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My forwards backwards journey towards getting back to who I was meant to be went something like this:
Tell someone. I did it accidentally.
Harry was a soldier in World War 2. His initial training ground just happened to be at my boarding school. I got phone all after phone call and letter after letter saying he was coming there for a reunion. The anxiety built in me, and one afternoon, following yet another phone call with Harry saying he couldn’t wait to see me, and me feeling I would rather shove red-hot barbed wire into my eyes…it all got too much.
I burst out crying and fled the boarding house. I was supposed to be going to netball training, but instead, found myself running down the avenue of memorial trees – blinded by the fear swallowing me up. And the tears.
I found myself on my knees, punching the rough bark of a tree, with blood dripping off my knuckles and coursing down to my elbows. A hand reached out and touched me hesitatingly on the shoulder, and I heard my friend, Roz, ask “Are you okay?”
I couldn’t speak. I was choking on salt and distress. And it didn’t matter. My beautiful, frightened friend just held me while I fell apart at the seams.
As soon as I could breathe again, Roz called her Mum. Doris came and got us both, and took me to their house. It was a safe place for me, and I blurted out my story over about 1 000 cups of coffee and twice as many cigarettes. Doris told me I needed to tell my Mum.
I have no idea what Doris said on the phone to Mum. But it must have been one of the most heart-breaking calls she had ever made. How do you tell someone their daughter has been raped since she was tiny?
I stayed there overnight, and Mum picked me up the next day. I don’t remember when or what I told her….but I knew she would tell Dad. Again with the debilitating terror. This was the point when I knew my life was about to fall apart; when I would lose everyone I loved, and I would ‘get in trouble.’
As soon as Doris had phoned up, Mum had gone to her GP. She had no idea where to turn. How afraid and lost she must have felt.
The second thing to do is find an official agency to help you.
Mum took me to the Sexual Abuse Clinic at Bendigo Hospital. My counsellor, Sharon, asked me to tell her my story. And I did. Emotionless. Like an automaton.
She asked me why I wasn’t crying. And told me that all the other kids she worked with cried when they first talked about what had happened.
There was other kids? What? I thought I was the only one!
And the floodgates opened.
I saw her several times a week for a few months. Then only when I needed to. And my therapy has gone on like that. When shit gets too hard – I go and find help. Most bigger hospitals have Abuse clinics annexed to them – just go and ask. You have nothing to lose. Special note: Sometimes the person you see isn’t the right fit – don’t be afraid to try someone else. It’s not personal, it just is.
Soon, Sharon suggested I might like to press charges.
Go to the Police.
Another friend I am blessed to have in my life, Kylie, came with me to the police station. She sat in the car for hours while I gave my statement. I couldn’t have driven anywhere. I was drained.
The police had reams of paper with old charges on it pertaining to Harry. And he had got off every single time. Mostly due to character references from church Ministers. Saying what a good bloke he was. Paedophiles don’t look like monsters…they’re generally charming and people oriented, who get on really well with children – they must appear squeaky clean to be above suspicion. This was the moment I lost faith in organised religion.
The police were so kind to me, and I was grateful. It was hard, telling the story yet again.
The case went to court, and Harry got 6 years. He was carted off to Pentridge in Melbourne, and quickly relocated to Sale, where apparently the ‘rock spiders’ are safer. Shame no-one had kept me safe…..
Harry served 2 years and 2 months. And was released. The whole time he was locked up, I experienced a sense of safety I had never known before.
Read and research. Listen to the stories of others and know you are not alone.
I read – a lot. There was no internet, so it was a paper-based gig. I can recommend “Breaking the Silence – Survivors of Child Abuse Speak Out’ by Liz Mullinar and Candice Hunt. It sits on my bookshelf still, gathering dust, but the pages are stained with pain. Hearing someone else’s story always make you think how lucky you were. And the idea of not being alone is very empowering.
Find Your Passion.
I paint. It takes me out of myself and I get lost in the ebb and flow of putting pigment on paper. The colours kidnap me into a soothing space, and hours drop away. If I am ever sad or hurting, picking up a brush can help immensely.
Love the children.
Be aware. Be vigilant. Give the children in your life permission to question – everything.
If you suspect a child is at risk…think about this:
Can you live with the consequences of doing nothing?
If we don’t protect the children, who will? I am a mandatory reporter, and have had occasion to file several reports. The fear of being wrong is always overtaken by the fear of being right. If you suspect – do something about it. Can you live with the guilt of doing nothing? I can’t.
I took on a career that has become art of who I am. I spend hours a day with children, and my main personal objective is to build a connection with them, through laughter and trust, and be their safe place. Because that is what I needed.
Every time I achieve my goal, little Carol heals a bit more.