Abuse sur­vivor’s plea: ‘Lis­ten to the chil­dren’

Woman has fought for a nor­mal life after her child­hood was de­stroyed by abuse

The Daily Examiner - - NEWS - CAIT­LAN CHARLES cait­[email protected]­lyex­am­iner.com.au *Brenda’s name has been changed to pro­tect her iden­tity.

FOR 50 years, Brenda* has kept a se­cret. Not out of shame, in­stead out of the un­der­stand­ing that most peo­ple can­not com­pre­hend what hap­pened to her.

The me­mories she has tried hard to sup­press in or­der to lead a nor­mal life start in her safety cot, when she was two or three.

These me­mories are of her fa­ther abus­ing her.

Brenda was 10 years old when she told her mother her fa­ther had abused her. She was met with dis­be­lief, un­til she went into de­tail of the hor­rors she’d ex­pe­ri­enced.

This is when her mother took Brenda and her sib­lings into hid­ing.

They were hid­ing from a man who was an al­co­holic who abused Brenda’s mother and a pe­dophile who abused Brenda and her sis­ter.

Apart from telling her mother, and a burly po­lice of­fi­cer who Brenda de­scribed as in­tim­i­dat­ing and un­help­ful, she only told her story once more be­fore she saw a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist when she was 50.

This came after chil­dren started notic­ing her “spac­ing out” and show­ing signs of de­pres­sion, which was Brenda re­liv­ing the or­deal she ex­pe­ri­enced as a young child.

“It’s too hor­rific to just sit down and have a con­ver­sa­tion (about it) over cof­fee,” she said.

But that one ex­pe­ri­ence with a doc­tor in her teens meant Brenda spent much of her life deal­ing with the or­deal on her own and cop­ing with it the only way she knew how – by in­ter­nal­is­ing ev­ery­thing.

“I was go­ing through my fi­nal year at high school and I was strug­gling a lit­tle, so I went to the doc­tor – it was some old quack – and his re­sponse to me was: ‘Well love, don’t you know in some coun­tries that’s just the norm. So how many mil­ligrams of Val­ium do you want?’

“That was my one and only en­counter with a pro­fes­sional. It took me 30-odd years later to have the con­fi­dence to go back.”

Grow­ing up, Brenda said some­times she got the op­por­tu­nity to live a ‘nor­mal life’ at home, but some­times, it was the com­plete op­po­site.

“I was treated OK, but when Mum went to work or the op­por­tu­nity struck, then that’s when bad things hap­pened,” she said.

“He didn’t al­ways walk in the door and start bash­ing us, there was an op­por­tu­nity to have some sort of normality – un­til there wasn’t.

“I will al­ways blame my fa­ther for the demise of my mother, the trauma she suf­fered, the life that came back to bite her.

“It’s some­thing that is a night­mare. You’re a young child, you go to bed and you have your night­gown and your panties on, and when you wake up in the morn­ing and you don’t have your panties any­more.”

Brenda said one of the most dif­fi­cult things was hav­ing her mother ques­tion her story.

“That crushed me. That was re­ally hard for me that my mum would even doubt me, un­til I started to go into de­tail and de­scribe things,” she said.

“He’s a vi­o­lent man and she knew he was hav­ing af­fairs and things like that, but as far as her chil­dren and the sto­ries I was telling, that was some­thing that was very dif­fi­cult for her be­cause she took on the guilt.

“I look back now and I think, ‘yeah Mum, the signs were all there’ … but she was go­ing through her own hell.

“While I ac­knowl­edge these things now, I could never hold her ac­count­able be­cause of the love that she gave.

“When I look back on my child­hood, I know that I had that (hor­ri­ble) side of it, but I also had my beau­ti­ful, lov­ing mother and some peo­ple don’t even have that ben­e­fit.”

Brenda said after her fa­ther spent time in prison, her mother di­vorced him, but when he was re­leased he was given ac­cess to the chil­dren again.

The peo­ple around her said he seemed like a good bloke, so surely Brenda and her sib­lings would be fine.

“Fifty years and that at­ti­tude hasn’t changed,” she said. “Do they not un­der­stand that these are hu­man be­ings, are they not their equal? This is what I don’t un­der­stand – we are see­ing these chil­dren, our so­ci­ety recog­nises these chil­dren as sec­ond rate.

“Why can’t a child stand up and say, ‘I don’t want to be with my daddy, he hurts me’? Why are they not be­ing lis­tened to?

“A child can’t de­scribe the acts that oc­cur to them in de­tail and it be tar­nished off to say, ‘Oh yeah, the mother was coach­ing them.’ How can you coach a child to de­scribe what you had to de­scribe?”

The shock of Brenda’s story and oth­ers like it, she be­lieves, should not shy peo­ple away from the truth: there is a real is­sue and the peo­ple who try to pro­tect chil­dren who have been abused should be pro­tected, not vil­i­fied.

“I never got, as an adult, to con­front my fa­ther and say, ‘You mon­grel, what you did to me is un­ac­cept­able. I will never for­give you, I will never say I love you.’ How could you love an an­i­mal like that? There needs to be a dis­tinc­tion drawn.

“I have a half-brother, I have lots of il­le­git­i­mate broth­ers and sis­ters out there. I was raised know­ing that if I was go­ing to get mar­ried, I had to get our blood tested be­cause I could be mar­ry­ing my sib­ling.

“I know of one of them he would bring to the home, the woman was dis­abled … The shock­ing thing is, I can’t recog­nise my half-brother … (be­cause) he’s the spit­ting im­age of my fa­ther and he’s a drunk­ard. How can I recog­nise him?

“It doesn’t just im­pact the vic­tim, it has a snow­balling af­fect. It im­pacts the fam­ily as you grow. You have your fam­ily, there’s ques­tions my hus­band has … but he doesn’t want to know some of those an­swers to those ques­tions. It’s too raw and too con­fronting.

“I’ve not had that ex­pe­ri­ence and I’m sure there are many peo­ple out there who have not had that ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Brenda said the most im­por­tant thing was sur­vival. “You just take it one step at a time and you just get there. The key thing is to sur­vive,” she said.

“I don’t want it to de­fine who I am. It’s that it hap­pened, I ac­knowl­edge that it hap­pened, but it’s not who I am.”

HE DIDN’T AL­WAYS WALK IN THE DOOR AND START BASH­ING US, THERE WAS AN OP­POR­TU­NITY TO HAVE SOME SORT OF NORMALITY – UN­TIL THERE WASN’T.

WHILE I AC­KNOWL­EDGE THESE THINGS NOW, I COULD NEVER HOLD (MUM) AC­COUNT­ABLE BE­CAUSE OF THE LOVE THAT SHE GAVE.

Photo: Cait­lan Charles

SIGNS WERE THERE: 'Brenda' tells her story of the child­hood sex­ual abuse she suf­fered at the hands of her fa­ther.

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