is also subject to a sexual harm prevention order for the rest of his life.


The Argus:

FOR Amy Faulkner and her sister Emma, their stepfather was the closest thing to a dad they could get.

Growing up in Valley Road, Portslade, in the mid-1990s with their mother and stepfather, the family looked similar to any other from the outside looking in.

Mark Gearing would cook them dinner and “do the normal dad things” with them at home, filling the void left behind after their father passed away two years earlier when they were aged one and three.

In 1999, Gearing lost his job at a plastic bag factory and focused his attentions on his stepdaughters, then aged just seven and nine.

He would often spend time alone with his stepdaughters while their mother worked late shifts to make ends meet.

Amy exclusively told The Argus: “He just wanted to bond as father and daughter … I was just trying to find love with my parents.”

Although Amy was too young to remember exactly how the abuse started, she told how she and her sister would be encouraged to play games which she now understands to be of a sexual nature.

Gearing’s grooming of Amy and Emma became an almost daily occurrence for the pre-teens and, in Amy’s case, escalated to frequent intercourse that only years later she would recognise as rape. She cannot recall how old she would have been when she was first raped.

Amy said: “I don’t remember him saying, ‘Don’t tell your mum,’ or anything like that. He just knew I wouldn’t say anything. I didn’t want to get Mark into trouble because I loved him as a dad.”

This love, albeit manifesting itself in a form Amy believed to be normal, was what began driving divisions between Amy and her mother, who was oblivious to the truth.


Gearing became controlling and manipulative, making himself scarce when relatives or friends came over.

Amy said: “He would never be around people because he knew they would pick up on what was going on.

“He used to say to me, ‘If me and mum split up, don’t worry, we can get our own flat together’.

“It was constant mind games because I’m quite close to my mum and he wanted me to be further away from her.

“There were times where I wanted to tell my mum and say, ‘This happened,’ not because I wanted to get Mark in trouble but because I wanted to tell her as a daughter-mum thing.

“But then it scares you because you think, ‘Oh, no, what if she hates me for it? She’s going to hate me for getting in the way of her relationship’.

“I felt like I was betraying her.

“I was too close to Mark. I don’t blame my mum in any way because she was working a lot. If she was at home, she would have noticed it.”

Mind games

The mind games led Gearing to play the children against each other.

Amy said: “Mark used to laugh at Emma with me and make snide comments about her saying, ‘We’ll leave that one at home – she doesn’t want to come out with us’.

“He used to make me think Emma hated him and because he had made me so close to him, I wanted to protect him. So Emma hating him meant I felt I should hate her too. We fought a lot as children.”

But all the time Gearing was acting indecently with Emma as well and would never let one sibling see him be close with the other.

“He was really clever,” Amy said. “Mum was really vulnerable and Mark would feed off that.

“Me and Emma were vulnerable too, because of our dad dying, and he totally betrayed us.

“I think he knew if he had pushed Emma [into intercourse] she would have said something.”

It was not until Amy was 14, in 2006, that Emma confessed she too had been at the whim of their stepfather.


Amy said: “We were sat in the living room at my nan’s house with my mum. I was shocked and in disbelief. I didn’t want to believe that anything was wrong.”

But then Amy told her mother as well.

She said: “She held it together but you could tell she was really distressed. I think she shared it more with adults. My nan was distraught. She was 86 so for her to hear it wasn’t nice. She had never liked Mark anyway. They never really got on.”

Gearing had moved out of the family home shortly beforehand for unrelated financial reasons.

The physical ordeal was over for Amy and Emma, but ten years of torment and uncertainty followed.

Soon after the revelation, the teenage girls went to the police with a social worker and filed statements, explaining what had happened – but Amy stopped short of saying she had been raped repeatedly.

“I didn’t say everything because I was still trying to protect him,” she said.

Gearing was arrested straight away but denied everything and was bailed.

Soon after, the girls discontinued their statements – fearful of the consequences. Amy then went on to tell her mother she had lied about the abuse.

Amy said: “I thought I could keep it a secret forever and that it would never come back.”

This meant the authorities could not force the girls into going along with an investigation.

Gearing back

It was then that Gearing managed to “worm his way back” into the family, which by then had moved across the city to Bevendean, Brighton, and included the mother’s youngest daughter fathered with Gearing. Amy’s sister, meanwhile, had already moved out and Gearing never spoke to her again.

Amazingly, Gearing rarely addressed the issue, firstly dismissing it on his return saying, “Don’t worry about it, it’s fine,” with Amy even apologising for putting in the statement. Later, according to Amy, Gearing once briefly apologised to her in private, admitting he was in a “dark place”.

Amy said: “He never sat down in a room with me, Emma and my mum and spoke to us about it. If I was accused of something like that, I would be the first to say no.

“You would want to let the world know that kid was lying, rather than just saying, ‘It’s fine’.”

Whenever Amy’s mother challenged Gearing, he told her it was in her head and that she was ‘the crazy one’. And when Amy asked him about Emma, he denied touching her.

The turmoil inside Amy led to her formally withdrawing her statement in 2008. Her mother had a new job as a child-minder and Amy, then 16, wanted her to succeed with it.


She said: “I told my mum adamantly that the abuse didn’t happen.

“There was one social worker who was saying, ‘Just so you know, if you retract your statement now, you will have no chance of anyone believing you again’. It was awful.”

Getting her first real job and meeting her now-husband Dan in 2009, in whom she confided, gave Amy the courage to finally confront the abuse and see it through to court.

“When I was 18, everything that had been in my head came out,” Amy said.

“I was fighting myself – I didn’t want to believe it had happened.”

The truth

Amy finally told her mother at her best friend’s house in Hangleton in April 2010.

