Karen Harkin's parents split up when she was around two or three years old. It was a situation she was used to. She enjoyed going to visit her father, Michael Carter. She had a lot of fun with him, she says they did nice things - farming, horse-riding and drawing.

But when she was nine, everything changed. And Karen still has no idea why.

Carter began abusing his young daughter when she visited his house. He would put pornographic material on the television and abuse her while she sat on the couch. It happened in the bedroom and in the bath. On one occasion he raped her.

Carter was jailed today for ten-and-a-half years for raping his daughter when she was a child.

Karen, now aged 22, says she can’t explain how she felt when the abuse first started, because she didn’t really know what was happening and she didn’t understand it.

Her father, she says, made her feel that this was something that happened to every young girl.

After abusing her, he would never mention it, and would just go on with normal day to day life. She herself began to think it must be normal.

Karen remembers one day when an item came on the news about an uncle who had abused his niece. She says she was confused when her father said, "what kind of a sick bastard would do that to one of his own?"

She says he was doing the exact same thing to her at the time and she didn’t know what he meant. Now she thinks he was trying to gauge her reaction or to pass on his guilt to her by implying that what he was doing to her was 'normal'.

From the first time he abused her, Karen says nothing was ever the same. She began overthinking everything and worrying all the time.

At the age of 11 or 12 she was terrified she would become pregnant. She had only a limited understanding of sex and thought that if someone had sexual intercourse only once, they could become pregnant at any time. She says she used to go to the bathroom and cry, waiting for her period to come, overwhelmed with fear.

At this time, she was terrified and believed she was to blame for what was happening. "I thought if anyone finds out, I’m done," she says, "it would be the end of my life".

Karen Harkin
Karen Harkin says she felt tainted by the abuse

A routine pregnancy test before an operation to repair a broken arm threw her into a panic. While her mother told the nurses there was no way her 12-year-old could be pregnant, Karen couldn’t sleep, terrified everything would come out.

For some years afterwards, Karen threw herself into her schoolwork. She loved school and was a straight A student. But as she got older the memories of what happened began to dominate her thoughts. After deciding to report what had happened to gardaí when she was 17, the pressure became too much.

She says she began to withdraw into herself, she became depressed and didn’t want to go anywhere. She lost friends because she was embarrassed to talk to them about how she felt.

It all came to a head when she was due to sit her Leaving Certificate. After the first day, she came home and she says she "fell to pieces". She didn’t go back to sit the rest of the exams and the months that followed were, she says, the worst of her life. She says she wanted to end her life but was helped by the support of her family.

Despite the support, Karen says she felt more alienated than ever. Her friends were moving on with their lives - going to college, having relationships, getting on with their lives. She "couldn’t even look at a relationship", she says. She was "so scared of touch, of emotions, of everything".

But at the same time, she says she didn’t want to be what she considered a failure. She believed she owed it to her nine-year-old self to go back and repeat her final year of school.

Lockdown meant that she could lose herself in studying without worrying about the outside world. She buried herself in her books and achieved almost 600 points in the Leaving Cert.

But she says she still felt tainted by the abuse. She describes herself as feeling "broken and dirty" and says those feelings have stayed with her.

No matter how many people told her she was brave or that it wasn’t her fault, she says she had internalised guilt over the abuse for so long that she couldn’t take in what they were saying.

Michael Carter
The court heard Michael Carter does not accept the jury's verdict

Karen says part of her still believes she should have known better. She says she continued to visit her father and feels she should have told someone and should have spoken out. She says it’s still hard to come to terms with the fact that she is not at fault.

She says it was her experiences in the justice system that actually helped her to combat this misplaced guilt. Writing her victim impact statement, described by Ms Justice O’Connor as "eloquent and articulate", made her realise she was not to blame and helped her release herself from some of the guilt and shame.

Karen says she still loves her father. She says she knows this is hard to explain but that he is still her father despite what he has done. She loves him she says even though she’s angry and upset at him.

However she says she is hurt by her father’s reluctance to accept the jury’s verdicts. "He’s sitting there, and he knows what he has done," she says.

She says her father is willing to effectively accuse her of lying because he doesn’t want to accept what he did or to be punished for it. This has made her realise that she doesn’t have to feel sorry for him she says, and she’s not going to put her life on hold because of his actions.

Karen says the process of writing her victim impact statement also made her realise that she no longer needed to hide.

When she saw other people who had survived abuse waiving their right to anonymity, she says she never thought she would be able to do the same.

But then she asked herself why she was hiding her name or her father’s name, for his benefit. She says she decided she wasn’t going to be afraid any more and was going to tell her story.

Recently she saw young Mayo woman, Ciara Mangan, who was raped by work colleague, Shane Noonan, at a house party speak in front of the Criminal Courts of Justice after Noonan was sentenced. This inspired Karen to believe that she too could speak publicly about her ordeal.

"I know it’s hard," she says "I didn’t want to speak for so long and I kept this secret from the age of nine to the age of 17. I completely understand how difficult and how painful it is to speak out, but I hope me speaking out gets rid of some of the stigma."

Karen hopes anyone who is listening to her who has been or who is still in a similar situation will take some hope from her. She wants them to realise that even faced with such abuse "your life isn’t over, it’s not the end". Even if people don’t speak out immediately, she says she hopes her words will help them in some way.

Despite her excellent Leaving Cert results, Karen put off going to college until after these legal proceedings had finished. Now, she is considering which university she’ll go to. She is thinking of studying languages - perhaps Irish and Spanish - and wants to become a teacher.

She is grateful for her friends and her family without whom she says she would not be here today. She also thanked the prosecution legal team led by Senior Counsel James Dwyer and the gardaí led by investigating officer Sergeant Michael McHugh who she says supported her every step of the way.

Karen says she wants to get on with her life. "I want to go to college, have a good career and a family," she says.

"I want to live life the way I should have been living all those years ago. I want to be brave, not scared. I feel for so long I was trapped in the mindset of that innocent nine-year-old. I want to move on," adds Karen.

Helplines are available if you have been affected by issues raised in this story.

Dublin Rape Crisis Centre 1800 778 888 (24-hour helpline)