I hit rock bottom in July 2013. The absolute terror of what occurred in my life reverberated shockwaves so deep through my psyche and the core of my being that I literally lost the ability to breathe. It took me a week to get a grasp on how to move forward, how to put one foot in front of the other. True to form though, no one outside of my family circle would have known anything was wrong.
It was when the front door was closed that the full terror of my situation took hold. I couldn’t sleep or eat. I lived on adrenalin, my nervous system alternating between flight and freeze mode.
Ironically, I was enrolled to run in the Colour Run and couldn’t think of anything worse than being surrounded by a sea of happy people while my life fell apart. My Mum told me to go, that it would be good for me and she was right. I stood on the starting line bent over double in physical pain, the hurt cut so deep. I sobbed those silent sobs that rack your body. No one noticed.
The gun went and off we ran. During that 5km run I was able to start processing how I could turn around what had happened and start to move forward. My brain went into problem solving mode. As the tears flowed, the emotional pain subsided enough for me to gain some perspective on how I could survive this.
After the run I was filled with righteous rage about what had happened, a rage so fierce that you wouldn’t have wanted to cross my path at that moment. My nervous system had switched into fight mode. This rage spun me into action, got my brain to re-engage and take the steps needed to start moving through the murky waters I found myself in.
Looking back, I honestly don’t know how I got through without having a breakdown. I chose not to go on anti-depressants or drink alcohol or take a single sleeping pill even though sleep eluded me. Instead I chose to feel every emotion in its’ rawness. I wonder now whether this was a form of self-punishment or an attempt to get to the other side, healed and whole again, quicker. It is only now, some 8 years later that I am able to write about my experience without being triggered.
I’m sure by now you are thinking, what happened? Unfortunately I can’t tell you about what happened as what happened is taboo in our society. We don’t talk about it. We don’t read about it and we sure as hell don’t write articles about our experience with it. The mothers and children are left to deal with it and pick up the pieces of their lives while the perpetrators roam free to continue to offend. Even worse, if reported to the Police you run the risk of an accusation of being a liar or having ‘misunderstood’ what your child disclosed to you. Child Protection even have the power to take your children off you; the Family Court to change custody arrangements. As a mother you find yourself in a lose:lose predicament.
You can’t tell anyone or seek a shoulder to cry on. I learnt quickly that the horror on other’s faces was not worth repeating when I made the mistake of sharing the situation I found myself in. As a society we like to make sense of things and as this is something that can’t be made sense of, we blame. “She must have known”, “How could she not have known?” and the obligatory, “How can she call herself a mother?”. Instead of “How could a father do that to his own innocent child?” and “What kind of a monster does this?” and “I hope they stop him from hurting anyone else ever again”. Alas that is not the case as yet again the lens focuses squarely on victim blaming.
You see it was in my husbands’ family of origin. Apparently everyone knew and it was just accepted. I found myself married into a spiders lair with a black widow present. Charges were not laid. The perpetrator was not held to account, so the behaviour continued down the branches of the family tree. More perpetrators. More victims.
Most frighteningly, this family is not unique. This behaviour is common. The number of victims in Australia is prolific. The impact on our mental health system is catastrophic. Of all the female clients who walk through my practice door, more than half are victims at the hands of fathers, step-fathers, uncles, grandfathers, brothers and cousins. The family sometimes knew and did nothing or the victim felt that it wasn’t safe to speak up, having been threatened by the perpetrator. It usually wasn’t just my client but their sisters, sometimes their cousins that were victims. They turn up at my office with previous diagnoses of Bi-Polar, Borderline Personality Disorder, Depression and Anxiety but it is trauma and PTSD that underlies these diagnoses and women desperately trying to cope with unimaginable childhood experiences.
My question to you is; why are we not doing everything in our power to shout from the rooftops about this scourge on our society and to educate people to identify the warning signs in children? To offer support to these victims and to create a safe space for them to report these crimes, to be believed and to remove the perpetrators from our homes and most importantly moving forward, create a safe society for our children to grow up in?
This behaviour perpetuates because society allows it to. Sometimes it is swept under the carpet. It is a ‘family issue’ and it is too painful to deal with so it gets ignored. Sometimes the Police respond with disbelief and send the victim and mother home, to think about what they have done. When believed, the Police rarely prosecute due to the low conviction rate in these cases. Without a witness, it is ‘he said she said’ and the majority of times a court will believe an adult over a child.
Child protection won’t step in if there is a protective parent in place and they leave that parent to fight for their child’s safety single-handedly. If the mother goes to the family court for safety, she is more likely to lose custody of her child to the abuser or the abuser will be granted unsupervised time with the child, rather than keep her child safe. I’m one of the lucky ones. After 6 years bouncing between the Police and Family Court and losing everything, including my sanity, my child is safe.
I also believe it is a remnant of the Patriarchy. Men taking what they want. Women and children being seen as second class citizens to be used and abused. Right now we are seeing a significant focus on domestic violence in our country which is long overdue. Yet there is still silence when it comes to what is the most insidious form of domestic violence as it is against our children; incest. The conversation needs to begin.