I was sexually abused when I was three. Apparently I became a very difficult child – I was full of anger, rebellious, and determined to hurt or destroy myself, my family, and all that I loved.
My only peace came when I was with horses. I never told anyone; in fact, I blocked the memory completely and only uncovered it after over 15 years of soul searching and personal growth work as I endeavoured to recover from my addictions and self-destruction.
I have been addicted to alcohol, cigarettes, speed, cocaine and marijuana. I have played with ecstasy, cocaine and heroin.
I have attempted suicide many times. I have struggled with depression all my life. I have self-harmed. I have been anorexic for most of my life, bulimic for some, and I still have difficulty nurturing myself with nutritious food at healthy intervals.
I have core beliefs that I am bad, not worthy, not good enough, and unlovable. I am working hard to change these as my healing is still a work in progress over 40 years later.
The sexual abuse of children takes them, in a moment, from innocence and light into darkness. It is an instant descent into hell. Trust is shattered; all that is good and bright is destroyed. Their picture of the world is distorted in the most gruesome way, and whether they are threatened not to tell or not, their innate sense of shame at an act which they instinctively know is wrong locks the secret away deep in their souls. They believe themselves to be not only different from the rest of the world, but bad, wrong, untouchable, and unclean.
Rather than turn their justifiable rage at their abusers, they direct it at themselves and those they love. Families are torn asunder at the force of the rage and the darkness that descends on a previously peaceful home. Perpetrators seem to somehow inject their own feelings of self-loathing into the victim, so that afterwards the perpetrator feels lighter, ‘better’. This is why they seek always to reoffend, grooming the next candidate for their acts of depravity.
Childhood ends afterwards. Innocence is stolen and once gone, can never be retrieved. We now know that the psychological scars are the same regardless of the nature of the abuse, although clearly repeated acts or those of a more serious nature burn the scars deeper into the psyche.
Whether the memories are repressed or constantly alive for the victim, they change all the programming in the brain and the victim is forever changed. What sort of life would I have had if I hadn’t been abused? Who could I have been?
I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m a survivor. I survived the abuse and its wrecking ball aftermath. But it never goes away. I grieve for the lost child almost every day. I am finally learning to play with my young child and to experience what a normal childhood might have been like. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. But I made it through.
Many don’t. The self-disgust leads them down paths of destruction and darkness and into chasms and abysses of despair which take their lives, whether accidentally or on purpose.
Sexual abuse permeates every social strata, every race, country, creed. It knows no boundaries. Sexual predators prey on children and parents’ trust and willingness to make friends and to believe the very best in people. They groom both parents and children to ensure there are opportunities for abuse to occur. Don’t be afraid of strangers, be afraid of the very people you trust most. And what sort of a way is that to live your life?
We all have a responsibility to the children among us to out these paedophiles from the crevices and corners of society in which they lurk. Unfortunately, allegations of sexual abuse by children are hard to prove because they are never witnessed and the child may not tell until long after the fact, which means forensic evidence is unrecoverable.
Pitting a child’s account against an adult who may well ‘present as normal’ in a court of law is fraught with difficulty. The Australian legal system needs to be changed to the European model where children’s rights are more protected and honoured within the court structure and the victims of child abuse protected from the harrowing ordeal of facing their perpetrator in court and having their testimony ripped apart by lawyers. That’s just another level of abuse.
The Catholic Community need to vote with their feet en masse and refuse to participate in the activities of a church which protects paedophiles. People power works. We must stand up as a community united and say we will not tolerate paedophiles. Children will be believed. Action will be taken. These heinous crimes will be punished.
Children are suffering the pain of child abuse right now, near you. Learn about it, do something about it. Be prepared to stand up and stop it. It stops being a dirty, shameful secret when it is out in the open.
It takes enormous courage to stand up and say ‘this happened to me’ but I refuse to be ashamed of something that is not my fault. We must be the generation and society that breaks the code of silence around child abuse. If we talk honestly and openly about it, victims will feel able to come forward, that society will support and help to heal them.
No other child should have to suffer as I did – the act itself, and the lifelong pain. Unfortunately, they will, and they are. One in five children will be sexually assaulted before they are 18 years old.
Let’s come together and stamp out child abuse from all sections of society. If paedophiles know that their dirty secrets will not be protected, they will think twice before acting. Please stand up and speak out.
If you are struggling with depression you can get help from Beyond Blue. Go to beyond.org.au or call 1300 22 4636.
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.