Amy said: “She was just confused and didn’t know what to do. She was saying, ‘What am I meant to do? I don’t know how to deal with this’.”

The revelation rocked her mother after the years of relative calm. The two argued terribly, meaning Amy did not speak to her mother, who was still living with Gearing and the couple’s young daughter.

After moving out and getting married in 2013, changing her name to Groves, Amy started talking to her mother again, writing a letter over Christmas that year.

She said: “She had to see it in black and white, explaining what had happened and how it made me feel. If you can’t say it, write it down.”

Her mother believed her and, having gathered up the strength to face losing her youngest daughter to Gearing, kicked him out. Gearing fled with her mother’s best friend and lived for a time in Princess Avenue, Worthing.

In early January 2014, the girls went with their mother to the police and submitted a second statement. Gearing was arrested shortly afterwards and charged with indecent assault and rape.

The trial

Amy said: “I thought I was going to get slated in court because of what the social worker had told me before. Going to court was what scared me.”

Despite her nerves, she sat through a two-week trial in November 2015, watching the father figure she once loved standing cold, silent and unrepentant in the dock.

Amy said: “He looked at the floor the whole time. The only time he leant forward was when he glared at my mum while she was giving evidence – probably his way of trying to control her.”

Gearing later tried to commit suicide by overdosing on tablets, the family were told, and the trial collapsed because the jury could not reach a verdict. Amy believes the apparent suicide attempt may have swayed them.

The family was worried justice would not be served.

Amy recalls a “gloating feeling” emanating from Gearing at his second trial during breaks in the hearing.

She said: “He thought nothing would come of it, that he would never go down.”

But the 48-year-old’s retrial culminated in his sentencing at Lewes Crown Court on Monday, August 15, where he was jailed for 16 years.

Strong now

Amy said: “I feel strong now. I’ve had a long time to deal with it, knowing it was wrong.

“At the time it felt normal but now knowing it wasn’t normal ruined my childhood. It’s quite sad. I will never have that father-daughter relationship again.

“He took my innocence.

“Until you have been through something like that, you don’t realise how normal it feels. Now, to say it to someone, it’s the most disgraceful thing someone could do.”

The next step for Amy was waiving her right to anonymity as a sexual offence victim, along with her sister Emma, to tell this story and raise the profile of something Amy feels has to be brought to public attention.

She said: “There are people who will walk around every day, looking like a happy family unit, when really that’s not the case. It happens so often. There are people living next to you who it could be happening to and you would never know.”

'More education'

Amy also feels there needs to be more education in schools.

“It’s the grooming that does it,” she said. “That’s the bit that really messes with your head. It’s not right for a child to think it’s OK for your dad to touch you. But by being groomed it makes you think it’s all right when it’s really not. That’s why most kids don’t come out and tell people, because they think it’s OK, and that’s why there’s so much historical abuse.

“At school I thought it happened to other kids as well so I didn’t speak about it. I was waiting for someone else to say something. If I knew it was wrong I would have said something. And that’s where the system goes wrong. Schools give sex education to children nowadays but they don’t tell you the dangers and what to look out for. That needs to be done.

“There isn’t enough training or support for parents, either, in terms of how to spot or deal with it.”

Amy, now 24 and living in Bevendean, accepts she may never find the final piece of her jigsaw.

She said: “I don’t want to understand him – I think he’s a monster – but it would be useful to know why he did it. He’s in denial of himself and he hates himself. You can tell when someone is not comfortable in their own skin.

“I would love to spend ten minutes in a room with him now. I don’t know what I would say. Perhaps I would just sit there looking at him, trying to find some sort of remorse for what he did to Emma and I – remorse he has never shown, not even during the trial. You never really get an answer. It’s more about having the proof to back it up. It’s not just us saying it now, it’s a court of law. It’s nice to be believed.

“When someone else says they believe you, it means everything.”


By Fabia Bates, Director of the Survivors' Network

THIS story highlights a number of issues that are, tragically, all too common.

Those who argue that effective and mandatory relationship and sex education in schools takes away the innocence of children need to recognise that such education can in fact be the one factor crucial in saving a child’s innocence.

This is particularly important when, as so often, the abuser is someone close to and trusted by the child. Secondly, the criminal justice process in this country remains challenging, even traumatising for many, and understandably some survivors choose to withdraw from the process.

Changes are being made, but not fast enough.

And finally, there is the issue of belief.

Despite evidence clearly showing that false allegations of sexual assault and abuse are extremely rare, those who disclose often face scepticism and even disbelief from others.

It is up to every one of us to ensure that anyone taking the incredibly courageous step of speaking out about their experience, whether or not they choose to report to the police, receives belief and support.

  • Survivors’ Network, the Rape Crisis Centre for Sussex, offers a range of services for those who have experienced sexual violence at any point in their lives.

This includes a specific service for those going through the criminal justice process as well as counselling, a helpline and drop-in service and a range of peer support and groupwork activities.

If you have been affected by the issues addressed in this piece or more information contact survivorsnetwork.org.uk or call 01273 203380.


ANYONE who makes an allegation that they have been a victim of a sexual offence is granted automatic and immediate anonymity under British law.

They cannot be named – or details published that would identify them – unless they specifically request to waive their anonymity.

The protection of the law means that, in cases of family abuse, rapists and sexual predators can appear to be shielded by the law intended to protect their victims.

Naming Mark Gearing and his relationship to his victims could have lead to his step-daughters’ identities being pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle.

Amy Groves took the brave step of contacting The Argus and speaking out because she wanted to see her stepfather named and shamed for what he did to her and her sister as children.

While her sister Emma did not want to talk about what happened, she also had the courage to waive her anonymity so that Gearing could be publicly held to account for his crimes.